How to Improve in High School Science

High school science is vital for nearly all career paths in STEM. However, it can be challenging and even frustrating for some. In this post, we hope to introduce study methods you can use to better your journey in science.


Start Early, Experiment Often

Before we begin, it is important to understand that the methods we are going to talk about may not work for everyone. The ‘optimal learning style’ differs between students.


This is why experimentation is key.


Especially in NSW, a lot of people have the misconception that years 7 to 11 are ‘not important’ and only the HSC year matters. Whilst your grades in years 7-11 do not contribute to your ATAR, this does not mean your time in these years is irrelevant. In fact, they are crucial.


This is because the students who take the time to experiment with different study strategies before year 12 are more likely to have found their optimal learning style. They try something one semester and if it does not work, they try something else the following semester. There is no downside in trying strategies that do not work and doing poorly in a few exams. Because again, your marks here do not count towards your ATAR. But, you gaining experience with what does and doesn’t work, will.


This idea of ‘experimentation’ is why you rarely ever hear about incredible transformations, where individuals who have slacked off in years 7-11 get great marks in year 12 simply because they have put in more effort.


It is difficult, if not impossible, to find your optimal learning style in the minuscule one year of your HSC.


So, if you are currently a junior high school student –


Start early and thank your younger self later.


Be Curious

Now we will dive into the strategies that you can experiment with. First up is –


Being curious!


Often, the best science students are those who genuinely want to understand nature. They frequently try to use their current scientific knowledge to explain foreign phenomena. Through this, they not only learn something new, but also gain critical skills in ‘scientific thinking’.


Scientific thinking, broadly, is one’s ability to apply rather than recite. And this is a vital skill in the current HSC syllabi for physics, chemistry, and biology. Past HSC exams have recurringly shown that NESA values a student’s ability to take what they have learnt and explain something they have never seen. Being curious allows you to practice this skill.


Furthermore, curious students are those that always ask questions when they do not understand. Through this, they not only gain a more confident understanding of the content but will occasionally also flatten out any misconceptions.


For some reason, many students do not want to ‘be a bother’ to their teachers and forgo clarifying things they do not understand. This is NOT a healthy mindset to have. In fact, teachers love it when you ask questions because it shows that you actually care about what they’re teaching – wouldn’t you?


There is a reason why NASA – a leading scientific body – dedicated an entire rover to the concept of ‘Curiosity’, and this is partly why.


Osmotic Learning

Osmotic learning is a learning strategy where knowledge is absorbed gradually and in no particular order, much like water through a semi-permeable membrane in the process of osmosis. This approach prioritises learning from various sources over time rather than cramming information in a structured, linear manner. It includes many different study methods, but what it excludes is most important.


Sitting down and face-planting in one-hundred-plus pages of chemistry notes or eating an entire textbook is NOT osmotic learning - nor is it effective. Or fun.


What is effective, is you doing past exams, making mistakes, and learning from them. You learn a little from each mistake. The mistakes you made are not going to follow a strict order. For example, it’s not like you’ll make mistakes associated with Module 5 content in one chemistry or physics paper, and then Module 6 in the next. You’re much more likely to make a mixture of mistakes. So, you are now learning osmotically.


Another example of osmotic learning has already been mentioned. It’s asking your teachers questions! You may go in asking about chemical equilibrium but come out having also learnt something about acids and bases. You never know where your discussions with your teachers will end. The more you talk with them, the more likely your scientific understanding will increase to their level. Knowledge is flowing from teacher to student, from higher to lower concentration, just like in osmosis.


Obviously, osmotic learning is less structured than if you were to read a textbook from front to back, but it is a lot more fun and effective. This is because when you read a textbook from front to back, you are likely to re-read things you already know and understand. Whereas osmotic learning is targeted. You don’t make mistakes on things you already know, because a mistake is definitionally something you did not know. You also do not ask questions about things you already know – unless you are egotistic and want to feel good about yourself....


Additionally, being exposed to small packets of new information at a time allows you to retain them better. Stuffing your head with a textbook in a few sittings is likely to overwhelm your memory.


A New Approach to Note Taking

A common ‘pitfall’ approach to note taking is copying everything down verbatim. Not only does this suggest that you do not understand the content and as such, cannot put it into your own words, but it will also make your notes incredibly messy.


Instead, you should always try to re-word, organise, and make your notes more concise. This is difficult to do on the spot during class time as teachers often move through content fast. As such, you require a ‘new approach to class time’.


A New Approach to Class Time

Many students think that class is where they should be introduced to new content. However, the best students always look at the material well before class. They write notes on it and try their best to understand it in their own time. This ensures that when they do come to class, the entire duration will just be a revision for them. It will also allow them to jot down questions that they can ask during class time.


If class time is the first point of contact between you and new content, you are very likely to have no clue about what the teacher is saying. You will doze off and waste time.


Ask your teachers well in advance as to what you’ll be learning next. Then, take the initiative and learn it yourself beforehand.


Learning By Teaching Others



As you dive into HSC Chemistry and Physics, embracing the 'protégé effect' can revolutionise your learning journey.


By learning through teaching others, you not only cement your grasp on intricate concepts like atomic structures, chemical reactions, or the principles of Newtonian physics, but also significantly boost your memory and understanding.


When you explain these concepts to your peers, you're compelled to break them down and clarify, leading to a more profound and applicable knowledge.


By engaging in this practice, you can also identify and fill your own knowledge gaps, making it an exceptionally effective strategy for mastering the complexities of HSC Chemistry and Physics.


Read more about how the Protége effect helps you improve in science here



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