Beginner’s Guide to Year 12 Physics

Struggling to get your head around Physics? Don't worry, our beginner's Guide will help you through the Module so you don't have to hit panic buttons.

All about the Beginner’s Guide to Year 12 Physics

Year 12 Physics is the final frontier for Physics students!

You will apply the techniques and concepts learned in Year 11 to more complex problems, and learn about several new fields – the origins of the universe, the nature of light and the operation of electrical systems.

At the end of Year 12 students will sit their HSC exam, which will contain material from the entire years’ study – it is important that students are confident in every single area!

We’ve written the Beginner’s Guide to Year 12 Physics for you as an overview of the core concepts and methods of the Year 12 syllabus.


What’s in this Guide

This Guide will go through each of the four core modules of Year 12 Physics:

1. Advanced Mechanics

  1. Projectile Motion
  2. Circular Motion
  3. Gravitational Motion

2. Electromagnetism

  1. Motion of Charged Particles
  2. The Motor Effect
  3. Electromagnetic Induction

3. The Nature of Light

  1. The Wave Model of Light
  2. The Quantum Model of Light
  3. Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity

4. From the Universe to the Atom

  1. The Structure of the Atom
  2. Nuclear Reactions
  3. The Origins of the Universe

What type of questions can I expect in the HSC?

The most helpful thing you can do to ensure you are prepared for the Physics HSC is to complete the sample examination materials provided by NESA:

Typically, questions will be separated into two types:

  • Calculation questions
  • Explanation questions.

Calculation Questions:

Calculation questions involve calculating some unknown quantity, such as the:

  • Velocity of a ball
  • Energy lost by a satellite
  • Number of photons in a particular beam of light.

These can be simple questions with a straightforward answer or complex multi-part questions with a high chance for error.

Explanation Questions:

For some concepts, students will be asked to explain a particular phenomena or outline what is occurring in a certain scenario. Although they may not need to use calculations, student’s explanations must be supported with reference to the relevant laws of physics.

Importantly, questions in the HSC will be testing the entire body of Year 12 physics, not specific modules. Expect to see questions that combine concepts of Advanced Mechanics and The Nature of Light, for example.


What are some common student issues?

  • Students who are not confident in Year 11 modules – particularly Dynamics and Electricity and Magnetism – will have a lot of trouble in the first two modules of year 12.
  • Students rote learn specific scenarios instead of learning the laws of physics and how to apply them. This is a particular problem in Electromagnetism.
  • Students are not confident combining different types of calculations: They can perform more simple work, but can’t answer the longer questions in exams.
  • Students have trouble understanding some of the more complex concepts in Year 12, like the Quantum model of the atom or Special Relativity.
  • Students poorly explain physics concepts that they correctly understand, or don’t make explicit reference to the relevant laws of physics in their written answers.

How should I prepare for the HSC?

HSC and exam preparation is one of the most important things in Physics. A large portion of your final grade will come from these assessments!

Although we can’t provide a fool-proof way to ensure your readiness for the HSC, there are a few tips and tricks that will help maximise your performance:

Calculation Questions:

  • Go through the formula sheet and annotate every equation: you should know when they are each used, what every symbol means and what units everything is in!
  • Practice, practice, practice: do as many calculation questions as you can – you want the simpler questions to be ‘free marks’ by the time you reach the HSC.
  • Check your answers for realism: you will develop a ‘feel’ for what answers are realistic: if your numbers aren’t very likely to occur in real life, you may have done something wrong!
    A good example is calculating a velocity that is faster than the speed of light, which is impossible.

Explanation Questions:

  • Firstly, ensure you know the content: for every practice question you can’t answer, make sure you revise the material and then re-test yourself at a later date.
    Practise including references to the relevant physical laws wherever possible: for example, referencing Kepler’s laws in planetary motion questions.
    Discuss answers for explanation questions with others: often you will find that your understanding is incomplete, or realise that a classmate has worded their answer in a better way.


What about Depth Studies?

In addition to examinations and practical assessments, students in any Year 12 science are expected to undertake a Depth Study. This is similar to what was done in Year 11.

The depth study is an in-depth investigation of one aspect of the HSC Physics Syllabus and will involve students learning concepts and methods that are not explicitly covered in learning materials.

Students will be judged on their ability to work scientifically:

  • How well you plan and conduct your investigation
  • Data gathering and processing
  • Analysis and understanding, and
  • the thoroughness of your research.

However, this Beginner’s Guide is just that – a guide for beginners! Students will need to do their own work beyond this guide to develop the requisite understanding for the Depth Study. If you want help with Physics practical skills, you should read our Beginner’s Guide to Physics Practical Skills.

© Matrix Education and, 2023. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Related courses