I was once a student like yourself, reading tons of online articles and constantly worrying about my HSC. It is overwhelming, and it is inevitable that you may feel stressed that you are not studying the ‘right way’. In my case, I didn’t have a set timetable for my studies, and I didn’t go to sleep at 9:00 pm every night.
However, in this blog, I will give you the most helpful tips I used to improve my marks in every subject and become an all-rounder with a 99.5 ATAR. The subjects I studied were English Advanced, Biology, Chemistry, Maths Extension 1 and Maths Extension 2. It may seem like I only chose the high-scaling subjects, but in all honesty, these were subjects I genuinely enjoyed!
Before I go into it, there is one quality you must have for almost anything you do. Discipline. After you write down your goals and understand the sacrifices you need to make to achieve your aspirations, all it takes is discipline. And I know it’s not as easy as it sounds. It is difficult to naturally cultivate the motivation to revise some topics that you might find challenging or uninteresting, which brings me to my first general HSC tip:
GENERAL HSC TIPS FOR ANY SUBJECT:
- Know your weaknesses and plan ahead
One misconception that many students, myself included, may have been told is that we should space out our subjects to give each one approximately the same amount of time. This is not true. What you should be doing is assessing your strengths and weaknesses and dedicating a reasonable amount of time to each one. In my case, I quickly learnt that I would retain and understand the biology content a lot quicker during the lessons. Therefore, I would dedicate my revision time at home to refining my English skills which I knew I struggled in. After your crucial self-assessment, I would recommend planning for the upcoming two-three weeks. If you aren’t doing this, then start now!
- Find the study environment and techniques that work for you. Personally, for each subject, I had different environments to keep me motivated. For English, I couldn’t plan or write an essay without my Beethoven classical music playing in the background, whereas, with maths, I needed my room to be dead silent to concentrate. Your ideal environment may be the library, your backyard, the living room or even on your kitchen bar (but be careful with that one). I also found that large study groups were not effective for me; however, I had a great study partner for English who motivated me to study. Another thing I used to help me concentrate was an app that would lock my phone and break down my study sessions into whatever time I wanted (the Pomodoro technique). There are a million and one techniques you can use. You just need to find the one that would work for you!
- If you need help, ask for it! Every student, no matter what level they are on, has struggled with various topics and questions. But that is the process of learning, and the band 6 students are the ones who struggled but quickly sought help. Again, English was my weakest subject. My essay marks ranged from 10-13/20 at the beginning to mid-Year 12, and I didn’t seem to be improving no matter how hard I tried. As well as consulting with my teacher on lunch breaks or after school, I attended English tutoring. It was only around 2 or 3 months before the HSC that I started to see myself improving. I now realise that if it weren’t for the feedback I received from my teachers and tutor, I would have never got the marks I wanted in the end.
Now that we’re energised to start studying, here are the subject-specific hacks that got me through the year.
My Tried and Tested HSC English Tips
This may seem surprising, but in my trial, HSC exam and even my practice essays, I used quotes from each module almost every time. The trick is to read generic questions related to the syllabus and then develop 4 to 5 flexible and strong ideas related to your text. Then, search for useful quotes and techniques to back up your analysis. Now you have the backbone for almost every essay you will write.
From then on, all it takes is practice to refine your adapting skills and to ensure you change your analysis to suit the question. Trust me, you will probably end up writing more than 15 essays for each module, but they will all have very similar quotes and context. 15 essays might seem enough, but in the end, you will realise that it was all worth it.
Of course, having a quote and analysis table would help you organise and plan, making your life much easier.
Techniques to smash HSC Maths
TIMED past papers. You may not realise it, but doing timed tasks builds your endurance and focus on time. This limits the number of silly mistakes you make in a test and improves your confidence and performance. So whether it’s HSC papers, selective-school-based ones or Catholic Trial papers, I implore you to do as many as you can.
Make sure you tabulate your results to physically see your improvement, record the mistakes you may have repeated across the tests and redo the questions you got wrong.
Consequently, you are soon to realise that most maths papers are structured in a similar way with very similar questions: there is always a mix of hard and easy questions. A piece of advice that I would get from my maths tutor was to smash all the easy questions and get the “charity” marks. This would boost your mark regardless of whether you could solve the hard questions at the end. Make sure you give the same attention to the easy questions to limit the silly mistakes and then try tackling the hard ones with different approaches.
Science HSC Hacks
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein
A simple quote from a born genius pretty much sums up the trick to memorise your science content. Explaining the content to your friends helps test your understanding of the content and contextualise the topics you have learnt.
However, for biology, don’t forget your KEYWORDS. You might understand the content, but you could lose a mark or two in your long response questions if you don’t mention the scientific terminology. Remember, every mark counts!
For chemistry, the biggest tip is not to disregard anything no matter how small you may think it is. So yes, you would lose marks if you don’t label the states in a chemical equation or if you don’t provide the full working out for a skills question. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of any topic you learn, no matter how small it may be. Sometimes it can pop up in your exams as a five marker when you least expect it, so always be prepared.
So is that all you need to achieve that 99 + ATAR?
There are countless strategies to achieve a 99+ ATAR. The most important thing is to have faith in yourself. You will need to make sacrifices and put in that extra work and energy. You might need to cancel your friend’s outing so you can practice for your Chemistry assessment or even delete your socials for a while so you can focus on your assignments.
However, you still need to maintain the balance, so you do not burn out. Don’t stop doing what you love and enjoy because at the end of the day, even though the HSC may seem like it is the make-or-break for your future, it isn’t.
Every student has felt pressured or stressed at times, but if you get the help you need, surround yourself with people who motivate you and stay disciplined with your time, you can achieve anything you want in life.