Guides / HSC Success Stories

The Mindset and Habits of a HSC Maths State-Ranker: Ben Tran

It seems that a lot of people push themselves through the HSC without any...

Ben Tran

Ben Tran

99.40 ATAR, 16th in NSW for 3U Maths and All-rounder

It seems that a lot of people push themselves through the HSC without any thought of their wellbeing. Their only solace throughout the year is the fact that it will eventually be over. Surely this isn’t the best way of approaching this; you’ll end up overstressed, overworked and unable to perform during exams, which is really what matters the most. ‍

I think other activities like exercising, sleeping and hanging out with friends are just as important to a successful HSC year as studying. Clearly, no one has unlimited time, so it’s really important to balance your time and make sure that doing all of these things throughout the year; not just relaxing during the April holidays and getting 3 hours of sleep right before trials.

Tip 1: Set task-based instead of time-based study goals 📖 🕐

The main thing that I found increased my productivity dramatically was setting task-based study goals, as opposed to time-based goals. This ensures you don’t spend 3 hours half-watching Youtube instead of spending 2 hours on a past paper, then relaxing. If you’ve got an exam block coming up, assign each day of the next few weeks individual, specific tasks that you want to get done that day, such as past papers or writing notes. Once you’ve done them you know you’ll be on track to complete your goals, and you’ll have the peace of mind to take at least some time to relax, which is really important. ‍

You can also use this idea to plan your holiday study; in any holidays, set some tasks that you want to do each day, and set some days free as well. If you stick to your schedule, you’ll find you can get lots more done than expected, with (hopefully) less stress.

Tip 2: Never skip exercise and sleep 🏃‍♀️ 🛏️

It’s also important to make sure you’re exercising, or at least going outside every day as well; locking yourself in for two weeks before your exams will probably make you anxious and stressed, which will certainly lead to worse performance in exams. ‍

The same is true for a good sleep schedule; a lack of sleep can severely deteriorate your problem-solving skills the day after, which is a huge detriment for a maths exam. Another thing that helps is waking up earlier than you need to the day of an exam; you want to be wide awake, mentally ready, and definitely not rushing into the exam hall as it’s starting.

Tip 3: Repetition and revision save you hundreds of hours 💪

When you don’t have an exam block coming up, you should dedicate some time to revising topics that you’ve forgotten. There’s no need to go totally ham on the studying all the time, but perhaps set a day or two and choose one topic to master in this timeframe. This might involve doing textbook exercises for maths, or rewriting notes for other subjects.

It might take more or less time depending on the topic, but doing this regularly for all of your subjects is a huge advantage; when the exam blocks start to creep up, you can spend valuable time doing past papers instead of relearning topics.

Tip 4: Past-papers are your secret weapon 📑

A key aspect of doing well in the HSC (in maths) is past papers. The way you approach these will make or break your HSC. If possible, you want to do at least 5-10 past papers before each exam, and many more before your trials and final HSC exam.

When you’re doing them, make sure that you do every question in the paper, and mark yourself really harshly (carefully looking at the marking criteria). This is especially relevant in science, as sometimes the marking criteria can look for specific syllabus concepts or content that wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the question.

Once you’ve marked your paper, make sure you really understand every question you couldn’t do, or didn’t get full marks in. This is the only way to improve, and if you’re not doing this, then there’s really no point doing a past paper at all. If you’re just starting to do past papers and you find that you’re taking much longer than the allowed time, don’t stress yet; just do every question and record how long you took. You’ll get faster over time, and there’s no point skipping questions at the end while you’re practising, as these questions provide the most value.

One thing that helped me improve was doing papers with friends; we’d swap them afterwards and mark each others. You’re more likely to mark your each other harshly and find your mistakes, and looking at other people’s working is a really valuable way to learn, especially in maths where there are many ways of doing every question.

Another reason why past papers are so useful are for practising exam technique; this is especially important in maths, where the way you approach an exam can have large effects on your marks.

For the same reason, we developed the LEAP Exam program at Project Academy. LEAP is likely the most comprehensive exam program across NSW, where students sit a predicted HSC exam every week, and receive feedback and support until they understand how to do every possible question. It’s this discipline, feedback and repetition of doing practice papers that can mean the difference between a 80 and a 95 in your HSC exams. If you’re curious about our LEAP exam program – fill out the form here.

Another method that helped me was back-checking all the simple questions as soon as I’d done them; lots of maths questions can be checked backwards really quickly once you have the answer, and it’s quite easy to verify if you’re right or not. There are many different ways of checking different questions; for example differentiating your answer to see if you integrated correctly. It’s only through doing past papers and focusing on your approach that you can develop these techniques and apply them quickly during exams.

Here are some techniques I used to check different questions during my exams:

  • differentiating to check if you integrated correctly (or vice versa)

  • estimating your area/volume integral with a rectangle/cylinder (and checking if they’re roughly the same)

  • subbing the solution to ANY equation in your calculator to check if it’s right (this is foolproof and quick and should be done no matter what for these questions)

  • think about solving every multiple choice first with a guess and check (if the question can be done this way it’s usually very fast and accurate)

These are just a few common techniques, but there are many more that you can discover on your own if you think like this whenever you complete a question. Don’t forget that even though there’s a new syllabus, most of the maths syllabus is the same; it’s definitely still worth doing older past papers, and there are lots of really good ones out there (especially the HSC papers between 2000-2007 when it was harder).

If you want more practice exams, we also create and update LEAP exams every year to be the most accurate prediction of the HSC exams. If you’d like to sit a free trial exam – sign up here.

Tip 5: Learn to enjoy the process and life outside the HSC 🏂

Finally, don’t forget to appreciate your final year at school. It’s getting harder these days to appreciate things, but I find it’s worth trying to live life the way you want to remember it. If you don’t want to look back on this year and only recall constant stress, maybe take it a little easier on yourself, and pick up an old hobby. Stress isn’t correlated to success, and I think we’d all do well to remember that when things seem to be crashing down.

If you have any questions about aceing HSC Maths or any other subject, drop by Project Academy or join one of my classes on a 3 week trial. ♥️

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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