Has COVID-19 thrown your study plans off track? That's okay! Alan shares 15 study secrets that will help you get back on track and ace your studies!
In this article, Matrix Scholarship holder and Sydney Boys High School student, Alan Wong explains his tactics for thriving during the peculiar circumstances of 2020! To help you thrive, he shares his 15 secrets for studying successfully during COVID-19.
The experiences I am going to discuss reflect my own situation and individual circumstance. Everyone is different and I feel it’s presumptuous for me to pretend that any of the insights I’ve gained will manifest similarly for you. But I do hope they will help you!
The only piece of advice I can confidently suggest is that you should keep seeking to find what uniquely works for you.
With schooling disruptions this year, I’ve found that the vast majority of my Module 7 and 8 knowledge has come from Matrix. Both through the Matrix+ online course, and also through holiday classes at Hurstville (shoutout Mr Kearsey!). I can distinctly attribute my half-yearly performance in Chemistry (which tested Module 5 and 6), to the January holiday course!
I personally find Holiday courses really useful for content-heavy subjects which require understanding, like Chemistry or Physics. The main benefit is that you can rush ahead with the course, and work out any explanations beforehand. Often the Matrix course does a better job covering content than school does, so it gives a really nice foundation off which you can build the rest of your knowledge. It certainly helped me during Trials having attended the TPCs.
Although in general, doing the Holiday course for any subject and then learning it in school basically means you’re covering the content twice, helping you to memorise it. And unlike many other tutoring places, the content isn’t covered so far ahead of time that you completely forget it when you cover it at school. The long term benefit is that you end up memorising a substantial amount of knowledge so when exam time comes around, studying is easier and you’ll know more.
During Term 2 lockdown, I used Matrix+ for all my subjects:
The best thing about Matrix+ is that it’s adaptable.
I’m not going to pretend as if during Term 2, I managed my time perfectly and managed to do every lesson on time. That would be disingenuous, as I definitely fell behind. It definitely helped seeing a teacher’s face as we went through the book.
Sometimes I found it easier to go through the content myself first, and then refer to the video with teacher worked solutions if I couldn’t work out a question. That’s definitely the best part of Matrix+ – the flexibility. It’s also really helpful to have the forum where we can ask questions and receive replies, often as our peers have the same queries.
Sometimes I found it fun and even relaxing just to play the theory video while I did other tasks like cleaning up or organising, kind of like listening to a podcast or music. I found Matrix+ most effective as a complementary tool. It’s always easier to get distracted learning off a computer, so I tried to minimise my use of it, and learn primarily from the book.
Speeding up the video in sections which one already may have covered in class is extremely helpful to save time and focus on the areas where we have weaknesses. Then referring to the recorded Q and A or forum when I had questions worked well. Matrix+ is a very extensive and broad platform, to the point where it may even be too much at times. Of course, that’s not at all a bad thing, it just means we have more options to individualise and tailor the learning to how it best works for us.
I call this point, the path of least resistance, if, like me, you’re on Youtube more often than you should be, then use that to your advantage! When I was first searching for Chemistry videos from the likes of Crash Course, or even by searching up “Module X” and finding school teacher recordings, I’d do it all on a special separate study Youtube account.
But I’ve found it’s a lot easier just to watch them on the personal account you usually use.
If you watch enough videos, the algorithm will begin to recommend Chemistry videos on your homepage, making it easier to resist the urge to watch for leisure and instead watch to learn.
Perhaps you learn so well using videos you might as well use them completely instead of any theory notes.
For example for my Modern History HSC, I memorised three modules of content by repeatedly listening to podcasts (search up Wonderly’s American History Tellers – Civil Rights: this was the single resource I used for the Civil Rights’ Option) and watching lecture videos (“The Faculties” Youtube channel has some excellent Soviet Union lectures off which I based my essays.
In the 2019 HSC, I based my power struggle essay off Dr James Harris’ “Stalin’s Rise to Power” by listening to it repeatedly before and after school)!
When studying, I wrote summary notes onto post-it notes using diagrams and arrows. This was helpful to review over when walking to school for exams, either with the bundle of squares or by scanning it using the Post It app. If you don’t do anything else, do this. It’s a lazy, quick and easy way to gradually build up a bundle of notes you can refer to.
The best part is that it’s scrappy and doesn’t require you to put in effort. Just scribble down and stick it somewhere and you can always refer to it. And similar to the concept of using a smaller plate means you eat less, similarly, using small post-it notes means you fill them up quickly and you have to summarise and condense information to its logical flow, and also you’ll feel a sense of progress instead of writing out on a larger notebook page.
