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Poster SAC coming up soon, where to next?

Jen Huang

If you take VCE Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Psychology, get ready to welcome poster SACs – a.k.a. performing an experiment and writing a report on it – into your life. Not only are they weighted heavily (taking up a third of your Unit 4 mark), poster SACs are different in style from most conventional school assessments. Intimidating? Perhaps. But they are by no means impossible to ace.

Together with our comprehensive guide that gets deep into the nitty gritty of poster SACs specific to each subject, the following pointers should help you rise to the occasion.

Totally lost? Experience the real deal first.

If a formal practical write-up is new to you, it’s natural to be unsure about what is expected of you in terms of tone, language and format.

Fortunately, these write-ups are the bread and butter of scientists. Professionals doing exactly what you’ll be required to do – describing a practical experiment, presenting and explaining results – are key players in spreading the word about exciting research to the broader scientific community, and eventually the public. While some of these reports are only available in scientific journals behind a paywall, thousands are freely available online. For example, PubMed is a great database of life science research papers that can show you exactly what a Biology, Psychology or Chemistry poster SAC should emulate. ArXiv will help out when it comes to Physics.

All of these papers show you how scientists express themselves within the constraints of an experimental write-up. By reading them, not only will you get a great handle of what a poster SAC is, and therefore how you should go about preparing for it. You’ll pick up little things like using past tense to describe scientific procedures and avoiding first person pronouns that will elevate your poster SAC even more.

Don’t know how to study for it? Research the method.

Studying for a poster SAC isn’t quite like studying for a test-style SAC. Doing tonnes of VCAA past exam questions won’t be too useful; neither is memorising a heap of information (as a poster SAC usually focuses on one or two key concepts). If you’re at a loss about how to prepare for the experiment and write-up that’s scheduled for your next double period, it might be a solid idea to research the experiment itself: how to do it, and what results to expect.

Try looking up videos that show the experiment being done (and the results you might find), or reading experimental write-ups investigating similar variables. Since the experiments you’ll be doing are likely to be fairly well-known, you shouldn’t have too much trouble seeking out these demonstrations. This will definitely give you an idea about what to expect when you do the practical part of your poster SAC.

If you’re required to design your own experiment, use this opportunity to start analysing the safety precautions, results and hypotheses that others took when performing similar experiments. Are they relevant to yours? What criticisms do you have for their experimental method, and how can you improve or perhaps critique your own experiment to address these issues?

Pressed for time? Templates are your savior.

Time management is super important for poster SACs, especially in the write-up component of it. Since the meat of your report should be in your discussion and graphing your results could take a while too, you really don’t want to spend the first 20 minutes of writing time thinking about how best to compose your hypothesis.

This is where templates come in really handy. Taking the time to learn templates for the aim, hypothesis and conclusion that you can tweak to suit the details of your own experiment can take the legwork out of writing these sections in a way that makes sense. This allows you to spend more time writing parts of the poster SAC that are weighted more heavily.


Below are three templates for you to try out. Switch out the words in brackets for the relevant details specific to your experiment.

For the aim:

‘The aim of this experiment is to investigate the effect of (independent variable) on (dependent variable).’

For the hypothesis:

‘If the (independent variable) occurs/changes, the (dependent variable) will occur/change (in a certain way)’.

For the conclusion:

‘The aim of the experiment was to (state the aim). By measuring the (dependent variable) in response to changing the (independent variable), it was found that (state what the results showed about the aim). This (supported/did not support) the hypothesis.

Know. Your. Graphs.

As any biologist, chemist, physicist or psychologist will undoubtedly tell you, graphs are such an important way of communicating data clearly and concisely. You’ll see them making a cameo in the vast majority of experimental write-ups, usually making it so much easier for you to interpret results at a glance.

Since they are so important, your teacher will probably want you to include one or two in your experimental report too. The choice of graph should reflect the primary data you have collected in your experiment, and exactly how your graph should look should be determined by your teacher. However, the list below summarises the features every graph deserving of full marks should have:

  • Title: identifying dependent and independent variables
  • Axes: labels for both horizontal and vertical axes
  • Axis scale and units: a numerical scale with appropriate units on the axes if data obtained is quantitative
  • Key: necessary if there are multiple graphs on a single set of axes

Pulling it all together

Now you know that poster SACs are by no means unconquerable. Applying the pointers above to your prep will help you edge even closer to success. But if you’re still feeling a little unsure, don’t worry – we’ve built a free comprehensive, subject-specific poster SAC guide for you too. From differentiating controlled variables and controlled groups to giving examples for typical physics experiments to expect, this guide has the answers. 

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The Ultimate Poster SAC Guide

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