How I achieved a 99.65 ATAR, 97 in Econ & Chem, and 100 in 2U Maths

A misconception that I often hear students say about the HSC is that only...

Xerxes Lopes

Xerxes Lopes

All-Rounder & 99.65 ATAR

A misconception that I often hear students say about the HSC is that only ‘smart’ students can achieve ATARs of 99 and above. This is not true at all.

‘Smart’ students may have a benefit in their cognitive skills, but this is of no use in the HSC if no effort is put into school throughout the year.

The mental willpower for constant determination and hard work, paired with effective study techniques throughout the HSC will guarantee that you can achieve the marks you really want.

HSC Strategy 1: “My motto is simple: efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.”

While most people have heard that you should ‘study smarter, not harder’, they’re unsure of the difference between the two.

Someone studies hard if they continue to put in a large number of hours of work day-in and day-out. Someone studies smart if they use effective study techniques that allow them to achieve the same amount of work in fewer hours.

You definitely want to be the latter of these two.

A very important technique that I learned for studying during the HSC was to allocate subjects to specific days in the week. Clearly, revising content for a whole topic of Chemistry on a Thursday afternoon would be much more efficient than revising multiple subtopics from Chemistry, Economics, and English. By studying for a single subject for longer periods of time, the content is much easier to understand. This is because of the correlation and relationship we can make between relevant subtopics.

It’s also really important that you study appropriately for each subject. If you have a 3U math exam and a Chemistry exam in the same week, sitting 30 past papers for Maths and only revising content by reading notes for Chemistry is not going to be helpful. Once you gain enough exposure to past papers for Math, you should be toning the practice down and focusing more on selecting hard questions from difficult past papers. This is a much better strategy than wasting time solving simple questions in each past paper.

Likewise for Chemistry, you need to move from revising content to actually applying this content through exam response practice. You must include comprehensive revision and comparison of exemplar responses to your own when doing this. This form of smart study will allow you to achieve greater results with less overall hours put in.

HSC Strategy 2: The Growth Mindset

‍ The first thing that I have noticed most students do when they receive an assignment or exam back, is look directly at the mark they’ve received.

If it’s what the mark they wanted, they disregard the rest of the paper and quickly start to appeal for marks from any sections of the paper possible. This is a highly counterintuitive approach for improvement during your HSC year.

When you first receive your marked assessment task, you should start by reviewing any and all comments made by teachers and markers. This is arguably the most important part of the HSC, something we like to call the ‘growth mindset’.

Hardwork and determination put into the process of feedback review will help you to notice your key mistakes in exam responses much more easily, and thus improve the quality of your responses to a point of near perfection.

It was fairly midway through my HSC year when I realised the importance of taking into account any and all feedback given to me. Nonetheless, it helped me move from a 60% average in the first half of Year 12 Chemistry to a 90% average in my second half of the subject.

HSC Strategy 3: The HSC is a what?

The most important phrase that I have heard about the HSC is that ‘the HSC is a marathon, not a sprint’.

This phrase relates directly to students who are ‘burning out’. For those who are unaware of the term ‘burning out’, it refers to when students overexert themselves during the early months of the HSC year, and lose motivation to continue to study for the rest of year 12.

In the short term you might see them achieve incredibly high results at the start of year 12, but the loss of motivation throughout the HSC will often result in a drop in results over the year. The bottom line is, you DO NOT want to ‘burn out’ during your HSC.

To avoid this, it’s very important that you ease into your first block of HSC exams. Spending all day, everyday constantly studying for these exams will tire yourself out before your first assessment block even begins.

You MUST ensure that you spend an appropriate amount of time both studying for the HSC and participating in other activities, whether extracurricular or simply meeting up with friends. This will create an effective balance which will not hinder your motivation or ability to achieve excellent assessment results towards the end of the HSC year.

This sort of balance allowed me to achieve 1st place for all my Economics assessments tasks at Normanhurst Boys high school throughout my HSC.