‘Don’t do the short answer questions in order. I alternated between the shorted 3-4 marker questions, and the longer 5-7 mark questions to maximise my use of time and prevent myself from running out.
Most of my learning was done using audio or video. This was especially true for English, where my main studying for the Common Module was listening to the audiobook version of 1984 over again, or for Module B, where I found short podcasts and lectures to listen to on the train and walking to school to study for Henry IV Part One.
Note: Matrix has two articles that gives you a great overview of everything you need to know to begin analysing Henry IV:
Similarly, there are many great videos for Physics or Chemistry: Crash course is nice, The Science Asylum with Nick Lucid is a hidden treasure for Physics, Walter Lewin’s MIT physics lectures are advanced but quite helpful. If you want to just cover the course, the Department of Education has recorded review videos on their resource page, recorded for the virtual school Aurora College. If you search a module number and subject on Youtube, you’ll also come across teachers who have playlists of them teaching the course.
Our English course will guide you through everything you need to know about Henry IV. We’ll break down the text and show you how to analyse it to achieve a Band 6! Learn more about our English Courses now.
I don’t drink coffee, but in the week prior to my Trial HSC exams, I found caffeinated coconut water on a half-price clearance sale and bought a few mini cartons.
Before the exam, after waking up and up until the start, I drank one carton. Perhaps it had no effect, although I definitely wasn’t feeling lethargic. Perhaps it was a placebo.
Either way, even if the feeling of sharpness is just an illusion, that’s enough to be effective and probably increase your performance.
At least that’s what I found. I’d say try it out if you don’t normally have caffeine, although only have it before an exam, not during regular study.
I have a strange affinity to whiteboards. I find they are a great way to brainstorm and open your ideas. I think for me, it allows me to exercise some variation of the Feynman method.
A procedure is too strict for me to follow, but I try to teach myself the content by reading it out aloud in front of a mirror and pretending I’m addressing a class, asking questions while answering them, drawing on a whiteboard in my hand.
The whole studying experience becomes a show, where if I don’t know something, I’ll literally say out loud “Good question, actually, I’m not sure about that, let me search it up” and find the answer and explain it in my own words. Maybe this sounds funny, but it works for me.
Making notes is too difficult. Instead, why not just bookmark the website you’re looking at? This works especially well for Quora or forum pages answering a question.
I found it an easy, lazy way to keep track of all the new info I was learning without having to write it all down in my own notes.
On this point, I always have too many tabs open slowing my computer down. I’ve found OneTab really useful for this, an extension which funnels all your open tabs into just one.
Much of my notes collection is a hodgepodge of various different resources, post its, bookmarked websites, matrix book, school homework book.
Indeed for me, I feel like this may be a more effective strategy than one unified set of notes.
Not only is it easier, splits all the content up, I feel it’s also easier to memorise and learn.
Instead of 100 pages in the same font, dot point style, I review through different pages with different styles and colours, and especially if the notes go over the same content in different ways, than that’s a bonus for understanding and memorising.
I aimed to schedule sciences during the holidays, and Mathematics and English during the term. Although from term 1, due to spaces, I did Physics and Mathematics Extension 2 during the term.
Personally I find Mathematics term most optimal, as it’s more of a slow practice-based subject, so it makes sense not to rush it all in two weeks, but instead stretch it out over a term.
I’ve never seriously considered doubling up lessons on a Saturday (1:30-4:30, 4:40-7:40), as I don’t think I would be able to keep my concentration for that long. My course times were entirely dictated by the other things in my weekly life, such as cadets and sports training.
Free up your time during your school term by getting ahead in the holidays! Our HSC expert teachers will guide you through the structured content and help you improve your analysis and writing skills in 9 days. Learn more about the English Holiday course now.
Start seriously thinking about university and all the other options you’d like to pursue. I went into the year thinking it would all fall into place, and in some sense it has, but I’ve also missed out on opportunities to apply for scholarships and early entry programs simply because I didn’t think it was important to think about university until after HSC exams.
If you don’t have a great idea of what you want to do after high school, you might hear people tell you “that’s alright, you’ll work it out when the time comes”. This was the advice I was told, and I went with it.
In hindsight, I would suggest simply browsing course finders, university websites, resources like Study Work Grow, and just looking at all the options available. Try flipping the order: instead of career -> course, try course -> career.
I’ve found it more useful and helpful to look at university courses first, and then envision how that course could help me in my future development, rather than thinking the other way around.
Perhaps this is a helpful strategy if you have a broad range of interests and possible paths in the future.
Cut through the irony and paradox of this advice for just a moment. Understand the strategies and ways of others, but realise that nobody knows this “life” thing, and everybody is just working it out.
