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Alan’s Hacks: Balancing Online, Term, and Holiday Courses to Ace Year 12

Like you, every Year 12 student is time poor. In this article, Matrix Scholarship Student Alan Wong shares how he maximises time by studying smarter, not harder!

In this article, Matrix Scholarship holder and Sydney Boys High School Student, Alan Wong, explains how to maximise your time by studying smarter, not harder!


Alan’s Hacks: Balancing Online, Term, and Holiday Courses to Ace Year 12

Helloooo! I hope you’re having a great day and if not that it’ll get better soon! My name is Alan Wong, now finishing up high school at Sydney Boys High. I only began attending Matrix at the beginning of Term 4 2019, though it’s never too late to jump in and join the Matrix community!


Me, Myself and I


  • Alan Wong


  • Sydney Boys High School

University course goal

  • I’m still sorting through them, but most likely I will aim for a Science or Psychology degree

ATAR goal

  • Any, only goal that it comes from an honest effort to do the best I can (Alan scored 99.95)

Career goal

  • Something which applies interdisciplinary knowledge to solving the world’s problems


My future plans

Perhaps I’m one of only a few Year 12s without a clear university plan, or perhaps you’re in my shoes as well. Ideally, university would be more flexible in terms of what you can choose to study (beyond strict Majors and Minors): That’s why I’m considering ANU’s PHB Science program, although going interstate would be economically difficult.

Closer to home, a Science or Psychology degree at UNSW or USYD would be my most likely future pathway.

In terms of my ATAR Goal, I’ll be happy with anything that reflects my best go. I probably don’t have so much of a dream “career” more so the things I’d like to do in the future. I envision my future being quite spontaneous and can see myself bouncing around different careers. In a world where artificial intelligence and technology gradually merges with our humanity, it seems ignorant to presume my destiny only includes a single career.

I’d love to more deeply understand the human mind and its future interfacing with AI, clarify the future of education, work with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, or research and engineer solutions to renewable energy or our multi-planetary future in space. The only certainty to my “dream career” is that I’m always ready to change it as the tides rise and fall.

It seems essential that we will need to continually relearn and innovate as the future of work becomes ever more uncertain, and the rate of change in society accelerates.

In university, learning about the human mind would provide me with a first-principles understanding through which all of these other problems can be explored. Communication, our emotions, how we think and learn, are fundamental to all other studies such as AI, education, healthcare…(And before I begin, just because I’m writing an article doesn’t mean I know anything. I’m still very much learning.).

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.

At times I’ll use collective language such as “we” or suggest action through the directive “you” and the imperative of the piece. I’m more just addressing a nebulous group of people who I think are similar to me. I only use this language as we are all peers, and are similar in the one way which is that we’re all fellow Matrix or HSC students.


My HSC Subjects

I am studying:

  • Mathematics Extension 2
  • English Advanced
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Accelerated Modern History (I sat the 2019 HSC in Year 11)

What I am studying is pretty much the “Asian 5” as most like to call it. There are times when I think about doing Extension 1 and 2 English, but hindsight is 20/20. I’m happy about my subject choices and find them all interesting in their own unique ways although I do prefer the sciences and English above Maths.

Balancing online, term, and holiday courses to ace Year 12


Across Preliminary, I performed better in the Sciences and worst in Mathematics.

Up through HSC Trials, this trend has held:

I’ve performed my best in Chemistry. I would put some of it on my school Chemistry teacher, who consistently provides feedback for homework and practice questions. Her enthusiasm and high standards foster an environment of consistent effort.

However, with schooling disruptions, 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!

Having the in-class demonstrations of titrations, followed by the practical day at UTS provided me with the kinaesthetic learning to help understand and easily memorise the procedure and potential errors for my school depth study task.


I’ve always performed worse in Mathematics, both Extension 1 and 2.

I think part of it was because my school classroom was more relaxed, and our teacher doesn’t check to see if we’ve done homework, so I often slacked off. This seems like a cop-out, however, our environment plays an extremely important role in our success. Society has ingrained personal responsibility and accountability through perceptions of “hard work” and “effort”.

  • First, it’s important to recognise how this egocentric view of our success fails to account for luck (ie. factors outside of our direct and reasonable control).
  • Second, if directed wrongly, it can lead to frustration, as we feel like we should be able to control and direct everything yet perhaps the results do not reflect our personal attitude.

Sometimes we should recognise how fortunate we are. If the wind had blown differently during scholarship applications then perhaps I wouldn’t be a Matrix scholarship student.

Derek Muller, former Matrix science teacher, and now a well-known public educator recently posted this video to his Youtube channel Veritasium. Take a watch, it’s much better than me trying to explain it. (If you want to read about this in greater depth, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is an explanation I’ve found interesting, although not very actionable.)

Alans blog How I Maximise Time by Studying Smarter, Not Harder Read about the formula for success

However, there are many aspects I can attribute to Mathematics. First is recognising the gap between expectations and the reality of our situation. I find it extremely difficult to engage with timed exam condition practice papers. Personally, I think the aspect of being timed, having a combination of random questions, makes it feel much more restrictive than actually pondering a difficult maths question.

