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Matthew Drielsma’s Hacks: How I Aced HSC Physics

In this article, Matthew Drielsma shares how he aced HSC Physics.

In this post, Matrix Alumnus Matthew Drielsma explains how he aced HSC Physics.


Me, Myself and I:


Matthew Drielsma


Cranbrook School

University Course Goal

Aerospace Engineering at University of Sydney



Dream Career

I want to work in Aerospace engineering and work on the Mars mission because I think it will be the biggest human achievement of the 21st century!


My HSC Subjects

My current HSC subjects are:

  • Physics
  • Maths Extension 2
  • Maths Extension 1
  • English Advanced
  • Earth and Environmental Science


My best performing subject was Physics

I performed the best in Physics because I was genuinely interested in the content. Also, having DJ Kim as my Matrix teacher really helped. He has a fiery passion for Physics and had the best interest of his students at all times.

The new syllabus was supposedly more quantitative and maths heavy. However, the learning experience at Matrix (as well as doing 4 unit Maths) allowed me to better appreciate how maths is applicable in real-life situations.

Many of my school peers studying physics didn’t have a strong interest in the subject. This may have been influenced by their preconception of the difficulty of the subject, or their negative experiences with learning the subject (especially through our school teacher who briefly covered the topic in an uninteresting way).

I feel like only a small percentage of physics students enjoy the subject for its content. Instead, many do it because Physics is supposedly high scaling or because they can’t drop it anymore.

I feel that if more students took up an opportunity like Matrix tutoring, they would be exposed to the passion instilled in their learning.

This is not just about getting high marks, but to also develop an interest in the subject that goes beyond the confines of the syllabus.

When students have a positive learning experience of a subject and have a genuine interest in what they are learning, then it translates into their marks. So, it benefits students on both an enjoyment level and a rewarding level.


Take the uncertainty out of your Physics marks!


My worst performing subject was English

I performed the worst in English because I felt it that it did not contain enjoyable content, but rather was just about memorising essays which I found pointless and repetitive.


How I attained and maintained my number 1 ranking in Physics

1. Expand your knowledge outside the syllabus

To make sure I was ahead of my peers, I wasn’t just sticking to the expected content but I went outside the syllabus to expand my knowledge. This gave me vital background knowledge that helps me easily understand syllabus content.


2. Ask questions

I constantly asked my Matrix teacher, DJ, for help with questions, regardless of how stupid I thought they were. This allowed me to have a greater depth of knowledge that other students wouldn’t have had.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to ask questions regardless of how easy or irrelevant they are. Many of these questions often became questions in my tests. If I had not asked about them then I wouldn’t have known how to answer them.

3. Effectively utilising my Matrix Theory Books

The Matrix theory books were a lifesaver during the HSC. Their quality is well beyond any other resource I have come across, not just in terms of covering syllabus content, but also with their clarity and concision.


They clearly explain complex concepts that were not well covered at school.



3a. Planning answers with flow charts

The logical and sequential format used in the Matrix Theory book changed my way of thinking when it comes to answering questions.

During tests, I began to plan my answers; something that I had never adopted before. Planning my answers was probably the biggest step I made in boosting my success, especially through the use of flowcharts to plan longer response questions step by step.


By using flow charts, I was easily able to plan my extended response questions (5-9 marks) into a clear and logical form. This laid out a concise framework allowing me to write my answers efficiently.

By planning my answers beforehand, it not only allowed me to clearly structure my answers, but also save time and writing space. By doing this, I made sure that I was earning the maximum amount of marks in the minimum amount of time.


This efficiency was inspired by the philosophy of my Matrix teacher, DJ.

He said:

“If I had 10 hours to cut down a tree, I would spend 8 hours sharpening my axe,”

This emphasies the importance of planning before writing an answer.


3b. Annotate with highlighters and pens

Although the Matrix theory books provide great detail and coverage of the syllabus content, I found it very useful to constantly annotate and mark it.

By adding my own annotations, this allowed me to add ideas or notes that better helped me to learn or remember concepts. Despite the extensive depth that these theory books cover, I personally found that they cannot be thoroughly understood without the use of highlighter or pen annotations to outline important sections of areas of content.


Some useful techniques that I used were using different colour highlighters for different topic sections. This helped me associate different topics with different colours.


3c. Flag difficult concepts to revise later

I also used posted flags to mark sections of importance in areas that I had trouble with. This helped me find areas to focus on when I am revising. Doing all this allowed me to set up a revision scaffold as I progressed through the content, instead of having to find areas that I needed to revise later on.


My Advice to Future Students

You must do these three things:

1. Keep in touch with your tutors/ teachers.

The textbooks and workbooks are not designed to teach you everything on their own and you should by no means rely on them as your sole revision resource. The new syllabus is not heavily specific and these textbooks only go as far as the content that they have in them and will not cover every question that you have, so it is imperative that you constantly ask questions because they will be answered in great detail by your teachers and tutors.


2. Develop a system to plan your answers.

There is nothing worse than spending 10 minutes or more writing an answer to a 9 marker and then realising that you didn’t answer the question or have wasted time. Planning with techniques such as flow charts will ensure that you answer the question with clarity and concision as well as saving time and space that will reward more marks.


3. Start revising the hard stuff.

When revising the physics syllabus, especially for the HSC, start by revising the harder concepts first, so that you can identify the areas of content that you need the most help with, so that you can revisit it later on. During my HSC physics revision, I started with module 8 first as I found it the hardest and most content-heavy module. By doing it first I could flag areas that I had the most problems with and revisit it later on so that I was not cramming in learning the hardest topic closest to the exam.


You must never do these three things:

1. Don’t memorise answers or concepts.

Memorising answers will heavily reduce your ability to adapt to questions that you have never seen before. The probability of a memorised question being asked is highly unlikely so knowing a concept in detail will allow you to answer a wide range of variations of a particular concept.


2. Don’t just stick to the syllabus content.

The new Physics syllabus is very broad and unspecific in many areas, which reduces students’ ability to memorise answers. Sometimes exams will ask questions that apply ideas that are outside the syllabus into questions that are otherwise not known by sticking strictly to the syllabus.

Sometimes knowing how to derive a concept that is not expected in the syllabus will improve your understanding of a concept allowing you to better address it in question, which other students will not know as they did not read outside the syllabus. This was particularly useful when having to decide which formula to use as using different formulas will require knowledge of when they apply and how they are derived depending on the circumstances of the question.

For example, the 9 marker on the Physics HSC indirectly asked students to draw upon luminosity of the sun in an applied physical context, that required use of the luminosity equation. Without a thorough understanding of this concept, I would not have known how to relate this concept to this real-life situation of the sun, allowing me to adequately answer the question.


3. Don’t let the stress of school overtake your social life or enjoyment outside of school.

After having sat the HSC, myself and many of my peers realised that I put too much stress and pressure on myself to do well, based on the pressure that came with the trials examination. The HSC experience was very different to the trials, in that unlike the trials you have already learnt most of the content that will be in the HSC so there is less content learning to do, as well as the significantly larger time period that it extends across compared to the trials.

Some of my HSC exams were more than a week apart, and at times I found myself becoming bored because of the spare time I had between exams. If I could redo my HSC I would allow more time to simply relax between exams because I found myself more than prepared upon the day of the exams. Relaxing and enjoying activities such as exercise and socialising are healthy and very beneficial for mental preparation for exams and study and I would highly recommend regularly doing it.


Written by Guest Author

We have regular contributions to our blog from our Tutor Team and high performing Matrix Students. Come back regularly for these guest posts to learn their study hacks and insights!


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