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A Guide to Tackling Year 12 and the HSC

Year 12 is pretty weird. For the most part, we’re busy battling with the...

Patrick Kwon

Patrick Kwon


Year 12 is pretty weird. For the most part, we’re busy battling with the three-lettered monster, and yet in between, we somehow still find time to graduate, go to formal and celebrate birthdays.

And understandably, it can take you a while to work this whole thing out. To be fair, the transition from Year 11 into Year 12 is untimely at the least – one moment you’re reassuring yourself that ‘nothing counts this year’ and boom, you’re suddenly in the ring. Gloves on, mouthguard in, blood pumping. The bell rings.

You might be absolutely itching to get started, or, if you’re like me, you may feel like you’ve never even been taught how to fight.

In fact, I was a very average student. Not only did I just make it into Normanhurst through the selective school exam in Year 7, but I was especially weak at maths all the way throughout. In fact, I had never scored above average for maths from Year 7 to 11, securing a solid 42% in my Year 11 Yearly Mathematics Exam, which ranked me 92nd out of 109 (sorry Mum). The worst part is, I actually really enjoyed the subject.

But, whether it be maths, english, chemistry or economics, I want to assure you that things can turn around in Year 12 if you play it right.

With a bit of experimentation and of course, some solid work, here I am, not only having survived the HSC, but also reflecting on the amazing year that it was – oh, and maths somehow ended up being my highest scoring HSC subject.

By taking a tactical and deliberate approach to your studies, you too can make your next year a lot smoother. To those that are sick of cliche study tips, here are some tangible, immediate changes that you can make to your approach the moment you finish reading this article.


Oftentimes I would feel satisfied that I ‘studied’ for five to six hours at the library after school, even until midnight on some days. However, when I actually looked back at the tasks I had completed, it would be no more than half of what was planned for the day. Measuring productivity by time invites complacency and a false sense of accomplishment, and can often mean that you are unnecessarily elongating tasks, ultimately wasting your valuable time.

It makes much more sense to measure your productivity based on the tasks completed in a given amount of time, rather than the actual time spent studying. The former suggests that you are taking responsibility for your learning, while the latter indicates that you are simply trying to meet a generic quota of what’s expected of a ‘typical year 12 student’, without much consideration of what actually needs to be done.

To actually put this into practice, I began writing down specific ‘to-do lists’ everyday, while not forgetting to set time limits for each task. You’ll find that tasks get shorter, and maybe even enjoyable.

HSC Hack 2: The List

Exams are funny. Somehow, they always seem to hold the questions you dread most, or the ones you decided to skip past during the previous night of cramming.

Before I began studying for my Economics Trials exam, I spent time writing an extensive list of everything I never wanted to, or was scared to see in an exam. Your list, like mine, might extend beyond 20 different areas of the syllabus, but that’s okay, as what you do next is really what matters.

From here, I decided to spend time tackling one area each day, finding out everything I needed, and perfecting my understanding of it, to the extent where I was confident enough to teach others about it. From being my worst enemy, I had it my best friend, eventually being happy to see it in an exam.

Though, be mindful that this is not a useful exercise for the night before an exam. This will only make you panicked and more anxious.

HSC Hack 3: One Set Every Night

Especially for HSIE subjects, many students overlook the importance of the multiple choice section, despite it being literally worth the same amount of marks as a typical economics essay or business report, while being much easier to score a 20/20 for.

No doubt, the unpredictability of the essays is what makes it so gruesome. Just have a look at the 2018 HSC Economics paper.

However, fortunately for us, the multiple choice section remains pretty consistent. Weirdly enough though, I feel as though we aren’t doing enough to make the most out of that.

With a consistent 19 or 20 in your multiple choice sections, you essentially provide yourself with a buffer against the unpredictable nature of essays, or more specifically, the ‘curveball’ questions, where you might drop a couple more marks than usual.

Okay, so I’ve explained why it is so important to do well in the first 20 questions of the exam. Let me now tell you the technique that I used to secure a perfect MCQ score for my Trials exam.

As my alarm would go off every night at 10pm, I would put down anything I was doing, and would sit a HSC or Trial MCQ section in under 15 minutes. As I was doing so, I made sure to circle any questions that I was remotely unsure about. The reason is simple: too many marks are lost when students ignore questions that they’ve correctly guessed/fluked, without actually realising why that answer is correct. This is what it will look like in an exam:

‘I’ve done this question before, but I can’t remember whether I chose A or C’.

The worst feeling.

So, to avoid this, mark every single question, explaining to yourself why that answer is either correct or incorrect, as if you’re arguing with someone else. Be sure to pay extra attention to not only the questions you got wrong, but the ones you successfully guessed.

If you keep to this routine, you should begin to realise that there is only a very small pool of questions that examiners can ask you. And eventually you’ll hit that sweet spot where you will know the answer to a question without even having to look at Options A to D. How good.

