NCEA Physics Scholarship
Working with someone else to expand our knowledge in physics has many advantages.

As the end of the year approaches, students throughout New Zealand are preparing for their summer holidays, and for those studying at NCEA Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3, their end of year exams. This time can be challenging, encouraging, collaborative, and a great exercise in time management. For those who are studying Level 3, you also have the option of studying for the scholarship assessment. The scholarship assessment is assessed by either a written and/or spoken assessment or a portfolio.

For physics, the assessment is a written exam. The assessment is designed to test students by being assessed through challenging standards. If you like a challenge, then scholarship is for you. It will test your ability to think critically, your ability to abstract information and generalisation, your skills in integrating and synthesising information and applying your knowledge, understanding, skills, and ideas to complex problems. Roughly 3% of all level 3 students who achieve 14 credits or more are awarded scholarship in their chosen subject. Don’t let these numbers put you off, it is a great opportunity to really test your understanding of physics and a head start if you want to continue to study it in university.

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What are some of the benefits of the scholarship exam?

If scholarship is something you would like to test yourself with, a great place to start is to talk to your physics teacher. Scholarship is not a last-minute decision and requires a lot of revision, extra reading, and time. Most departments offer scholarship classes that meet weekly a couple of months before the exam. As mentioned, it is a big time commitment but there is a financial incentive if you pass. For a single subject award for achieving scholarship, you receive $500 per subject, for a maximum of two subjects. If you are looking for a bit more of an incentive, the Top Subject Scholar Award offers $2000 each year for up to three years if you maintain a ‘B’ average each year while studying at university. For more information about the Monetary Awards and eligibility head to the NZQA site.

 

An image of a library. Physics Scholarship will require time, effort, and a lot of reading.
Revision is key for scholarship.

How does scholarship in physics work?

The assessment for physics will be a written assessment, designed to really test your understanding of physical phenomena and concepts. At the end of the year, you will sit your level 3 physics exam and scholarship physics within the same exam period but NOT on the same day. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee about how long you will have between the exams. Sometimes you have three weeks, other times it could be the day after. The exam is three hours and you will be given a maximum number of 6 questions usually, there are between 3-5 components. Within the exam, you will need to bring a calculator and a ruler. The questions themselves can cover a range of contexts, require extended discussions where you have to figure out exactly what you need to do.

Some of the questions may include contexts that are unfamiliar to you. If that happens do not panic. Take your time to read through the information as with some questions, the test is how well you can understand and evaluate unfamiliar information given to you. Another line of questions you may encounter is related to practical work. What are some things we must look out for within our own work or the work of others? What are some sources of errors that can arise within practical work? Understanding how to collect and improve the reliability of data and being able to discuss the validity of the conclusions made, are key skills you will need for this exam. As you work through the exam you will be given all necessary formulae and constants. The data you will need to complete questions will also be provided.

How do they mark the papers?

Scholarship exam papers are given between a 0-8 score for each question. Each subject has its own subject-specific schedule. The examiner reads through each question and will give it a score depending on how well you answer the question. The scores are based on the Generic Marking Guide with an 8 being given for an ‘outstanding answer in all respects’ and a 0 for blank or irrelevant answers. So how do you get an 8 for an outstanding answer? Some of the keywords they use to give this mark are that the answer is accurate, perceptive, coherent, comprehensive, lucid. Are they asking the impossible? No, the answer they are looking for ‘is as good as could be expected under exam conditions’.

So the examiners do take into consideration when they are marking that this is during a set time with restricted access to information. When you are answering the physics scholarship questions, integration and synthesis need to have strong evidence and be clearly identifiable by the examiner. Some good questions to ask yourself is have I used the information accurately? Have I shown the working of calculations? Did I write the correct units? Are my calculations and explanations well set out and concise? For more information on how the scholarship system works, have a look at the NZQA site.

Image of a woman studying. Physic requires a lot of revision and studying.
Make sure you get the support you need for your scholarship exam.

How do you know what to study for?

This is a good question. Like all exams, we are not sure what exactly we will be given so the best way to attack this is in sections. According to the NZQA site on New Zealand Scholarship Physics, they give us some information about the content knowledge that you will definitely need to know and understand for the exam;

  • the Bohr model of the hydrogen atom: the photon; the quantisation of energy; discrete atomic energy levels; electron transition between energy levels; ionisation; atomic line spectra; the electron volt
  • the photoelectric effect
  • wave / particle duality
  • qualitative description of the effects of the strong interaction and Coulombic repulsion, binding energy and mass deficit; conservation of mass-energy for nuclear reactions.

This gives us a great place to start revision. However, this is not the only content that you will need. One place to start is to look at past exams materials. This will not only give you an idea of the different content you may encounter but the format in which the questions will be presented. Here you can find access to past exam materials. When having a look through the information, focus on the previous three years exams. This is because exam formats change so it would not be the best use of time to study an outdated exam. Another great place to start is looking at past examples of students' work. While the questions will not be the same, you can see how other students approached their questions and the different levels of detail they provided to succeed.

What are the best ways to study for the physics scholarship exam?

Time. And a lot of it. Scholarship is based on the idea of testing the academic abilities of students within different subjects. To help you understand what is required and the best ways to approach questions, attending scholarship classes and forming peer groups to help work together to break down and understand different concepts is another great idea. Have a read through our guide on how to tackle physics questions. The earlier you start, the more time you give yourself to learn and understand different physical phenomena and concepts. If you are looking for individual support, Superprof can connect you to a range of physics tutors who work with you to support your learning and understanding. With a click of a button, you can find tutors in your town or online at the time that works best for you. With reviews from real students, you can find a tutor that supports your style of learning as well as providing the support you need to feel confident in your scholarship exam.

 

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