HSC cheats have been caught hiding electronic devices in their clothing, concealing prepared answers up their sleeve and even attempting to get someone else to sit the exam.
One candidate smuggled unauthorised notes into an exam room where they were found on a desk and another who copied material from an electronic device claimed he had been "rote learning".
In other cases uncovered by the Board of Studies, students were caught with tiny audio players and writing prepared essays on tissues that were refolded and placed back in a wrapper. At least one HSC candidate wrote an essay in advance on similar paper to the board's exam booklets and then tried to insert it into the real answer book.
More than 2600 students - about 650 a year - were caught cheating or technically breaching exam rules during the four years from 2008 to 2011, the latest data shows.
In 44 cases, students were accused of the most serious breaches and malpractice including taking unauthorised notes or equipment into an exam with the intention of gaining an unfair advantage.
Penalties imposed include a reduction in exam marks, a zero score for a paper or cancellation of the course.
In 2011, 775 cases of cheating or technical exam breaches were recorded - up from 648 in 2010 - but board officials said the increase was inflated by breaches of a new requirement for folio page limits in the design and technology and industrial technology exams.
One student was found to have a mobile phone when it rang during the exam while another responded to an essay question with an answer downloaded and memorised from a website and a music student submitted a chord structure based on copyright material.
The board warns candidates on its website: "Students know they are taking an extreme risk cheating in their HSC. Penalties for cheating are well known and include losing all or part of the marks for a course and possible loss of the HSC."
Before undertaking the HSC, all candidates are now required to complete an online ethical scholarship course called All My Own Work which examines the pitfalls of plagiarism and other forms of cheating.
The impersonation of students in the exam room is countered by photo identification cards. Candidates in the past have been warned they could be referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption if they commit "serious and deliberate acts of malpractice".
Board of Studies chief executive Carol Taylor said the HSC was "internationally recognised for the quality of the curricula, and integrity of the examination and assessment process".
"The Board of Studies takes very seriously its role maintaining this well-deserved reputation that has been built up over many years including all students behaving in a fair and honest way," Ms Taylor said.
"Board officers investigate all breaches and malpractice including deliberate cheating."
More than 70,000 students sit the HSC every year.
Originally published asShaming our secret HSC cheats
The most common challenge that my Biology students face is memorising the content in time for the HSC. Depending on how far away the HSC is, this is either a big or a small issue (and I will engage either Extreme or Moderate Response mode), but in either case, it is still a very important skill to master.
I’m hoping that you are reading this just as I am writing it, which would mean that you have plenty of time before the HSC to test drive each of these different options before finding The One. If you are reading this a bit closer to the HSC, I would recommend that you first have a look here to work out your study style, and hone right in on the tips and tricks which are best suited to your style.
Now, let’s put our thinking caps on for a bit and consider an important preliminary question:
Why is it so much harder to memorise the core content for HSC Biology?
I’m glad you asked! Here are a few things which make the core content different from the electives:
Reason 1: There is heaps of it
Yes. There are three core topics (Blueprint of Life, Maintaining a Balance, the Search for a Better Health), whereas there is only one elective topic.
And between you and me, the content in the core topics are a bit more meaty than those in the electives, so it is completely legitimate to find memorising the core content more difficult!
Reason 2: You need to know it in a lot of detail
Yep. Again, due to the meatier nature of the content, and also because everyone is expected to know this content, everyone is expected to know the content.
But you just repeated yourself twice.
Yes I did.
But it doesn’t make any sense…
Yes it does. Here we go again: if everyone is expected to know the same content, doesn’t it stand to reason that in order to stand out from the crowd, you should try to know it in as much detail as possible?
In fact, the questions in the HSC Biology paper are written in a way that allows people to write either in a lot of detail (if they know it), or in a little bit of detail (if they don’t know it). This is how Band 6 students differentiate themselves from other students.
Therefore, you will need to know it in a lot of detail.
