How to study for HSC: Constructing Study Habits

Learn how to construct the best study habits in to ace the HSC, written by 99+ ATAR tutors and distinguished achievers.

Riddhish Chanda

Riddhish Chanda

Chemistry Team at Project Academy

“Study habit”. You’ve heard these words but how to state rankers approach this, and what should it really look like?

As of Term 1, you are approaching the halfway mark of this marathon with HSC exams fast approaching. The pressure of maintaining your well-being under the workload is weighing and it’s a race against time, to fit your studies in the mere 16 waking hours you have. Inefficiencies in your daily studies make it harder to reach your dream ATAR, but fret not, good study habits can save the day!

Study skills and habits if implemented correctly can speed up your road to academic success. In short, it’s the phrase “study smarter, not harder”. So, if you are wondering, “How Riddhish, how might we implement such a ‘too good to be true’ method of study?”. Well, this article will provide the enlightenment you are looking for.

Tip #1: Become a master of making solid study plans

The first tip is simple but surprisingly under-utilised. To help you study “smarter” and more effectively across all your subjects, is actually to have a plan. Never underestimate the power of a good study timetable or plan, because it allows you to study effectively without wasting time, meaning more time for other commitments in your life.

You should be strategically approaching each study session with a list of achievable goals you hope to complete by the end of the session, rather than winging it.

Let’s look at 2 key study skills you can implement, which will make you an absolute beast at making a study timetable.

1. Time blocking

”Time blocking” means splitting your day into small sections, and then you allocate time to achieve specific tasks. Depending on your learning style, your time blocks can be two hours long, or half an hour long. What’s important, is that you do intentionally block off chunks of the day where you eliminate distractions and smash out your study schedule for the day. This also helps you develop time management skills, which is an important soft skill to take into adult life.

For me, I found it most effective to first allocate time for non-study-related commitments that I couldn’t move (e.g. extracurriculars), and then fill in the gaps with study blocks. Aside from forming a study group with friends, I also found it helpful to use Project Academy’s tutorial system to time block, since they were essentially 90-minute blocks of supervised study sessions with a tutor, so I knew I would be productive. Tutorials were reserved for doing harder questions, as I had immediate help.

Now don’t be fooled, this process doesn’t need to be overcomplicated at all. It can be done simply in your phone’s calendar app. I also in conjunction, used an app called YPT, where you not only track your studies, make to-do lists, etc. but also can compete with your friends (for those of you who have a competitive edge).

I found it easiest to time block at the start of every day since planning long-term requires more foresight into how my week would look (which I often didn’t have).

2. Setting SMART Goals

Now let’s move on to what to do in each block of time you’ve allocated to studying. This is where goal-setting skills are paramount. We’ve all been guilty of setting super “fluffy” goals such as “study biology”…Which part of the biology syllabus? How long are you studying for? How would you even define a “successful” study session ie. when you’re done with this task?

SMART goals are something you might have heard of from school and can be a key factor in achieving the success you seek. Smart goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Instead of saying you’ll “study biology” in your time block, you could say “Do the practice problems in the Project Academy workbook on Heredity for 45 minutes”. A really easy way of doing this, is simply to identify the specifics - which specific syllabus dot point that you want to master? Specifically how many questions do you want to get done? And so on.

Getting good at goal setting means that the time spent in each study session is productive, and can greatly improve the results you see, and get you closer, step by step, to your HSC success.

How to write SMART goals in 5 steps

Tip #2: Learn to make effective study notes

A set of study notes is essentially a documentation of your understanding of the syllabus dot points and key concepts for a particular subject. It should be the guidelines of your revision as you prepare for your final exams. It can make or break your performance in your HSC exams, provided you take an effective set of study notes.

But how do you do that?

1. Make notes that are formatted in a way that complements YOUR learning style

This will help you retain information better, and even make the note-taking process more enjoyable. Not every note-taking technique you find on the internet will serve you well, so trial a few and see what works for you. A couple of options to consider include the Cornell method, mindmaps, flow charts, abbreviations, or even doodles.

2. Make sure your notes cover the entire HSC syllabus.

A popular technique is to structure your study notes by syllabus dot point. That way, when you’re preparing for internal assessments, you have a comprehensive set of notes that covers all bases. At the end of the day, the course syllabus is what you’re being tested on in your final exams, therefore your notes should hit every single assessable dot point, so you don’t have to learn any content last minute because you forgot it was in the syllabus. If you’re unsure of what’s in the HSC course syllabus, make sure to ask a teacher.

