The physics questions that had HSC student stumped

Physics exam question for 2017 HSC
Physics exam question for 2017 HSC
Students from Prairiewood High School are pictured in the schools observatory on 30 October, 2017. Photo: Brook Mitchell

Students from Prairiewood High School are pictured in the schools observatory on 30 October, 2017. Photo: Brook Mitchell

"I thought it was challenging but overall pretty good," Madison Yeoh said of Monday morning's physics HSC exam. But two questions had her stumped.

"One was about magnetic flux and the other was on energy changes on the outside of a rocket when decelerating into Earth's atmosphere," said Madison, 17, who is in year 12 at Prairiewood High School.

"A lot of questions were condensed into one so it tested your knowledge of a lot of areas, but [the exam] was pretty rewarding once you completed it."

Steven Condell, 17, said the exam was "about average ... [but] there were a bit more calculation questions in there than usual".

Steven, who is studying both physics and chemistry at Prairiewood High, said his passion for science grew after he chose astronomy as an elective in years 9 and 10.

"I wasn't as good at science in years 7 and 8 but astronomy helped me get better," he said.

"[Astronomy] is very different compared to what we study in normal classes at school, it's an application science; we get to collect a lot of observational data."

Nearly 9700 year 12 students in NSW are studying physics this year, compared to about 9300 students last year.

At Prairiewood High, 24 year 12 students are doing physics. About 37 year 11 students are also studying the subject and 45 year 10 students have now chosen to do it for their HSC.

The school's science head teacher, Giorgio Di Scala, said it would need an extra physics class next year and was looking at hiring another teacher to keep up with the growing numbers.

Prairiewood High is one of the few schools in the state with its own observatory and offers astronomy as an elective in years 9 and 10.

Mr Di Scala said the computerised telescope and the school's regular star nights were "a drawcard" for students considering studying science.

"We have star nights just to excite kids about science," he said.

"In 2012 when the transit of Venus happened, primary school kids, parents and members of the community came in; there were hundreds of people.

"Everyone got a chance to see it and that's something that won't happen for another 100 years."

Kerry Sheehan, who is the science inspector and senior curriculum inspector at the NSW Education Standards Authority, welcomed the growing number of students choosing to do science subjects for the HSC.

"These are the hard sciences that everyone in the Western world is trying to increase," Mr Sheehan said.

He said the new physics curriculum being introduced next year would aim to let students pursue their own areas of interest more than the current syllabus.

"It sets us up with the rest of the world," Mr Sheehan said.

"The syllabus for the first time encourages kids to collaborate outside of school and work with Australian and international researchers.

"It teaches them to think about what we don't know rather than limiting students by only looking at what we do know about.

"Physics is back."

This story The physics questions that had HSC student stumped first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.