Reason 3: There are so many resources out there – how do I know which to use?
Very good question. This does indeed contribute to making the content a bit harder to memorise, as it can seem much more daunting when you go to start your notes due to the sheer volume of resources available to you. Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of how to navigate the ocean that is the Resources Available On The Interweb About Biology.
Reason 4: There’s so little time!
Ah yes. Even if you are reading this at the beginning of Year 11 and there are literally two years until the HSC for you, the time flies by very quickly and it can seem like there is too much content for the amount of time you are given.
For a short detour over to the land of Prioritisation, click here to have a peek at what you can do to help you prioritise on a more general basis.
Have no fear! Follow these steps and you will hopefully find your Biology-related fears shrinking away as you scroll…
Step 1: Do a ‘needs analysis’ for yourself
A needs analysis? What’s that?
Well, I’m glad that you asked! A needs analysis is an analysis of what your needs are.
But seriously, it is a really easy way for you to assess your strengths and weaknesses in relation to the core content of the syllabus.
Okay but how do I do it?
Simple! Take your copy of the HSC Biology syllabus (I sure hope that you have one on hand. If you do not, your first step is to print one off and keep it on hand at all times) and rate your understanding of each dot point:
- 1 is a poor understanding AKA ‘I am going to fail so spectacularly at this…’
- 5 is an epic understanding AKA ‘I am absolutely going to slaughter this…’
Here is one I prepared earlier:
As you can see, this does not have to be very fancy or formal.
If you’re like Elizabeth, and you like to track your progress, you can write dates beside the numbers so that you can see your improvement over time! Or, if you would prefer, you can use a pencil so that you can update your self-ratings throughout the year.
From this, make separate lists of the dot points which fall under the ratings 1-3 and those which are 4-5.
This will help you in making your priority list for study!
Step 2: Write your own notes
Do I really need to write my own notes?
But Joe has really awesome ones that he took from the Interwebs and they’re reall-
So…I have to write my own?
This is a conversation that I have with a lot of my students and I have never regretted this advice: in order to maximise the amount of content that you can remember, it is best to handwrite your own notes.
This is actually backed up by science (not that I am a seller of pens or paper).
If you’re not completely sure about how to go about creating your study notes, head over here for some more background information.
If you feel like you’re pretty on top of writing your own notes, I’m going to add a few tips which will make your notes-writing process a bit easier and more effective:
Task 1: Start with the beginning of the topic that you are currently learning in class
This means that if you are on point ‘3.4 of Maintaining a Balance’, you should go right back to point 1.1 of this topic and start your notes there.
Doing this will allow you to start filling in the bigger picture around what you are currently learning in class. It will give you all of the background information that you need to make your current classes much more interesting.
This is what I imagine it looks like: by writing the notes from the beginning, you are filling in the gaps to catch up to where you are in class.
At the same time, by only going back to the beginning of this particular topic (rather than from the beginning of time…or the beginning of the year), you won’t overwhelm yourself and you will be able to catch up to the current topic more quickly.
Once you have caught up, start on another topic that you have already covered while continually updating your notes as you learn more in class.
Worried about the state of your HSC Biology Notes?
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Head on over to HSC-Notes to get your HSC subject notes now!
Task 2: Scan your handwritten notes
There are plenty of great apps out there which will make scanning and compiling your handwritten notes really easy, such as Evernote.
There are a few reasons why this is a good idea:
- You’ll have an electronic copy: this means that if your dog or your best friend/brother/sister/cat eats your notes, you will still have them on hand. You can store them in your Evernote account, which exists ephemerally and can be loaded on any electronic device provided you remember your password.
- You’ll have an electronic copy: how much easier is it to carry around your phone to revise on the bus/in the car or to check a fact than carrying a sheaf of papers?
I admittedly prefer the sheaf of papers, but after I lost them a couple of times…
Trust me. Scan them.