Exam Day Techniques

The sad truth is, no matter how much content you have revised, a good majority of your marks come from how you communicate this on the day.

I would say that this exam technique is extremely relevant for Economics and all the Science courses, given the new syllabus changes which reflect a greater focus on understanding and application rather than pure content.

It’s really important that you continue to perfect your exam technique throughout the year and especially focus on it the night before your exam.

Tip #1: Directive Verbs

I can’t tell you how important these words are. Directive verbs are in almost every short answer question in the HSC. These directive verbs give you a good idea of the extent of thinking skills required to answer the question. Before answering a short or long answer question, you should always take note of the directive verb and the key difference between other verbs. Recognising this will allow you to write a response that would fit the marking criteria/guidelines and sample response much more accurately. Reviewing the common directive verbs used in past HSC papers for your subject is crucial.

A list of the directive verbs used by NESA in HSC papers can be found here:

Tip #2: Mark allocation

The mark allocation provided in each question is an essential indication of how much you should be writing. You should be using it to break down how many different points are required. Following the number given for each question religiously will ensure you do not lose time by ‘overwriting’ short answer responses.

Each point required in a short answer question for economics can vary depending on the directive verb used, i.e. If you are asked ‘Outline the impacts of a depreciated exchange rate on the Australian economy’ for 2 marks, you will have two briefly outlined impacts of a depreciated AUD. Practicing short answer responses and comparing them to the marking guidelines and exemplar responses will allow you improve your knowledge of how many points to have for ALL short answer questions.

Tip #3: Silly Mistakes

There were so many times during the HSC when I talked to friends leaving the exam room with the idea in mind that they absolutely aced the assessment task. This feeling was only met with later disappointment by the loss of too many marks on silly mistakes.

With an increasing focus on calculations for Science subjects, it’s very important that you are able to note the most common mistakes that you will make for particular question types. Instead of cramming content the night before your exam, you should be reviewing a collated list of your common misconceptions and mistakes in practice responses – this is especially relevant for Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics.

While silly mistakes commonly occur for quantitative questions, it’s also important to note these for qualitative questions. It might be weird to think that you can make silly mistakes in qualitative responses, but trust me you can.

To identify your silly mistakes for these question types you need to review marking criteria and exemplar responses to identify recurring differences with your own responses. Marking is especially harsh for Chemistry and Physics if you haven’t identified one or more important piece(s) of information. Below I have noted some common silly mistakes I’ve noticed for Chemistry:

  • Forgetting Le Chatelier’s Principle when explaining changes to equilibrium
  • Forgetting significant figures or decimal places for rounding at the end of any calculation
  • Rounding an answer in a previous part when it should be used an exact value for the next subquestion
  • The lack of important features when drawing a graph, including a title and labelled axes
  • Not acknowledging data in the stimulus provided as supporting evidence for explanation of trends

KE = ½ MV2

You can ace the HSC.

Your potential to achieve outstanding academic results is only limited by one thing, yourself. If you believe in yourself, you will innately be able to produce better results since your exam responses and assignments will convey a level of greater confidence towards your markers.

If you’re just starting Year 12, congrats you have been gifted with a clean slate; none of your year 11 marks and ranks matter anymore!! Use this clean slate to show others how truly amazing you are.

If you’re nearing the completion of Year 12 and about to start your HSC exam block, note that you still have the potential to do much better than all your internal assessments. Your HSC exams count for 50% of your final mark, so regardless of how poorly or amazingly you achieved throughout the year, put your best foot forward for your final HSC external exams!!

There’s more to Year 12!

The HSC will be one of the most important events of your life, but it doesn’t have to be a dreadful one! Get involved with activities outside of your academic life during HSC, whether it be public speaking, a weekend sport or anything else that you may enjoy.

The experiences that you make outside of your general HSC study will be ones that you will cherish for the rest of your life, so make the most of year 12! While the marks that you receive at the end of your HSC may try to define the outcome of your HSC, it’s important to know that only you have the ability to determine whether year 12 was successful!

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