Easy Tips for Success in VCE PhysicsBy Alevine Magila in Study
18th of July 2017
Alevine Magila graduated in 2016, with a raw 46 in VCE Physics. He recently presented a free VCE Physics lecture – you can find his slides here!
I’ve always perceived Physics as one of the more glamorous sciences. Black holes, sub-atomic particles and, more recently, gravitational waves. These are just some examples of the vast array of spectacular and whimsical phenomena that fall under the ‘Physics’ tab in the catalogue of science.
However, when it comes to Year 12, VCE Physics is more often than not perceived as a “hard” or “challenging subject” – not so much a whimsical or fascinating one. Hopefully, you can agree that Physics is in fact not significantly more or less difficult than any of your other VCE subjects. Certainly, it can be hard to learn some of the more novel concepts because of the nuance embedded in the ideas (such as Newton’s third law). But overall, succeeding in Physics boils down to doing the same things required for any other subject: smart and consistent study.
So then, what are some of the best ways to approach studying for VCE Physics?
Here are some of the things I did last year.
1. Always be ahead
It takes a lot of work, but being ahead gives you a huge advantage over your peers – not just in VCE Physics, but in all of your Year 12 classes. With proper time management, being ahead gives you more time to get your head around new content, and develop new skills and competencies.
Moreover, getting ahead in your own time also means that, in class, you have the chance to consolidate knowledge. Everyone else is trying to learn it for the first time.
Personally, I found this great in terms of reducing my stress levels. It was almost like a safety net; if I ‘fell behind’ on a stressful or busy week, I wouldn’t actually be behind – I’d just be where everyone else was. And that was a huge comfort for me going through Year 12.
2. Understand the content/teaching
This is a critical point. Many people in Physics might know or be familiar with the content. But to truly do well in Physics, it’s crucial that you understand everything you cover.
Before I began Year 12, I actually did a little bit of research about learning. I found that the best way to learn something is, in fact, to teach it. While this may sound bizarre, teaching something is a fantastic way for your brain to internalise and organise information you’ve learnt. Teaching something ‘re-packages’ your knowledge in such a way that is easy to remember and explain.
I was fortunate enough to have several opportunities through Year 12 to teach in my own little study groups – and even a few times in my actual Physics class. However, even if there was nobody to teach, whenever I studied in my room, I’d often be pacing and talking to myself. Basically, I imagined I had to teach what I was learning.
The takeaway point here is that you must understand what you learn – and teaching is a great way to do this. Understanding why something works (e.g., a magnetic field and an electric current producing a magnetic force) is hugely helpful in terms of problem-solving and conceptual understanding. And it’s also great in the face of ‘explain’ style questions.
3. Do tonnes of practice questions
If you take away any point from this list, let it be this one.
Doing practice questions is the best way you can set yourself up to score highly in VCE Physics. Even if you have a strong understanding of the content, being able to apply it in an exam-style setting is a whole different thing. This is why practice questions are so important; they force you to practise applying your knowledge.
Answering questions correctly is great, because it helps consolidate what you already know. But answering questions incorrectly can be just as, if not more, beneficial. Getting questions wrong helps you identify areas where you can improve, and sheds light on your weaknesses within a particular topic. This can help you to avoid making similar mistakes in SACs and the exam.
In this way, the act of marking your questions and understanding how why you got questions wrong turns out to be just as essential as physically doing the questions themselves.
4. Understand where you’re at
This is a really important point.
To do well in VCE Physics (or, indeed, any VCE subject), you need to have a strong idea of where you’re at with the subject.
You need to know your strengths, your weaknesses, how you’re going to improve, how fast you are at answering questions, and so on.
In this way, the mindset of a high-achieving VCE student can mirror that of an Olympic athlete preparing for an upcoming race. They have a committed routine, a laser-sharp focus on their goal and a steely discipline that helps drive them toward victory. They know exactly where they are, and exactly how they’re going to improve.
While it doesn’t have to be with that great an intensity, this is the kind of mindset you should be putting yourself in to achieve highly in Physics (and Year 12 in general).
Understanding where you’re at – having an idea of what you are and are not good at – is vastly useful information. Information you should be tracking and making the most of. One way you could do this is by appropriately tailoring how you study according to your strengths and weaknesses. For example, targeting your weakest areas, doing questions/practice exams in time conditions, and so on. Whatever you choose to do, appropriately adjusting how you study according to where you’re at is a very powerful tool indeed.
Year 12 moves at a ridiculously fast pace. For most of us, it’s the fastest moving and most intense school year yet. So, is it really worth it to try squeezing in some revision sessions on top of everything else you’re doing?
The short answer: yes.
While it can be challenging to regularly revise throughout the year, revision will ultimately save you more time than it takes up. This is because revision helps to keep concepts you’ve learnt throughout the year alive in your head, as opposed to arduously trying to re-learn everything from Unit 3 at the end of the year. The last thing you want to do is reach the beginning of Term 4 having completely forgotten everything you learnt at the start of the year.
So please, make sure you revise.
Doing these five things had a significant influence on my success in VCE Physics. However, it would be remiss if I did not mention one final point that ties everything together:
Being a consistent student throughout the year is crucial to achieving a high study score. Even if you haven’t done as well as you might have liked in one particular SAC, working hard throughout the year and being disciplined about your work will take you far.
Recently, I was talking to a friend about university, and how challenging Semester 1 was shaping out to be. I told her that I’d “pick myself up once Semester 1 ended, and really smash it out in Semester 2.” Amused, she simply replied, “why not try and smash it out now?” – and she was right!
No matter where you are in your studies, remember that it is never too late to get things back on track. Every little thing you do to improve your knowledge and skills will pay off, and help you do well in VCE Physics.
And for the most glamorous science, who wouldn’t want to do well?
Have VCE Physics questions? Alevine will be lurking the VCE Physics Question Thread, which currently has almost 2,000 posts!
You can also ask your questions on The VCE Discussion Group.