Task 3: Include diagrams and pictures where you can
This doesn’t need to be as difficult as it could be and it does not matter if you have not one artistic bone in your body.
Here’s a tip: you can easily find a diagram that you like and copy it.
This is my not so great drawing, copied from here:
As you can see, it started off really well but then turned terrible when I tried to draw the double helix.
Yes, yes, it’s perfectly okay that you sniggered a little bit (I know you did.) I prepared myself for all potential reactions when I decided to include the fail-double helix in the picture to emphasise to you that it’s perfectly okay if your picture looks terrible like mine!
This is because during the process of attempting the drawing, you are already revising the concepts. And this is the goal!
In fact, the more terrible your drawing, the more memorable it is.
Trust me, I won’t be forgetting my awful double helix any time soon! (I also bet you won’t be forgetting it either…but I’ll take that risk).
Task 4: Prioritise your ratings 1-3 points
This may seem obvious, but I want to emphasise it anyway. Make sure that you spend the most time on these dot points to ensure that you understand them.
Of course, don’t forget to work on your 4-5 points too! Even if it’s just jotting down a few words to remind yourself, this will prevent them from edging towards the 1-3 category!
Step 3: Take action depending on your preferred study style
As mentioned above, you can now pick and choose the tips which are most suited to your preferred study style.
Record yourself reading out your notes
I have a friend who used to do this, and for about two weeks before each exam, we would have to be very careful when walking into her room, in case we interrupted her recording and inserted a ‘hello!’ into the middle of her notes. (I might have done this on purpose a few times…)
You can do this on your phone, using the inbuilt Voice Recorder app, or else you can look here for other recommended apps for iPhone or Android.
You’ve probably guessed it – you can listen to yourself while you’re on the bus/train/out walking/in the car! You’ll probably feel a bit strange listening to yourself at first, but you’ll get used to it!
For aural learners, it’s super helpful to not only hear the information, but also to talk it through and have it as an alternative to listening to music!
Read your notes out loud
This is kind of a precursor to the first tip, and can be really helpful if you’re not so keen on the voice recording idea. This effectively does the same thing, but would require you to carry your notes (either in paper form or scanned onto your phone) with you wherever you go.
Teach someone the content
This is the next step from the previous two tips: rather than just repeating what you’ve already got written down, try to put yourself into the teacher’s shoes and teach it back.
But who do I teach?
Anyone! When I did my HSC year, I taught my mother everything while she was cooking dinner.
If you ask around to your parents/siblings/friends/dog, you are bound to find a willing student, or at least someone that you can bribe with chocolates or something!
I have a friend (who is now almost a doctor) who used to line up a bunch of chairs in her room and teach them. (Weird, I know, but look at where she’s at – it must work!)
This is useful because you will have to really think about the concepts and how you can best break them down for another person to understand, and it adds another layer of understanding.
Watch YouTube videos!
I’m serious. These are excellent for visual learners to see what it is that they are learning, even if the videos are in animation form.
Here are some great ones which I always recommend:
Draw pictures and diagrams
These can be really artistic and beautiful ones that you create on your own, or they can be not-so-great copies like the one that I did before.
They can even be as simple as flow chart
Verbal learners have very similar learning preferences to aural learners, so I suggest that you try out the tips for aural learners too!
Practice writing out your notes
Verbal learners like words, and so it often helps to re-write your notes many many times, each time making them slightly shorter.
To make them shorter and more summarised, use key words in the syllabus, and make your own acronyms to remember larger concepts.
For example, I will never forget A-T C-G because someone once told me to think about it as ‘Attack The/Cow Girl’. Not only is that super amusing, it’s useful because A will always pair with T and C will always pair with G.
Physical learners learn best by doing. Now, since you can’t always act out protein synthesis or DNA replication (you can try. I have seen people try and it is really very amusing #universitylecturescanbefun), you can do these things to try and get as close to that as possible!