I’d often see blogs or posts of people studying studiously, friends having the motivation to study way in advance, or see the same note-taking and scheduling strategies that seemed inexplicably joined at the hip to HSC success. And I’m sure many of the posts here would make you feel the same, they certainly did for me.
Pomodoro method, scheduling and blocking out time, notetaking strategies… definitely try out these methods and see if they work for you.
But more often than not, expect them not to work.
Yes, they may be backed by research or scientific studies, perhaps every productivity article talks about them. But especially remember that as you read blog articles about certain people, including this one, survivorship bias has filtered through and selected only those who succeed. Those who have failed with for example the Pomodoro method are forgotten simply because they have failed.
Instead, remember that everybody is a unique case study of their own situation. Success comes from innumerable factors, some we can control and others we can’t: our environment, our personality, the people around us. When we write about ourselves, we focus on the factors we have control over, it’s only our natural tendency.
So, instead of a discussion about “secrets” to success, narrows down to the most visible, clear steps someone took. Recognise that a person studying a certain way isn’t more evidence for why that way works, only that in a specific situation, a certain method worked best for them.
After my half yearlies (postponed to midway through the year due to coronavirus), I went down to the Blue Mountains for a day. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable and relaxing experiences just to break off and have true leisure.
But we can harness this space of creativity and peace everyday as well, whether by just sitting still for a few minutes, or observing the world as you walk to school.
A major thing I regret not doing is taking consciousness and “meditation” more seriously.
I have always played with the concept of “meditation” marketed as a way to relax and find peace. But really, the biggest insight comes from understanding our true nature.
Sam Harris’ Waking Up app, is the only app I’ve found that places an emphasis on “meditation” not as a way to keep calm, but to inspect the nature of our existence. (if you message within the app, you can get a one-year subscription free).
I’ve found the practice helpful to separate thoughts from senses, and better harness my emotions and pressures. It’s difficult to explain through words, and I probably sounds like some lunatic in wonderland, but if you try and manage to persist, you’ll start to discover the same insights.
What link does this have to studying? Not much directly.
But in terms of remaining calm, better understanding why you behave certain ways, trying to understand how others perceive you, these are all quite fundamental inquiries we often brush over, and truly recognising that all of our doubts, embarrassments and thoughts are really just concepts with no actual grounding can be quite emotionally and mentally freeing.
I ended up deleting Instagram midway through Term One. Since then, I’ve had to reinstall the app every time I’ve wanted to check it. My only regret would be to delete it even sooner, at the beginning of Term 4 2019. Similarly with Messenger or Gmail, which I can’t remove as it’s important for communication.
But I turned off notifications and so to see new messages, I have to go into the apps. It’s the small things like this which I wish I had done earlier. If it’s there on your notifications, I find the pressure to reply immediately.
Turning it off means you’re thinking less about it. And on that note, I’ve made a habit of turning my phone onto airplane mode, primarily to save battery, but with no data, it means I don’t get any of the newest updates, minimising the distraction.
This sounds like a bit of a weird point. Obviously, the HSC exams are the culmination of high school: But if you’ve taken Year 11 seriously, Year 12 shouldn’t feel much different.
Just keep doing what you’re doing, try to optimise the process and or try a few new things, and enjoy the process. Around me there was much focus on this being “the” year, that people were finally going to get focusing and studying.
I think I should have just focused more on the now, taking each day, each assignment and exam as one and one only.
I regret not reading more and not recognising the importance of reading early on.
Reading articles helps your writing for English Advanced Module C.
The Good Weekend magazine is a good read, but the subscription costs money, so find it at your local library instead. Otherwise, registering for a Medium account and reading articles there is also a great source to see different writing styles.
I’m prompted to read them by the emails they send. You can register for a free account, and then just copy and open links in new incognito windows to bypass the 3-article monthly limit.
And then there’s always nice soft or hardcopy books, whether a nice fiction book or non-fiction book eg. on productivity or self-improvement.
Even reading your English texts more. Hopefully, you get to the point where reading your texts becomes fun.
Or if that’s too much effort, listen to them with a free trial on Audible (You can cancel the trial before the payment and keep your audiobooks, and you’ll still get book credits to redeem each month). I’ve found 1984 not just a prescribed text, but an engaging and fun book I read sometimes for leisure, with the side benefit of helping to memorise for the exam.
Spend your school term revising instead of learning new content to get ahead! Our expert teachers will introduce you to your Maths content and provide you with a wide variety of questions to help you consolidate your knowledge during the holidays. Learn more about our Maths Ext 2 Holiday Course now.