Hello there! My name is Rishabh, I graduated in 2019 as the Vice Captain of Baulkham Hills High School with a 99.80 ATAR. My academic achievements include a 99 in Maths Ext 1, 97 in Chemistry, 96 in Maths Ext 2 and 95 in Physics, as well as a top 10 internal ranking for the three sciences and economics. More importantly, I also engaged in many activities and passions beyond the classroom, for example being the Co-president of my school’s Green Group, a black belt Karate Instructor, a Youth Ambassador for Moelocco (a social enterprise combatting poverty) and being in the top 20 in Australia for the National Biology Olympiad. In this article, I would love to share with you how I got there (and how you can too, with more than 8 hours of sleep every night!). Now, let’s get into it.
Here you are.
It’s possibly your first article about excelling in your HSC year of high school, or perhaps your fifthteenth. This might be a quick break from your evening study session, or a way to pass time while waiting for the bus, or just another article in a series of many. You might be nervously reading this before your English Paper 2 trial, hoping to find some last minute tips to negate the consequences of the last few weeks of procrastination, or perhaps you’re in Year 8, looking to get ahead of your friends. Trust me, I’ve been there. All of them. What I hope to do in the next ten minutes of your time is to provide you with the foundation to achieve your HSC goals. This article alone won’t help you earn a Band 6 in Mathematics, or become the DUX of your grade, or earn a state rank – that will require far more hard work and dedication than this short read. But if you study with the right techniques and mindsets, without sacrificing extracurriculars and hobbies, you’ll be increasing your chances of success for the HSC (and getting 8+ hours of sleep each night!) The following are strategies and tips that I learned throughout my high school experience, from a variety of sources – online articles, workshops, educational YouTubers, teachers and more. I highly recommend that you read through this document and pick at least 2 strategies to implement in your daily or weekly routine. Remember to start small and build up as you form new habits – all the best!
Advice 1: How To Practise for Exams
Unfortunately, your time is limited (unless you have a time turner), and so it is essential that you focus on the subjects and topics that you are weakest at. Look over your school tasks to identify weaknesses, and complete practice papers regularly (especially when you are not ready), not just two days before an exam. I strongly believe that doing past papers when you are ‘uncomfortable’ (not ready for them) rather than when you ‘think’ you are ready (which never happens!) is really important (which is exactly what the Project LEAP program was designed for!) During this process, it is crucial that you identify your mistakes, write down why they happened, in which topics, and what you need to do to avoid them in the future. Here, I want to introduce you to the low-hanging fruit tree principle: just like it makes a lot more sense to pick an apple from a low-hanging branch on an apple tree than to climb the tree to pick the highest apple (unless you have an overwhelmingly strong sense of adventure), you will be able to gain more marks with less efforts in subjects you are not as strong in. For example, increasing your Maths mark from 93 to 94 might require the same effort as increasing your English marks from 82 to 88, which overall, gives you a much bigger boost to your ATAR and HSC marks. So, you’ve found your areas of weakness. What now? How do you study effectively for these subjects, and actually remember those 200 pages of notes! (Hint: You don’t need to do the latter). First, the few hours right after your classes are arguably one of the most important times for learning. It has been shown that practising ‘immediate recall’ after learning material (such as through the exercises in the science textbooks) boosts students’ marks significantly by locking in the knowledge. Rather than waiting for a full understanding before starting practice exams and questions, try to do exercises right after learning new concept (this always used to help me learn a concept better!) Next, we need a way to keep this information in your memory over time. Spaced repetitions are a fantastic tool here that you can use to commit something to memory (i.e. memorise it for a long time, rather than rote-learn it for a few days). This involves seeing information or answering a question at a particular point in time, and then repeating this step in the future depending on how well you answered the question or remembered the fact. For example, whenever I got a question totally incorrect, I would put it in the pile to revisit in 1 hour, while if I got a question completely correct without much effort, I came back to it after 1 week. The advantage is that this technique allows you to focus on your areas of weakness, and it makes use of repetition – which is essential if you want to memorise anything. There are 2 main ways to perform spaced repetition:
- Using physical flashcards: these provide greater flexibility with design and format, but also take more time to prepare and organise.
- Using a platform like ANKI or QUIZLET for digital flashcards: these have limited flexibility, but are much faster, more convenient and allow for automatic sorting. As you get closer to your exams, to make the most of your limited time I recommend using the Traffic Light System – a few weeks before your test, map out the syllabus and highlight each examinable dot point with a colour:
- Green for areas you know very well
- Orange for areas you partially know but would like to review
- Red for areas that are completely confusing to you. Your job from here should be to change all red dot points to orange, and all orange dot points to green.