3. Make your study notes consistently throughout the year.

To make sure you don’t fall behind on content or miss any dot points, the easiest thing to do is to make your notes after each lesson throughout the year. This ensures you spend time reviewing recently learnt content, maximising information recall and reduces the chance you forget key learnings from the subject.

Tip #3: Make sure you have a good support system

Just like how an F1 team needs its pit crew, a sports team needs its coach, and a business needs all its departments, you as an HSC student need people you can rely on. The HSC period is not something to be tackled all on your own, so tip number 3 revolves around building a solid support system to help you through the highs and lows until your HSC exams are over. But what exactly should this support system be composed of?

Having a support system is crucial to ace the HSC

1. Study groups to study with you and motivate you

I highly recommend finding a group of students who do the same subjects, share the same academic goals as you (e.g. they’re aiming for a similar ATAR or subject mark), and have a similar mindset to you. For me, my study group was my go-to when I got stuck on questions.

Not only do we do past papers together and peer-mark, but I found it particularly effective to test myself by teaching the content (without notes), to my study group. This kind of retrieval practice not only helps you identify what you don’t understand (because you struggle to explain it), but also helps you retain information. This is called the Feynman technique, in case you want to do further reading on it.

It helps to also be in the same physical environment for our study sessions, and they were the best source of motivation. Especially if they have the same ways of studying as you, it can help minimise distractions, and helps you get more done in one session. I found my group at Project Academy - we would attend our classes together, revise together, struggle together, and eat dinner together. I’m happy to say that I’m still friends with most of them even now!

2. Seniors/tutors to teach you content and mentor you

Having senior students who aced the subject on speed dial, is another important component of your support system, as their experience can guide you through even the toughest questions. If you don’t want to rely on the goodwill of older friends (who might be busy with university or just life in general), find a tutor if you can. Like a sports coach, not only will they be experts in the subject, but they’re likely well-versed in study habits as well, and can mentor you. I went to Project, where I could message my tutor on Slack any day of the week. The unlimited tutorial system I mentioned before, was also something I took advantage of every week, especially in the lead up to assessments.

Tip #4: Having a rotation of study spaces where you can be productive

When you are studying, the space you are in matters more than you think. One that is without unwanted background noise, calm, perfect with a matcha latte, and brings out your inner academic demon.

Here are some tips to find the perfect place:

1. Clean environment

Your brain tends to mirror the environment around you - scattered surroundings = scattered focus. It is recommended that you have a dedicated nook in your home that is clean and used only for studying. If this isn’t available, look for public spaces. Sydney offers some of the best libraries. To name a few, the NSW State Library, Customs House, Marrickville Library, Green Square Library, and university libraries are some of the best libraries my friends and I used to study at.

Mitchell Library Reading Room – NSW State Library

2. Familiar Space

Having a space that tends to feel warm, safe, and familiar helps a lot in getting in your flow. Once you’ve tried a few places, aim to develop a routine on which study spaces you rotate through. Not having to worry about where to go for lunch, how you’ll get home, and any other distractions is crucial.

The most familiar place is going to be your home however, I highly recommend you have a rotation of other study spaces because changing your environment can help you get out if you’re stuck, or have distracting family members.

3. Purpose-built study place

A purpose-built study space can make it much easier to maintain concentration and focus, and usually has the ergonomics and comfort for long periods of sitting and working. These spaces can literally be your school exam room, or as mentioned, libraries in the community.

Personally, I found Grasslands, which is Project Academy’s dedicated study space most effective. Surrounded with cups (or 7) of Starbucks, surrounded by warm lights and plants, getting through paper after paper was a source of satisfaction and also saw me the greatest improvements in HSC marks.

Grasslands at Project Academy Campuses


Mastering the art of study techniques and habits is entirely about experimentation to find what works for you, and it definitely isn’t too late to start at any point. Hopefully, these tips were helpful to help you transform into an academic weapon and study smarter! Stay tuned for more content like this, and see you next time.


How to study for a test

The best and easiest way to study for a test has to be past papers and apst paper questions, whether you are horizontally stacking these papers (see in this article) or just doing full papers, either way the benefit is there!

How can I improve my study habits

First step to improving study habits is by taking small steps, identifying the primary reason for inefficient studying and tackling that area first, and then slowly working your way from there.

How to build good study habits

Try finding motivations for practising good study techniques, whether it be rewarding yourself with a bubble tea, a (single) game of Clash Royale or even a short walk after achieving your goal!

How can I study effectively

Finding a way to sustain your motivation and focus is key to studying effectively, allowing yourself to commit 100% of the time planned for study to the study, and can be done through the steps listed in the post? Above!

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