Student Stories
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How I Scored a 48 in VCE Physics

Physics is a subject of perseverance, a true test of how many times one can figure out that you need to find the change in momentum, or repeating Lenz’s law for the thousandth time....
Written by
Logan Divers
Published on
December 26, 2023

If there’s anything I’m sure we can all agree on in this subject, it’s the sheer amount of study…for the minimum work requirement. Physics is a subject of perseverance, a true test of how many times one can figure out that you need to find the change in momentum, or repeating Lenz’s law for the thousandth time. But in all seriousness, that’s what preparing for the SACs and the end of year exam entails in a nutshell. This subject is all about knowing the different disguises of what are ultimately the same questions being asked year after year - a game of picking the right selection of formulas or explanations from the aisle if you will.

When I was studying for this subject, I never knew of any special ‘trick’, but I did amass various techniques that worked out for myself. While every student studies differently, I thought I could provide some insight into how my Physics ‘regime’ looked.

Do all the past exams you can!

VCE in general is an effort of managing your time. Physics is going to make part of a 5-6 subject portfolio, the rest of which also need time and attention, so knowing how to efficiently study for assessments is crucial. Writing notes, doing textbook questions or watching YouTube videos can be quite helpful for most, but the gold truly lies in the piles of old papers; they’re oftentimes a high-achieving Physics student’s lifeline. Aside from getting used to the VCAA formatting and question style, it’s a poorly kept secret that the exam writers occasionally either repeat old questions in their entirety or just slightly alter some values. You’ll likely notice this quickly if you’re able to do exams from 1995 onwards, but even from 2002 - 2015, repetition is somewhat noticeable.

Therefore, by doing all the past exams, not only are you strengthening your understanding of concepts and application ability, but you are also effectively learning from the examiners’ playbook. Now that’s not to say that every year we’ll see a chimaera of old exam bits, but the general essence of a question still lingers for the annual test - there’s only so many ways one could ask what the tension of a rope swinging in a circle is.

While the questions themselves become repetitive, the subject itself should not feel monotonous, you should also…

Enjoy Physics

While it would be quite odd to take on a subject you hate, ensuring that you are personally getting more out of this endeavour will really push you in achieving greater academic heights. Physics should not purely be a means to obtain a high ATAR, but instead, a primarily enriching experience that also has the potential to elevate to that final score. Getting yourself into the ‘crunch’ mindset for any subject can be detrimental to your motivation to continually push yourself harder rather than just ‘get it out of the way’. Out of curiosity, I would often go and do extra research on many of the concepts taught during ¾ Physics, so by making this subject an enjoyable aspect of my day-to-day routine, it prevented repetitive monotony reminiscent of burnout. I know it sounds cheesy, but experience Physics rather than just absorbing it. I found it quite fun to do a complicated question with a silly premise, as the desire to ‘prove’ whether something that seems ridiculous could really happen was quite fun. Though unfortunately Physics lacks a ‘Tasmania Jones’-esque running gag…
In a nutshell, don’t make Physics a burden, but make it enjoyable and you’ll be more likely to spend more time studying productively instead of stagnating.

An example of a ‘funny’ question. Credit to VCAA, VCE Physics Exam 2 (2002)

Outside Help

VCE in general shouldn’t be a lone ranger endeavour; one of the most valuable resources is in fact, another brain. Aside from geniuses, we all eventually encounter at least one part of the curriculum that we can’t immediately grasp. In my experience, I found it extremely valuable to be able to ask another person for their explanation rather than consulting overcomplicated Wikipedia articles or keep metaphorically ramming my head into the same paragraph in the textbook - though I suppose that part is obvious already. However, one aspect of Maths Methods I was able to carry over into Physics was getting another to critique your calculations and explanations. The 2022 examiner’s report begins by stating that “Students are missing out on marks because they are not showing sufficient working”, so having a teacher, or even better yet, a tutor to go over your work can prove invaluable in ‘covering your tracks’ so to speak. For most subjects, answering questions in the exam is very commonly about being one step ahead of the examiner - always trying to predict what they will look for. In this respect, having harsher feedback on your study often works in your favour for the final exam and even SACs for that matter. At least in my experience, this is where tutors really helped, as they often read through my work with a finer comb than my teacher would, helping sharpen my ability to know exactly what a question needs as per VCAA standards.

In Conclusion

These are just a few of the main things I found greatly helpful during my time studying, so while I hope that someone out there also feels similarly for this advice, it’s ultimately most important to try different things and learn what’s best for yourself. VCE Physics can feel overwhelming at times, so I’d like to end this piece with a quote from Aristotle:

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet”.

Now whether or not he actually said those words is up for debate but regardless, I feel that this phrase encapsulates this subject, and Year 12 as a whole. They at times feel like a gruelling battle, but ultimately give back the effort one puts in - especially for those seeking academic glory, metaphorically speaking of course!

Thank you for reading.

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