I’d be lying if I told you that I enjoyed sitting my HSC. Yet, somehow, between the moments of collaboration with friends, the intense encouragement of pushing myself and others to improve, the thrill of finally grasping new concepts, and the ultimate relief when it all pays off, there are still moment that I look back upon with happiness.
And hopefully you will too — see, the HSC doesn’t have to be a horrible experience. Yes, it will be stressful. Yes, you will be pushed. Yes, things may not always end up going your way. But in the process, you’ll pick up skills, experiences, and friends that you can take with you for the rest of your life.
I believe the key to all this — and actually doing well as a bonus — is an idea of balance: maintaining perspective to know what is important to do and what isn’t, and being organised and focussed enough to get it done.
In the same way that it’s often surprising to people when I tell them that I did 12 units in HSC, yet still managed to achieve the top ATAR, I believe it is this idea of maintaining balance between everything that allowed me to get the results I did.
It has led me to achieving 2 state ranks, including 6th in NSW for Economics, 12th in NSW for Chemistry, becoming Dux at Knox Grammar School and coming 1st for Physics, Chemistry, Economics and Maths Extension 1!
💪🏼 Planning and Accountability
Just as you would with any activity, going into it with a plan often sets the ball rolling before you’ve even started doing work. This planning can come at all levels, whether that’s just before you sit down and study, asking yourself “What do I actually want to get done?”, or whether it’s laying out a schedule for the next 10 weeks on what you’re going to learn — there’s no fixed rule, but having an idea of what you need to accomplish and when is always a great first step.
Beyond just making a plan, however, I found the best results came when I forced myself to become accountable for my work. This means that not only did I write down goals for each study session, but I also checked them off as I finished. If I didn’t manage to achieve them, I asked myself why, and considered how that would change my plans moving forward. Having this extra step of reflection can make a huge difference in whether your study sessions actually improve or stagnate with time.
I for one cannot function without a good night’s sleep — and I’m sure most of you can’t either. This meant that even if I hadn’t finished as much as I would like a particular day, I would always prioritise sleep over that extra little bit of cramming. Not only are you detracting from your ability to work that night if you continue staying up later and later, but you’re also detracting from your ability to work the NEXT day as you’ll be functioning on limited sleep.
Even during exam blocks, and especially the night before an exam, I would always try and get at least 9 hours sleep — from 9:30pm to 6:30am. It’s this balance that allowed me to always be functioning at my best, ready for the day ahead.
I also found benefit in sleep allowing me to “settle” ideas in my head — if I was memorising quotes or a particular concept, I always found it useful to study it before bed, sleep on it, and then revise again in the morning to ensure that the concept really stuck with me.
Procrastination was always an issue for me — even in the final terms, I was still looking for ways to overcome it. Ultimately, I found three main ways of helping me focus on what was important:
1. Eliminate Distractions 🖐🏼
In order to focus on my study, I needed to ensure that I wasn’t being constantly diverted to other distractions. This meant that I put my phone in another room, blocked certain websites on my laptop, and only brought items with me that I needed to actually study.
Additionally, I think it is important to consider your location — although the library may seem an obvious choice, if it’s loud, if you’re constantly being distracted by friends, or if there are frequent interruptions, then you may find it beneficial to study elsewhere, such as at home. Again, there is no rule, but I encourage you to actively reflect on how well a location is working for you.
2. Get in the Mindset 💭
Beyond removing distractions, I worked my best when I was able to achieve a proper mindset of “getting things done”. This was achieved through consistency: if you can begin to associate in your mind that every day at 5pm you will work for two hours, then it becomes easier and easier to slip back into this mindset of productivity.
Beyond this, maintaining a consistent location was also beneficial: try and physically separate the place where you relax and the place you work, so that you can associate that workplace with the focussed mindset. In particular, never work in your bed — not only does it diminish your study ability, it may also detract from your ability to fall asleep later!
3. Embrace the Procrastination 🥰
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, sometimes its best to just let yourself procrastinate. Don’t be adverse to the idea of taking breaks — working for two periods of two hours each with a 30 minute break will end up with you being much more productive than forcing yourself to work for four hours nonstop.
This meant that often I would say to myself, “I will do nothing for the next fifteen minutes” if I found that it was hard to concentrate during a particular study session. As long as you maintain a strict deadline to this procrastination, this should help you rebound and get back into the mindset after the break.
😮 It’s not all about the HSC
Don’t neglect yourself in the process of studying — if you plan ahead, and be realistic with your time management, there should be ample time to do things that you enjoy: whether that’s social events, extra-curriculars, or sport.
Even more so, spending time doing these activities may actually benefit your study — I always tried to go for a run the morning of an exam to help clear my mind, and having things to look forward to during the week can be crucial in maintaining motivation throughout the year.