It is essential that you read the HSC syllabus and tailor your notes to it directly. Ensure that your notes are concise but cover all necessary information for each dot point. Where possible, include diagrams, mnemonics and other forms of knowledge to aid with understanding – find out what kind of learning suits you best! When making summary notes (these were something I loved! I mean, who likes reading through hundreds of pages, anyway), pick and focus on the highest yield points (those that are most likely to appear in the exam) and write the main formulae, definitions and tips that you must remember for these topics. Rewriting the textbook is an easy and comfortable technique that many students use, but it is totally ineffective at focusing on the content that is most likely to appear. After the exam, review the feedback you received and, on a 1 page summary, write down everything you need to work on: strengths, weaknesses, what you will keep doing, and what you need to start doing that you weren’t doing before. It’s super important to be assessing whether your study habits and techniques are working for you, and when it’s time for a change. Additionally, learn from your Prelim Exams! Go over all your Year 11 exams and make a document of your mistakes. Copy down the questions, write what your mistake was and then the correct method or response. What study techniques worked for you, and what didn’t?
Advice 2: Time Management
This is talked about a lot, but still definitely underestimated – create a study schedule! Use Google Calendar (or Excel, Google Sheets, a physical diary – whatever works for you) to schedule your study times for different subjects. Start off by scheduling your commitments (like tutoring classes, sports training, etc.), followed by time to complete your homework, then add time slots for further study for each subject (preferably no more than 3 subjects a day), such as making notes and doing practice exams. Remember to schedule times for your breaks, where you should leave your room, go outside to catch some fresh air, go for a walk or eat some fruit. Important: Keep your phone turned off and outside of your room during your study sessions, and only allow yourself to use them during your breaks. Phones are incredibly distracting, and it takes a long time to get back into the flow state to be super productive!
- The Pomodoro technique: There are some excellent Pomodoro timers online (using your laptop or other device) which effectively break up study sessions into slots of 50 minutes followed by a 10 minute break. You can customise these times to suit your study habits. Breaking up study sessions helps to maintain interest and productivity.
Next, Make. A. Study. Plan. (This is slightly different to the schedule!) Throughout Year 11 and Year 12 (and arguably, throughout all life!) you should always be planning at different levels:
- First make a plan for the term. For example, if you know you have exams in week 9 and 10, you might set a deadline for yourself to finish all your notes/assignments by Monday Week 8, and then work backwards from there to break up your tasks and set more personal deadlines.
- The next one would be a plan for the week: know what commitments you have so that you can schedule study sessions around them. Create a Google calendar for your school work, put up exams, homework, assignment dates and important events so that you can keep track of everything, and not accidentally forget an important commitment! (This definitely wasn’t me in Year 12 😅)
- After that, create a plan for your day. Know preferably when you will wake up, what the first things that you will do are (try not to use your phone right after waking up!), and what tasks you need to complete for the rest of the day. Prioritise the most important tasks first so that if you’re not able to tick off your entire to-do-list, you’ve at least completed the important ones.
Advice 3: Maintaining a Healthy routine
Year 11 and Year 12 are stressful years. It’s crucial that you have a balance to keep yourself healthy and functioning at your best. Things you can do to achieve this involve:
- Eating healthy food: cut back on sugary treats and make sure you’re eating lots of fruits, vegetables and all the important nutrients.
- Get sufficient sleep: avoid looking at a screen at night before bed because it delays your sleep.
- Exercise regularly: go out for walks during breaks, and keep up your sports sessions. The science behind it shows that exercising will help your academic progress significantly.
- Don’t give up your extracurriculars and part-time work: if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed for time, definitely have a talk to your peers and employer to discuss how they can take or distribute more of your workload. However, giving up everything will leave you bored at home and make studying feel monotonous, thus making you burn out quicker. Extracurriculars help to break up the monotony of studying and teach you valuable skills that no exam will be able to (future employers will love this!)
Advice 4: Some Quirky Tips To Beat Procrastination
Procrastination is that weird friend that always sticks around, but no one wants. Luckily, there are ways to avoid it!
- The 5 minute rule – open up something you need to do and work on it for 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes are complete, decide if you want to continue or not – you may find that your momentum will carry you through.
- The Goldilocks rule: make sure your work is not too easy but also not too hard. If it’s too easy, introduce harder questions to keep yourself interested. If too hard, break up into chunks to avoid excessive discouragement.
- Say “I don’t want to do this, I hate this, I really don’t want to do this” while doing the work – you might just find that you’ve completed the task before you’ve accepted that you need to do it!
- Purposefully write and make a terrible first draft and laugh at it. The important thing is that you’ve gotten words on the page: often the hardest step in writing any piece.
Further Reading for HSC Success Some other great sources of study tips and techniques include:
- 13 Essential, Science-Backed Study Tips by Thomas Frank. He’s a YouTuber working on productivity and study advice for high school and university students. Check out his channel for heaps of amazing videos.
- How to study for exams – Evidence-based revision tips by Ali Abdaal, a current Junior Doctor who topped his cohort at Cambridge University.
Thank you for reaching the end! I hope that this article helped you in some way to improve your study habits, no matter what year you’re in. Remember: pick just 2 strategies from this article, and focus on them. Once you’ve mastered them, try 2 more. Slow and steady wins the race! Keep it up, you got this 💪 If you’re interested in studying the best learning techniques from me in either HSC Chemistry or HSC Maths Extension 1, check out our Project Academy sign up page!