The Beginner’s Guide to Physics Practical Skills

In this guide, we equip you with the essential Physics practical skills for acing your next Physics assessment.

An Overview of The Beginner’s Guide to Physics Practical Skills

The Beginner’s Guide to Physics Practical Skills is a comprehensive resource that will equip you with essential scientific skills required for conducting first and second-hand investigations.

Your knowledge and understanding of these Physics skills are pivotal to success in your Physics practical assessments at school as 60% weighting is allocated on the skills component of your school assessments.

60% weighting is allocated on the skills component of assessments

In this Guide we discuss:


Physics Practical Skills in Scientific Investigations

What are the stages of scientific investigations?

Scientific investigations have several stages:

  1. Planning
  2. Collecting data
  3. Analysing data
  4. Evaluation

An outline of the scientific method is shown in the flowchart below. Scientific investigations (e.g experiments) form a crucial part of the scientific method.

Scientific Method Flowchart


Practical skills are required in order to carry out each stage of an investigation.

These practical skills are assessed under the Working Scientifically Skills section of the Stage 6 (Year 11 and 12) Physics syllabus.

The stated objective of the syllabus is that students must “develop skills in applying the process of working scientifically.”

What are the Physics skills that you need to acquire?

We’ve tabulated the Physics skills outcomes for different stages of scientific investigations that you are expected to develop through the Physics course :

Table: Skills required for Physics course (Source: NESA)
PH11/12-1Questioning and predictingDevelops and evaluates questions and hypotheses for scientific investigation
PH11/12-2Planning investigationsDesigns and evaluates investigations in order to obtain primary and secondary data and information
PH11/12-3Conducting investigationsConducts investigations to collect valid and reliable primary and secondary data and information
PH11/12-4Processing data and informationSelects and processes appropriate qualitative and quantitative data and information using a range of appropriate media
PH11/12-5Analysing data and informationAnalyses and evaluates primary and secondary data and information
PH11/12-6Problem solvingSolves scientific problems using primary and secondary data, critical thinking skills and scientific processes
PH11/12-7CommunicatingCommunicates scientific understanding using suitable language and terminology for a specific audience or purpose

Your in-depth knowledge and understanding of these skills are pivotal to success in physics practical assessments at school.


What are you expected to demonstrate in each skills outcome?

NESA provides the following expanded descriptions of the outcomes on their website. Let’s see what skills they expect you, as a physics student, to develop:

Questioning and predicting (PH11/12-1)

  • Students are challenged to identify an issue or phenomenon that can be investigated scientifically through a process of developing, proposing and evaluating inquiry questions and hypotheses.
  • Investigate a phenomenon scientifically by gathering primary and/or secondary-sourced data.
  • Develop inquiry question(s) that require observations, experimentation and/or research to aid in constructing a reasonable and informed hypothesis. The consideration of variables is to be included in the questioning process.

Planning investigations (PH11/12-2)

  • Justify the selection of equipment, resources chosen and design of an investigation.
  • Ensure that all risks are assessed, appropriate materials and technologies are sourced, and all ethical concerns are considered.
  • Identify variables as independent, dependent and controlled to ensure a valid procedure is developed that will allow for the reliable collection of data. Investigations should include strategies that ensure controlled variables are kept constant and an experimental control is used as appropriate.

Conducting investigations (PH11/12-3)

  • Select appropriate equipment, employ safe work practices and ensure that risk assessments are conducted and followed.
  • Use appropriate technologies and follow procedures when disposing of waste.
  • The selection and criteria for collecting valid and reliable data is to be methodical and, where appropriate, secondary-sourced information referenced correctly.

Processing data and information (PH11/12-4)

  • Use the most appropriate and meaningful methods and media to organise and analyse data and information sources, including digital technologies and the use of a variety of visual representations as appropriate.
  • Process data from primary and secondary sources, including both qualitative and quantitative data and information.

Analysing data and information (PH11/12-5)

  • Identify trends, patterns and relationships; recognise error, uncertainty and limitations in data; and interpret scientific and media texts.
  • Evaluate the relevance, accuracy, validity and reliability of the primary or secondary-sourced data in relation to investigations.
  • Evaluate processes, claims and conclusions by considering the quality of available evidence, and use reasoning to construct scientific arguments.
  • Apply, where appropriate, mathematical models to demonstrate the trends and relationships that occur in data.

