How Do I Write Effective Notes For PDHPE

It is not unusual to be taken by surprise by how much content there is in HSC PDHPE. But that’s no reason you can’t excel in it. A good set of study notes will help you master the content and will be your most important revision tool. But how do you know what to include?

Post written by Zobia Khan (9th in the state PDHPE and 16th in the state Biology). See all articles first and personally get in touch with our state rankers here

The Syllabus

The syllabus contains everything you could possibly be asked in the HSC. Using the syllabus as the backbone of your notes means you cover everything you need and nothing you don’t. It also gives you a systematic way to lay out your notes.

There are two types of dot points in the syllabus:

  • ‘Learn about’ on the left hand side of the syllabus. These usually require straightforward theory which can be definitions, descriptions or statistics. This is where multiple choice questions tend to focus.
  • ‘Learn to’ on the right hand side of the syllabus. These require you to analyse the information, perhaps by comparing two processes or justifying a suggestion. This is where long response questions tend to focus.

Keeping this in mind will ensure that you address each part of the syllabus with the necessary depth.

Set out your dot point summaries with the dot point written out at the top of the page, any verbs underlined and in brackets next to it whether it is from the ‘learn about’ or ‘learn to’ section of the syllabus. All the relevant information and diagrams to answer the dot point go underneath.

Let’s take the following dot points on epidemiology from Core 1 as an example:

Measures of Epidemiology [Learn About]

  • Mortality rate
  • Infant mortality rate
  • Life expectancy
  • Morbidity

Noting the ‘learn about’, brief descriptions of the 4 listed measures of epidemiology (again given to you by the syllabus!) are enough to answer this dot point. For example:

Mortality rate: the no. of deaths from a specific cause in a given period of time. Data on mortality rates can be used to compare the health status of different groups.
Infant Mortality rate: the annual number of deaths of children under 1 per 1000 births. Considered to be one of the most important indicators of the health status of a nation.

The next dot point is from the same area of the syllabus but requires a different approach.

Critique the use of epidemiology [Learn To]

As a ‘learn to’ dot point, this requires some sort of analysis and the underlined verb indicates the sort of response required. Critique means to find and discuss both strengths and weaknesses, in this case of the use of epidemiology to measure health status. Here’s an example answer:

- Epidemiology can provide statistical info about trends of illness and death in the population but it cannot account for why.
- It fails to explain the various determinants that contribute to certain health behaviours.
- The best we can do is make educated guesses about the reasons behind the trends.
- Also been criticised about focusing primarily on physical health issues. This means that the equally important social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual domains of health are neglected and we are not seeing the whole picture.
- For example, there is much less statistical info available about the patterns of depression among the population when compared to CVD statistics.

By discussing some of the limitations of epidemiology and justifying this viewpoint with examples, this summary meets the requirements for a ‘learn to’ dot point.


Most people can correctly identify the syllabus content needed to answer a question, not many will back up this content with a strong example. Every long response question (and many of the short responses too!) requires you to provide at least one example for full marks. Thus a sure way to maximise your marks is to include a reserve of perfect, exam-ready examples in your notes.

So what makes a good example?

Trends not numbers.

Don’t overload your notes with figures that you will be unable to remember in an exam. For example, when discussing cancer trends in the Australian population, two possible statistics you could include are:

Example 1- In 2016, it is estimated that 130,466 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Australia.
Example 2- Men have a 1 in 2 chance of developing cancer before 85, while for women it’s 1 in 3.

The second stat allows you to get the trend across (the high incidence of cancer in society and also the difference for men and women) without having to remember excessive figures.

Use flexible examples

Find examples that illustrate more than one dot point. Consider these two Core 1 dot points on the health system:

  • Health care expenditure vs. expenditure on early intervention and prevention
  • Impact of emerging new treatments and technologies on healthcare

A good example for both of these dot points is the development and subsidising of mammograms and keyhole surgery to detect and treat breast cancer in its early stages. This is an example of expenditure on early intervention (first dot point) and also the development of a new medical treatment (second dot point).

Show you can apply theory to physical situations

In Core 2, it is important to demonstrate an understanding of concepts beyond just text on a page, and this is best done by illustrating with detailed, ‘physical’ examples. Take this dot point:

  • Analyse how the principles of training can be applied to both aerobic and resistance training [Learn To]

Answering this dot point effectively requires you to illustrate the principles of training in action in the given training types. Good examples will be highly specific and measurable. For e.g. “moving from training at 70% max heart rate to 80% max heart rate by increasing speed of jog on treadmill” rather than just “increase intensity”.

Finding a balance

PDHPE is a content heavy subject and in trying to stay up to date with notes you may have less than enough time to revise and work through practice papers before an exam.

Try answering a related past HSC question (preferably under exam conditions- give yourself about 1.5 minutes per mark) after finishing the notes for a focus question in the syllabus. Get this marked by a teacher and then attach the completed question to your notes for the relevant section. This is an excellent way of revising the content and perfecting your exam technique from early on.

Post written by Zobia Khan (9th in the state PDHPE and 16th in the state Biology)

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