HSC Hack 4: Teach others

Normo was a school that encouraged and celebrated teamwork and brotherhood, where instead of competing with each other, we adopted a Normo vs the World attitude. Part of this was running peer-classes, where, throughout the term, students would organise classes to teach each other concepts from the syllabus that were particularly difficult, like the balance of payments, and microeconomic reform. This was probably one of the most beneficial and enriching experiences that really helped me enjoy what I was studying, similar to why I love teaching at Project Academy.

Now, you might say your cohort doesn’t have a culture like this, or that you don’t feel informed enough to teach. But, even small efforts to start something small, whether it be a group chat with your economics class or a daily MCQ challenge with your friends will pay incredible dividends. Economics especially, is such a dynamic subject, constantly changing and necessitating debate and discussion. This gives you the perfect opportunity to teach and learn from others’ findings. I highly encourage you to try this out.

These are the small, one percenters that helped me refine my approach to studying, becoming more strategic and targeted as I went through Year 12. Simple things that you can do as well.

But now, I want to take a step back, and make it clear that the time spent away from studying is just as important as the time spent for it. Therefore, it’s important to establish a smart way of managing that ‘off’ time as well.

HSC Hack 5: The BIGGER picture

Firstly, before you start your final year, spend some time to think about where you want this year to take you. Sure, you might immediately think of an ATAR, but one whole year of working for just a number that disappears in a week is a year wasted. Think beyond, and find a genuine cause to keep pushing yourself. Numbers are arbitrary, but a genuine reason will never fail to push you on when you’re up against the ropes.

Know when NOT to study

It is crucial to remember that you can’t put your social life on pause and expect to function as a normal human being through the next 365 days. That’s just not possible, nor is it fair to yourself.

I also found out the hard way that burn-outs are real. And they’re scary – not only because of how unexpectedly they can come about, but also how hard it is to drag yourself out of one. Try to avoid it all together. The way to do this is by learning how to study smart, which involves knowing when to take your foot off the pedal, and to cruise for a bit. Just like anything else in the HSC, this also comes with practice.

If you have recently finished your Trials, or your term exams, be kind to yourself, and rest up. This doesn’t mean ‘lightly’ reading your notes or just ‘typing out some essay plans’. Get away from anything remotely work related, and destress with friends – it’s incredibly important for the long run. And, be sure not to feel guilty for doing it.

And, don’t even think about wasting your last week of high school in the library. Spend time enjoying each other’s company and reflecting on the journey that’s passed, because those will be the times you remember most.

Year 12 ≠ The HSC

My biggest mistake was thinking that sacrificing football in Year 12 for ‘extra study time’ was a strategic decision. Sports have been a huge part of my life from Year 7 to 11, and there was something glum about dragging myself into the library on a saturday morning instead of running out onto the pitch. So, my advice would be to get, or stay involved!

Interestingly, Parkinson’s Law states that ‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’. Therefore, it’s likely that you will be even more productive by keeping your schedule busy (with moderation, of course) with things that are not work related, essentially giving yourself just the right, proportionate amount of time to study.

In fact, during Year 12, my friends and I took part in a program which involved starting a real business for a period of 6 months. This was a huge time commitment, requiring a weekly 2 hour meeting in the city every week. However, not only did this make me work much more productively during the hours I had to study, it also sparked my interest for business, ultimately leading me to apply for the UNSW Co-op Scholarship Program.

All in all, Year 12 is a time to think about where you want to head after high school, and the subjects that you study are not (and should not be) the only ways to find that out.


Have something waiting for you at the end of the journey.

You will find that as the year goes on, you will need to rely on a range of things to drive you day-by-day. Having something tangible to work towards can be a huge boost. For me, I began planning my post-HSC Korea trip during study breaks with my friends. With all that’s happening around the world, of course, options might be limited. But nevertheless, plan something specific, get excited for it, and work towards it together with friends.

For the Year 12 of 2020, you deserve it, and you’re almost there.


As I wrap up, I firstly hope that these tips will be of some benefit to you. But secondly and perhaps more importantly, that you may have even adopted a renewed perspective towards the HSC.

The truth is, even if you take on board all these strategies and techniques, I guarantee that things won’t always go to plan. So, it is for times like these why I really believe that you need to know exactly why you’re fighting, so you can continue to drive yourself, and see the match out until the final bell.

Remember that there will always be people in your corner cheering you on.

Good luck!

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Guides / HSC Success Stories

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Maximise Your Chances Of Coming First At School

Trial any Project Academy course for 3 weeks.

NSW's Top 1% Tutors

Unlimited Tutorials

NSW's Most Effective Courses

Access to Project's iPad

Access to Exclusive Resources

Access to Project's Study Space