How to respond to long answer questions in HSC Physics in 3 simple steps

Tutor and recent HSC Graduate, Chintan, received an ATAR of 98.45 and the all-rounders' award. Chintan also came first in HSC Physics at his school. Here he breaks down his process for answering long answer Physics questions so you too can earn full marks.

By Chintan Sapariya

HSC Physics exams for the new syllabus (post-2018 exams) have been adapted to include a range of question types, two of which are the mandatory 2 questions worth 7-9 marks in the exam. Whilst these questions require a lot of detail, they also provide students with the ability to showcase that they have an understanding of the content that goes beyond a surface level. These questions are also designed to test higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills as they are broken down into one of two parts.

The real challenge with the long response question is to clearly identify what the question is asking and focus on answering that. Teachers and markers absolutely hate ‘waffle’ in these long responses. To really maximise your marks you need to focus on being clear and succinct. To do this you must breakdown the question into its components (this can be thought of as a step 0). A small dot-point list on the side or on extra paper can help you collect your thoughts and makes it clear to the marker where you are going with your response.

The example below was from my HSC.

During my time at high school, I developed an easy 3 step method that allowed me to communicate my answer in an easy, succinct manner.

The method involved:

  1. Establish and order your cause and effect relationships
  2. Select evidence or reasoning to support your answer
  3. Draw/write relevant equations and diagrams.

Let’s explore these steps further, Using the question below as an example:

Step 1:

This involves identifying syllabus dot points and/or any relevant theory to your question, (step 0 can help you with this). In this step, we still haven’t written anything on our answer sheet but we organize the ideas that will be introduced in our answer. The relationships must build upon each other in a logical manner, as this flow showcases a cohesive understanding of the content.

Let’s work through our example:

Step 2:

The relationships act as a skeleton for our essay. To build our answer, the body of our paragraphs must consist of scientific evidence such as experiments and observations by relevant scientists studied in the course. In physics when we consider things such as models, we also outline some of the ways the new model builds on the previous one and some limitations of this new model.

Consider how to do this for the first paragraph from our earlier question:

Paragraph 1

  • Glieger – Marsden experiment
  • Improvements: We understand that the atom consists mostly of empty space
  • Limitations: Orbiting electron must emit radiation and hence should collapse into the nucleus, but the most matter is stable.

Step 3:

Diagrams and equations add dimensions to your answer. They provide visual and mathematical depth, which are essentially the foundations of physics. In physics, markers prefer mathematical manipulations instead of words in most answers, so, including an equation or two will earn you that remaining 1 mark in these long responses. In this step, we also combine the previous steps to start formulating our answer on the answer sheet.

To ENHANCE our answer the following equations can be very useful:

This simple 3 step process becomes second nature with practice. It will ensure you provide all the detail necessary to gain at least 90% of the marks allocated to those 7 – 9 mark long-form questions. HSC Physics is all about the application and adaptability of your knowledge to the questions provide, so these processes allow you to simplify an otherwise complicated process. (Trust the process 🏀 ?)

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