Managing Your Time in HSC Exams: A Comprehensive Guide

In the realm of NSW HSC, mastering the curriculum for Chemistry and Physics requires a blend of theoretical understanding, practical application, and strategic exam techniques. In this article, we'll be exploring some proven strategies to help you excel in your Chemistry and Physics exams.


What is the Structure of the Exam?

Begin your exam strategy development by first familiarising yourself with the exam structure. Both HSC Chemistry and Physics exams are divided into two sections:

  • Section I has 20 multiple-choice questions.
  • Section II consists of short answer and long response questions. 

Section I has 20 multiple-choice questions. Section II consists of short answer and long response questions. It's crucial to understand the intricacies of this format. Notably, as you traverse through each section, the complexity of the questions gradually increases. In Section I, the difficulty level subtly ascends from the first to the twentieth question. A similar pattern is observed in Section II, commencing with question 21, where the questions become more complex, requiring progressively deeper comprehension and thought with each subsequent question. Being aware of this pattern can assist you in preparing mentally and strategising your approach to answer the questions, while efficiently managing your time and cognitive resources.

Let's now delve into some strategies to help you achieve the greatest success in your HSC Chemistry and Physics exams:

1. Using Reading Time Effectively

Optimising your approach to time management can be a game-changer for your HSC Chemistry and Physics exam scores, and one often overlooked strategy is utilising the 5-minute reading time effectively.

During the reading time, we recommend that you do a preliminary skim of the written response questions. The goal of this is to quickly highlight which questions might present challenges, focusing particularly on high-value questions - those that offer 6 or more marks which usually cover core topics in the syllabus. By identifying potential difficulties early on and considering the nature of the questions – identify, provide, explain, etc., future time crunches that lead to inadequately answered questions can be avoided.

HSC exams also often feature questions with embedded graphs and tables. Utilising the reading time to familiarise yourself with these will similarly ease understanding and facilitate more effective responses during writing time.

Our recommendation is to prioritise specific types of questions during your reading time for each exam:

  • For HSC Chemistry, focus on the analysis of organic substances using various spectroscopic techniques and organic chemistry flowchart questions.
  • For HSC Physics, questions involving experimental correlations to models and theories, such as atomic models and light models, should take precedence. Additionally, give attention to those that necessitate the 'analysis' of experiments or data.

Towards the end of your reading time, you may choose to read and identify the answer for the first few multiple-choice questions, or any that don't require calculations. When writing time begins, you can quickly write down the answers to gain a head start on the exam.

Should I Attempt Multiple Choice Questions First or Second?

The sequence in which you tackle the HSC exam carries no definitive right or wrong method. Some candidates prefer to follow the given order to avoid confusion and inadvertently overlooking a question. Conversely, you might opt to tackle the written response questions first, as multiple-choice questions can often consume more time than their mark value warrants

Your strategy for the exam's order should ultimately be decided during the reading time, contingent upon the exam's content and the varying levels of question difficulty.

Time Management in Multiple Choice Questions

As we mentioned previously, in both HSC Chemistry and Physics exams, the complexity of multiple-choice questions tends to escalate from question 1 through to 20. However, this progression might not hold true for school trial exams.

We advise allotting roughly 35 minutes for multiple-choice questions in the HSC exam, translating to an average of 1 minute and 45 seconds per question.

As a rule of thumb, aim to spend no more than 1 minute on straightforward to moderately challenging questions, especially those that don't necessitate extensive calculations. For more demanding questions, limit your time to a maximum of 3 minutes.

Recognising demanding and lengthy questions at the outset is crucial. On occasion, it may be more time-efficient to skip a multiple-choice question if it appears it will consume over 2-3 minutes to arrive at an answer. Equally important is your confidence level; if you feel uncertain about solving a problem, it might be wiser to mark it for review and revisit it later.

For instance, if you stumble upon an unfamiliar question and find yourself at a loss, the recommended strategy is to make an educated guess, flag it, and return to it at the end of the exam if time permits.

Remember, each multiple-choice question carries only 1 mark. Dedicating more than 3 minutes to secure a single mark could potentially sacrifice three marks from the written answer section.

Time Management in Written Response Questions

The manner in which you navigate through section II of HSC Chemistry and Physics exams is influenced by several factors. As with section I, the complexity of questions typically escalates from question 21 to the final one. However, the last question may not necessarily be the most difficult one. Therefore, it's vital to utilise your reading time to pinpoint questions that demand a larger chunk of your time.

Generally, we advocate tackling the first few questions of the written answer section sequentially (since these are usually easier), followed by those you feel confident in answering. Then, move onto difficult questions or ones that require significant time to attempt. Avoid postponing these questions until the end as time pressure doesn't favor solving complex problems.

However, if the exam's very last question is unfamiliar, appears challenging, or carries many marks, it is wise to avoid leaving this to the very end.

When engaged with a lengthy question, it is crucial to remain mindful of the passing time and the number of unanswered questions remaining. If you're confident about the answer to an extensive question and are sure it will secure more marks, albeit consuming more time, then complete it before proceeding. Conversely, if you find yourself stumped or devoid of ideas, it's prudent to flag the question for review and shift focus to other questions.

How to Use Spare Time at The End of Your HSC Exam

If you've managed your time adeptly, you should have a minimum of 30 minutes remaining to carry out the following tasks. For some school trial exams, you may not have this opportunity simply due to excessive number of questions. 

Ensure that all attempted questions have been fully answered. It's possible that you might have left a few incomplete due to time constraints. Also, confirm that all multiple-choice questions have received your attention.

Double-check the calculation-based questions in both multiple-choice and written response sections, particularly those that involved more than two stages of workings. Verify that all final answers are marked with the correct number of significant figures and include units where necessary. 

For non-calculation questions, revisit them and assess whether your response has comprehensively addressed all elements.

Specifically, for HSC Chemistry, ensure you've:

  1. Checked your expression for equilibrium constant calculation questions.
  2. Balanced your equations and included the correct states.
  3. Accurately written names and drawn structures of organic compounds.

For HSC Physics, be sure to:

  1. Verify all vectors have the correct directions.
  2. Reexamine questions requiring the right-hand grip or palm rule, especially those related to electromagnetism.



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