Draw your own diagrams and flow charts
Although you can’t really act these out, by drawing them out you are indirectly ‘acting them out’. This can be really great if you pair it with explaining what you’re drawing out loud.
Take your notes for a walk
This probably sounds really strange, but try taking your notes with you on a walk or to the gym! You can read from them or at least mull over a concept while you’re walking or working out, and you can even try to test how much you can remember while doing automatic activities (like walking and running).
Yeah, this is weird…
It’s actually backed up by science: exercise releases a chemical called brain derived neurotrophic factor, which makes it easier for your brain to learn new things. I know. Mind blowing, right?
Understand why things happen
For the logical learner, it is very difficult to remember things if you can’t understand exactly why they occur. This means that the best tactic is to keep searching and researching (see what I did there?) until it clicks for you. It doesn’t matter if you have to keep asking questions.
If you don’t have an Art of Smart coach like me at hand, Wolfram Alpha is kind of an okay substitute… However, it can’t walk you through and explain to you in simple English why it works, then give you the challenge you need to practice it!
Draw flow charts or write step-by-step descriptions
These will help you to write out the processes and steps of reasoning which are necessary to understand the concepts. This is also very handy for answering HSC Questions…
Study in groups!
Find yourself a good study group, or form one!
Take it in turns to teach each other
This is a combination of one of my previous tips (which is by far my most favourite one) and the study group tip. If you assign a dot point to each person for each study session, and that person is responsible for teaching that content back to the rest of the group, the rest of the group can ask questions and this will help you to each push yourselves a bit.
It’s also handy to put as much effort into preparing to teach your dot point as possible: make short slide shows or draw diagrams which would help make it easier for your friends! The more effort you each put in, the more you will each get out.
Although this is a style of learning on its own, it is useful to still consider which of the other styles you prefer, because this will inform you which tactics you can employ when you are studying.
Write yourself a to-do list
Again, peek over here for some tips on to-do lists. The key is to keep yourself accountable by setting clear goals.
For example, rather than saying ‘Today I will cover two dot points’, try something much more specific: ‘In this hour I will write my notes for this dot point and draw 1 diagram’.
Make a timing plan for yourself
There is a really cool technique, called the Pomodoro Technique, which is based on studying really hard for 25 minutes at a time and then taking a short break.
This is really great if you know that you struggle to stay on task for extended periods of time, and if you set clear goals with your awesome to-do list, you will be able to use those 25 minutes very effectively.
If you’re a bit more like me and can study for longer periods of time, try 50 minutes with 10 minute breaks.
Even if you think that you could give me a run for my money and study for hours at a time, it’s important to take regular breaks to give your brain time to switch off.
During your breaks, do something completely unrelated to your study. I usually reunite with my phone and check Snapchat or play Clash of Clans… This kind of tactic is also good for keeping me focused because I know I’ll get to check my notifications during break time!
Step 4: Continually revisit your notes
Remember that it is perfectly okay to test out a few different tactics before settling on one that works best for you.
It is even more okay to have more than one tactic at hand, and using a combination of them.
This will be much easier once you have identified what kind of learner you are
Do it now: what kind of learner are you?
Between now and the HSC, continually revisit your notes and try to summarise them further to make sure that you are improving in your memory and that you are covering all of the content in the syllabus.
Remember that if you are ever struggling or feeling overwhelmed, reach out to your teacher/parents/friends for some support and some down time to gather your thoughts before you start back at the work.
You can do it.
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Gia-Yen Luong has been an Art of Smart coach for 3 years, coaching a range of subjects including HSC English, Legal Studies, Biology, Chemistry and General Maths. She is in her final year of a mega double degree in Law/Science (Neuroscience). She graduated high school with an ATAR of 99.9 and spends most of her time trying to convince people that it’s wholly possible to get such a mark while still having a normal life during Year 12. She enjoys reading, podcasts and truly believes that she was born to be a blogger. In effect, she is a true nerd.