BlogStudyHow to Use the HSC Physics Syllabus to Gain Extra Marks

How to Use the HSC Physics Syllabus to Gain Extra Marks

Prior to an exam, I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably running through all the things you have to remember, and making sure you haven’t missed anything. It’s a scary prospect – most textbooks are more than 300+ pages long! You probably feel like your understanding is in a quantum state like Schrodinger’s beloved cat, both alive and dead!

But fear not! Take a few breaths, we have an ace up our sleeve – the HSC Physics Syllabus! I’ll show you how with a few simple tricks we can have the Syllabus working for us.

I promise you by the end of this article, you will befriend the HSC Physics Syllabus, and in turn the exams will befriend you.

Before you know it, you’ll be seeing through the matrix ready to blitz your exams.

Understanding the HSC Physics Syllabus

What’s the aim of the HSC Physics Syllabus?

The Syllabus is a way BOSTES can make sure everyone is being taught the same thing – it’s essentially an outline of all the things the course aims to teach you.

Why is that information so valuable you ask? The HSC Physics Syllabus can help guide your study as it is a list of everything you need to know!

If you master the HSC Physics Syllabus you’ve essentially mastered all the things you could possibly be asked!

First grab a copy of the syllabus and follow along! You can grab it here.

You’re probably thinking: “It’s nearly 80 pages!  What’s the point of reading this, if it’s just more work!”

Trust me, it’ll be worth it!


The HSC Physics Syllabus can be overwhelming, I certainly found it overwhelming the first time, but that’s because I was looking at the wrong level of detail! The information was too overwhelming for me to get any meaning from it.

It’s all about looking at the right level of abstraction for the task at hand – in other words, how to deal with the information.

Let’s use the analogy of a book to explain the concept of abstraction. You could consider the book as:

  • a collection of chapters {too little detail}
  • a collection of pages
  • a collection of sentences {most meaning to us}
  • a collection of ink particles
  • or even a collection of subatomic particles!  {overwhelming to the point of meaningless}

When selecting a book to read you’re probably only looking at the title and cover to see what takes your fancy.

When you’re reading a book you just look at the sentences, you don’t worry about what atoms make up the words, its too much detail, it’s irrelevant.

If you’re an archaeologist, then perhaps you’re more interested in the ink and the atoms if you want to analyse the book to see how old it is!

It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve. So, what are we trying to achieve?

Abstracting the HSC Physics Syllabus

Let’s apply this idea to the Syllabus. To get a sense of the course structure, we need to zoom right out and look at the chapters of our book. As you can see below, in the HSC there are three core modules:

  • Space,
  • Motors and Generators,
  • Ideas to Implementation
  • as well as an option topic your school will choose.

Zoom level: 0

Syllabus Contents

Now that we have an idea of the modules we can zoom in a bit further and look at one of the modules in detail. For this example I shall look at the Ideas to Implementation module:

Zoom level: 1



To learn effectively you need to have direction, you need to quantify what you know already, what you are learning and what you will learn in the future. You’ll notice in the sample image I have included above, there is a numbered bullet point in bold. These bullet points are the main subtopics under each module.

For example, in the module Ideas to Implementation we have four subtopics:

  1. Increased understandings of cathode rays led to the development of television;
  2. The reconceptualisation of the model of light led to an understanding of the photoelectric effect and black body radiation;
  3. Limitations of past technologies and increased research into the structure of the atom resulted in the invention of transistors; and
  4. Investigations into the electrical properties of particular metals at different temperatures led to the identification of superconductivity and the exploration of possible applications.

So it begs the question how are these subtopics related, what is the direction?

Breaking it all down

Believe it or not the syllabus does have a direction, there is a method to the madness. The easiest way to visualise the links is to draw a flow chart. It will reveal the relationships between subtopics at a high level of abstraction. I have done it below for the module: Ideas to implementation.

Zoom level: 2



When you set it out like this, the structure of the course begins to make sense. There is a famous quote from perhaps one of the greatest physicists of all time, Isaac Newton:

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

The Physics course lives true to this philosophy – each topic uses some information from the one before!

You will use the insight from previous topics to uncover new discoveries. Hopefully you appreciate the order the course is structured in. If you study by following the syllabus order, you will be able to reuse some of the knowledge you’ve gained. This makes new concepts easier to grasp, whilst reinforcing the concepts you’ve learned already!

We’re now ready to zoom into the syllabus further and look into each dot-point.

Zoom level: 3

Again, there is a story behind it! Try having a quick read through the dot points, as well as your textbook to get a rough gist of the story, then it’s time to map it out!

Pro tip – Be creative you could create a comic, whatever helps you frame the narrative in your head.

I’ve included a simple flowchart below for the second dot point in ideas to implementation:

2. The reconceptualisation of the model of light led to an understanding of the photoelectric effect and black body radiation


Food for thought: Is light a particle or a wave?

Analysing keywords of the HSC Physics Syllabus

Once you’ve identified what you need to cover, it’s time to figure out how much depth you need to go into.

This means we have to zoom in again and really analyse the keywords. Let’s have one final look at our syllabus!

Zoom level: 4

Notice you are asked to describe Hertz’s observations during his experiment: thus, you are expected to understand the content. They want you to know what Hertz did in his experiment and what he noticed, as well as elaborate on certain parts if asked to do so!

However, if we take a look at black body radiation and Planck’s hypothesis, you’ll notice the syllabus says: identify. Quantum mechanics is incredibly weird and wonderful, but it’s also really hard! (As a quick aside, if you decide to go to university and study Physics, you won’t do this stuff until close to the end of your degree, it really can get quite complex!) NESA knows it’s hard and that’s why they just want you to just identify this is a solved problem. You aren’t expected to understand why introducing Planck’s constant fixes the problem, just that it does.

The full list of key words used in the HSC is available here!

Hopefully by now you appreciate the hidden beauty of this HSC Physics syllabus, and I’ve convinced you of its importance.

If you follow the few simple tips in this article each time you move to a new topic, you will have a killer plan for your study, and have a much better understanding of what you know, what you’re learning and what you will know!

Looking for some extra help with your HSC studies?

We pride ourselves on our inspirational HSC coaches and mentors!

We offer tutoring and mentoring for Years K-12 in a variety of subjects, with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or at our state of the art campus in Hornsby!

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Give us a ring on 1300 267 888, email us at [email protected] or check us out on Facebook!

Vamsi Srinivasan is looking to uncover the next hidden truth of the universe. He was so fascinated by the beauty of Physics and Mathematics during his HSC that he went on to study Physics at University. He is now in his second year of a dual degree in Physics/Computer Science. He loves physics and maths so much, he wanted to share his passion and has been an Art of Smart coach for the past 2 years. He’s helped coach students in physics as well as all ranges of HSC Maths from General to Extension 2. In his spare time you can find him watching Tennis or Formula 1 or perhaps listening to his favourite podcast ‘Hello Internet’.


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