Problem solving (PH11/12-6)

  • Use critical thinking skills and creativity to demonstrate an understanding of scientific principles underlying the solutions to inquiry questions and problems posed in investigations.
  • Appropriate and varied strategies are employed, including the use of models to qualitatively and quantitatively explain and predict cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Synthesise and use evidence to construct and justify conclusions.
  • To solve problems, students: interpret scientific and media texts; evaluate processes, claims and conclusions; and consider the quality of available evidence.

Communicating (PH11/12-7)

  • Communicate all components of the Working Scientifically processes with clarity and accuracy is essential.
  • Use qualitative and quantitative information gained from investigations using primary and secondary sources, including digital, visual, written and/or verbal forms of communication as appropriate.
  • Apply appropriate scientific notations and nomenclature.
  • Appropriately apply and use scientific language that is suitable for specific audiences and contexts.

Now you know what skills will be assessed, you need to understand how they will be assessed. Let’s take a look at what Physics practical assessments at school involve.

Physics Assessments at School

Let’s take a look at what a Physic assessment task notification looks like.

Sample Year 11 Physics Assessment Task

A sample Assessment Task for Year 11 Physics from NESA is shown below.

guide-physics-physics practical skills-yr-11-assessment-task

Sample Year 12 Physics Assessment Task

A sample Assessment Tasks for Year 12 Physics from NESA is shown below.

guide-physics-physics practical skills-yr-12-assessment-task




What do physics assessments involve?

Your assessment task for Physics will assess your depth of knowledge, understanding and skills.

Your Physics skills will be assessed using two types of practical assessments:

  • Practical investigations (known as first-hand)
  • secondary-sourced investigations (known as second-hand)

Practical investigations or first-hand investigations are an essential part of both Year 11 and Year 12 course and must occupy a minimum of 35 hours of course time in each year.

Practical investigations or first-hand investigations include:

  • undertaking laboratory experiments, including the use of appropriate digital technologies
  • fieldwork

Secondary-sourced or second-hand investigations include:

  • locating and accessing a wide range of secondary data and/or information
  • using and reorganising secondary data and/or information

Through these Physics assessment tasks, your school will determine your level of physics skills competencies.

What are the components and weightings of my school assessments?

The components and weightings for Year 11 and 12 school assessments are shown below:

ComponentWeighting %
Skills in working scientifically60
Knowledge and understanding of course content40

As the components and weighting are mandatory for schools, your competencies in physics practical skills will play a significant role in your overall school assessment marks.


Preparing for Physics Practical assessments

Do you know what’s expected of you in your Physics assessment task?

Your Physics assessment task will involve both first and second-hand investigations in which you will be required to

  1. analyse the results of an experiment and
  2. calculate an unknown value.

To calculate the unknown value, you will need to able to:

  1. Identify trends, patterns and relationships in experimental data.
  2. Apply appropriate mathematical relationships (law of physics) to represent the trends in experimental data
  3. Identify the dependent, independent and control variables
  4. Manipulate the experimental results
  5. Draw a graph a line of best fit
  6. Calculate the gradient
  7. Relate the gradient to the unknown value using the mathematical relationship identified in (1)

To analyse the results of an experiment, you will need to be able to:

  1. Assess experimental error, uncertainty and limitations in data
  2. Assess the accuracy, validity and reliability of primary and secondary data and suggest improvements to investigations

Are you are familiar with these scientific skills?

Ask the following questions as a checklist to assess your essential scientific skills:

  • Do you know how to identify the independent, dependent and control variables?
  • Do you know the difference between validity, reliability and accuracy?
  • Do you know the different types of experimental errors?
  • Do you know how to draw a line of best fit and find the gradient of the line?

If you have answered no to any one of the questions, you may not be ready for your upcoming physics practical assessment.

Read Part 1 of this Guide, “How to Study for Physics Practical Exams” to learn more about preparing for your upcoming Physics assessment task.


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