Is HSC Chemistry and Physics for Me?

Choosing the right subjects for your Higher School Certificate (HSC) can be a challenging decision. Chemistry and Physics are both popular and rewarding choices for students who have a strong interest in science. Students often ask themeselves the questions "Should I pick chemistry of physics for the HSC"? This blog post will discuss the factors you should consider before selecting these subjects, so you can make an informed decision and set yourself up for success in your HSC journey. 

Undertaking the following steps will help you immensely in deciding whether or not your should pick chemistry and physics for the HSC.  


1. Assess your interest and passion

First and foremost, ask yourself if you have a genuine interest and passion for Chemistry and/or Physics. Before year 11, you would have has an opportunity to experience what these subjects are really about. These subjects can be demanding, so it is essential to have a strong motivation to learn and succeed. 


Consider how much chemistry could be relevant to your future goals such as the ATAR which you want to achieve, and potential career paths including materials science, environmental chemistry, or pharmaceutical research. In materials science, for example, understanding chemical properties and reactions is critical for developing new materials and improving existing ones. A strong foundation in Chemistry can open doors to exciting and diverse career opportunities in various fields. Chemistry is also a fundamental subject to master if you want to pursue a further career in health science and medicine. 


Similarly, HSC Physics sets the foundations for more advanced physics studies which are taught in university, and plays an important role in careers such as engineering, data science, computer science, astronomy, and medicine. Learning physics not only enriches your understanding of the universe, but also helps to develop critical thinking, problem solving, and quantitative skills which are beneficial for these career paths. 


2. Understand the Course Content and Structure

Both Chemistry and Physics in the NSW HSC have specific course content and structures which may differ from other states/countries. Familiarise yourself with the syllabus for each subject by reviewing the NESA (NSW Education Standards Authority) website. This will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of topics, learning outcomes, and assessment tasks.

For HSC Chemistry, you will encounter topics such as atomic structure, chemical bonding, chemical equilibrium, acids and bases, and organic chemistry. 

For HSC Physics, you will encounter topics such as kinematics (think velocity, acceleration), dynamics (think forces), electromagnetism (think voltage and current). You will also learn about modern physics such as quantum physics and particle physics. 

Seeing as you will have had the opportunity to learn some of these topics in year 10, also consider whether or not you enjoyed learning them. 


 3. Consider the workload and time commitment

Chemistry and Physics are content-heavy subjects that require a significant time commitment for study and revision. Balancing these subjects alongside other HSC courses can be challenging. Consider your current study habits and time management skills, and be prepared to allocate additional time for these subjects if necessary.

STEM subjects like HSC Chemistry and Physics require deep understanding to master and excel in, rather than simply rote learning. This will require more time, motivation and discipline for every student to achieve. 

Also consider the assessments which you will have to do. For both HSC Chemistry and HSC Physics, a "depth study" science project requiring 15 hours worth of class time will be mandatory. Although 15 hours of allocated class time will be provided, the task will extra work outside of these hours.


4. Develop problem-solving and analytical skills. 

Success in Chemistry and Physics requires strong problem-solving and analytical skills. These subjects involve applying scientific concepts to real-world situations, designing experiments, and interpreting data. Start developing these skills early on to help you excel in these subjects and reduce the learning curve.

Both HSC Chemistry and Physics contain mathematics. There are calculations for every module of HSC Chemistry and Physics. 

In HSC Chemistry, you need maths for a variety of different topics from stoichiometry which is a very fundamental concept in chemistry, to thermodynamics, calculating equilibrium constants, and doing acid–base type reaction calculations. 

In HSC Physics, you need maths for everything related to and beyond motion. 

If you're having trouble with algebra and manipulating equations, then you may be at a disadvantage. Consider taking Mathematics Advanced or higher as the mathematics rigour you will learn form these courses will aid you in the sciences. 


5. Research university prerequisites

If you're considering studying science, engineering, or related fields at university, it's crucial to check the prerequisites for the courses you're interested in. Many universities require Chemistry and/or Physics as prerequisites for specific degrees, so choosing these subjects for your HSC can open up more opportunities for further study. In some cases where Chemistry and Physics are not pre-requisites, they are assumed knowledge.

For example, some health science, dentistry and medicine courses require HSC Chemistry as a pre-requisite. Some engineering courses may not require students to have taken HSC Physics but assume they have the relevant knowledge. 


6. Reflect on your abilities and learning style

Be honest with yourself about your abilities and learning style when considering Chemistry and Physics for the HSC. Both HSC Chemistry and Physics are conceptual subjects that require a good level of understanding to do well in. Simply memorising the things you learn will not help you go very far in these subjects. Understanding science concepts requires a lot of self-reflection, asking questions and seeking feedback – all of which require effort and time. 

Therefore, these subjects can be challenging, and it's important to recognise if you have any areas of weakness or difficulty. Seek additional support or resources if needed to ensure you're well-prepared for the demands of these subjects.


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