Familiarise Yourself With ‘hsc Words’

A big part of succeeding in the HSC is knowing how to win marks. Merely studying for your subjects and learning the theory is half the work – you also need to be a master of exams.

In all HSC subjects, exam questions are always phrased using the same keywords. For example, you would have seen questions beginning with: “Describe the relationship between…”, “Outline the features of…”, “Compare the perspectives of…”, “Critically evaluate the implications of…” etc.

ALL the questions you encounter in the HSC would be phrased using one of the words in the HSC Glossary of Terms. In order to excel in all your exams, it is essential that you deeply familiarise yourself with the meanings of these ‘HSC words’. For example, know exactly what “Explain” requires you to do; know the difference between ‘Evaluate’ and ‘Assess’; know the difference between ‘Describe’ and ‘Outline’. Knowing the meaning of each word, and what each requires you to do is essential to getting full marks for your answers, especially for longer essay-type responses.

A good place to start is to read the Marking Criteria published for each past HSC exam.

The Marking Criteria

The Marking Criteria for past HSC exams is published every year for every subject. This is an invaluable resource as it lists out the exact criteria on which marks were awarded for each type of question. For example, in science exams (e.g. Physics, Biology or Chemistry) pay close attention to the 7-8 mark ‘Evaluate’ or ‘Analyse and assess’ questions – the marking criteria for these provide valuable information on what HSC markers award marks for. The difference between a 6/7 mark response and a 7/7 mark response is usually very subtle.

Minor details matter

A mark can be lost for a minor detail that the HSC marker was looking for, therefore thorough knowledge of the content (including background information) is necessary for high marks.

For example, Question 23 in the Chemistry 2008 is a typical Haber-Process question for 4 marks: “Using Le Chatelier’s principle, justify the choice of temperature and pressure conditions used to optimise the yield in the Haber process.” For full marks, students needed to identify typical temperatures and pressures used in a modern Haber plant, in addition to answering the question. This may seem confusing at first, since the question could be addressed without needing any real-life examples, but for full marks, the HSC markers required a mention of actual typical temperatures and pressures.

As you read more Marking Criteria, especially for the longer questions, you will familiarise yourself with exactly what the HSC markers are looking for, even if it does not seem obvious at first.

Read sample answers

The Marking Criteria also features sample ‘ideal responses’ that are of a full-mark standard. Read through these and pay close attention to what information they contain. Notice how each sample answer addresses the Marking Criteria for that question, and become familiar with how information can be incorporated to satisfy the Criteria.

Notice also the options available to you in how to structure your answer. For example, in science exams, there’s really very little restriction on what format your response takes, as long as it contains the information the HSC markers are looking for. Just because the writing space in the exam booklet is in dotted lines, this does not mean you are limited only to words in constructing your response. You will notice that even the official sample answers often use tables and diagrams in addition to text. Knowing this fact already puts you ahead of most students.

Practice them!

Apart from reading the Marking Criteria, the best way to familiarise yourself with different ‘HSC words’ is to practice. You should take every opportunity to do more practice exams, particularly actual past HSC papers, as well as exam-style questions. You should have your practice responses looked at by someone experienced, either by a good teacher, or a good HSC tutor.

In class, pay attention to the teacher when he/she discusses the requirements of different keywords. If this topic never comes up in class, request that it be covered before your exams. Ask your teachers if you are unsure about any detail, such as the subtle differences between words that appear synonymous.

Just remember that knowing how to approach different questions is a very important aspect of HSC success, and thus should not be neglected in your study!

Appendix: HSC Glossary of Terms

Source: Board of Studies

Note: merely memorising the definitions of each keyword is not useful enough. Ideally, you should do practice exams, or exam-style questions, and have them marked by someone experienced. At the least, you should read through Marking Criteria and sample responses, and note how each keyword was addressed.

Account, Account for: state reasons for, report on. Give an account of: narrate a series of events or transactions

Analyse: Identify components and the relationship between them; draw out and relate implications

Apply: Use, utilise, employ in a particular situation

Appreciate: Make a judgement about the value of

Assess: Make a judgment of value, quality, outcomes, results or size

Calculate: Ascertain/determine from given facts, figures or information

Clarify: Make clear or plain

Classify: Arrange or include in classes/categories

Compare: Show how things are similar or different

Construct: Make; build; put together items or arguments

Contrast: Show how things are different or opposite

Critically (analyse/evaluate): Add a degree or level of accuracy, depth, knowledge and understanding, logic, questioning, reflection and quality to (analysis/evaluation)

Deduce: Draw conclusions

Define: State meaning and identify essential qualities

Demonstrate: Show by example

Describe: Provide characteristics and features

Discuss: Identify issues and provide points for and/or against

Distinguish: Recognise or note/indicate as being distinct or different from; to note differences between

Evaluate: Make a judgement based on criteria; determine the value of

Examine: Inquire into

Explain: Relate cause and effect; make the relationships between things evident; provide why and/or how

Extract: Choose relevant and/or appropriate details

Extrapolate: Infer from what is known

Identify: Recognise and name

Interpret: Draw meaning from

Investigate: Plan, inquire into and draw conclusions about

Justify: Support an argument or conclusion

Outline: Sketch in general terms; indicate the main features of

Predict: Suggest what may happen based on available information

Propose: Put forward (for example a point of view, idea, argument, suggestion) for consideration or action

Recall: Present remembered ideas, facts or experiences

Recommend: Provide reasons in favour

Recount: Retell a series of events

Summarise: Express, concisely, the relevant details

Synthesise: Putting together various elements to make a whole

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