I’ve improved in my Trials performance, and I can confidently attribute this to the Matrix Trial Prep Course.

Perhaps that sentence sounded like shameless promotion, but genuinely, I found that doing the questions, categorised, and with the proper theory, to be much more helpful and motivating than looking at a mountain of past exam papers.


It’s difficult to find direction with sample papers. Procrastination doesn’t necessarily come from being lazy. We often attribute it to our inherent attributes. Instead, one thing it can come from is not knowing where to start, but often also, where to end. With a large book like the TPC, I was motivated and engaged to use the resource as there’s a clear beginning, but also a clear marker of completion. Basically all of my Trial HSC preparation was done through the TPC book.

Many students will have neatly written and personalised notes. I tried that for one Friday afternoon before giving up as it was just too much effort and took too much of my time. Here’s the work I did on that day, sure they look kind of nice, but I’ve since added basically nothing to it. Instead, I’ve simply studied using a combination of the Matrix theory and workbook, rough in-class notes, our school homework book, and whatever other online videos I can find.

Alans hacks How I Maximise Time by Studying Smarter, Not Harder study notes

Instead, I’ve simply studied off a combination of the Matrix theory and workbook, rough in-class notes, our school homework book, and whatever other online videos I can find.

During Matrix lessons and homework, I use coloured flags to mark out whatever pages I feel would be useful to review for an exam. The colours don’t mean anything, whatever I feel in the mood for, but generally darker colours indicate something more important.ImageSimilarly, our school provided us with a homework book, and as I complete it, I’ll use different coloured pens and highlighters to mark out the spots of difficulty to review before an exam.

alans hacks How I Maximise Time by Studying Smarter, Not Harder colour coded notes

When searching Google for topics such as “trends of boiling points” I’ll save the webpage to a Chemistry bookmarks folder.

list of alan's bookmarks for chemistry How I Maximise Time by Studying Smarter, Not Harder

In the lead up to exams, I wrote theory to memorise onto Post It notes, also scanned onto the Post It app, which I would read while walking to school.

POst it notes and post it app from Alans hacks How I Maximise Time by Studying Smarter, Not Harder

I don’t have a personalised collection of handwritten or hand-typed notes, just these (along with some online videos). Perhaps notes are working for you. But if you find, like I did, that they’re too much work or you find yourself repeating content you already know, then don’t write them. From what I perceive, note writers are in the minority: The rest of us aren’t bothered to write them, and above all, they might just be really boring for you and me. Instead, take the path of least resistance: when you’re already doing work, make sure to save the stuff you need. Just highlight the points and throw on flags as you go, and you’ll magically have a collection of notes to review come exam time!


My initial goal was specific colours for specific purposes, but that’s too difficult and over time, it’s become generalised to lighter colours for less important stuff, and darker colours for the more important stuff.


Term vs 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.

Matrix+ in the year of COVID-19

During Term 2 lockdown, I used Matrix+ for all my subjects:

  • Mathematics Extension 2
  • Mathematics Extension 1
  • English Advanced
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Then, in Term 3, for Mathematics Extension 1.

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.

blog alans hacks How I Maximise Time by Studying Smarter, Not Harder matrix+

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.


Get ahead like Alan with Matrix holiday accelerated courses

Take advantage of your final opportunity for expert guidance, revision, and exam experience.


My Advice to Future Year 12 Students

Now I can reflect on the past year, I can offer the following:


What would your advice be to your younger sibling who is about to start Year 12?

I would tell them not to worry too much. If you’re pleased with how you’re doing in Year 11, I don’t see much reason to tell you to change. I would actually suggest focusing LESS on studying, and more on everything else school has to offer.

My most productive, educational and eye-opening experiences have come not from studying, but from coordinating events, meetings in the role as Senior Prefect, exercising and having fun playing basketball or running, or debating in past years.

In fact, I regret dropping Debating in Year 12 due to fears of lack of time.

Partly it was due to the Matrix class schedule. But it’s been the extra-curricular activities where I’ve grown most as a person. And in terms of not having enough time, as I’ve alluded to in my “attention management vs time management” step, if you have stuff on your plate, I’m quite certain you’ll be able to handle it. We often underestimate our abilities to juggle multiple tasks. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as “too much” but what you think of as “too much” most likely isn’t that case.

I almost didn’t go for school Prefect because I wanted the extra time to study. I can confidently say that if I had followed through with that, that would have been the stupidest decision I would have made in the past two years.

I don’t think I, nor any single one of us students are qualified to tell you what you must or mustn’t do. We’re all learning and constantly developing, so here’s the insight’s I’ve gained from my tiny sliver of experience.

alans hacks how i maximised time by studying smarter not harder juggling


I am supposed to suggest only three things, however as you’re probably going to skip straight to this section without reading the text above, I’ve decided to make this a bit of TL;DR for the entire article.

You should do these things:

1. Wake up early

  • Try waking up 30-45 minutes, even earlier if you can, before you have to prepare to leave for school. You can use this extra time to brainstorm and plan out your day, read, exercise, or even just sit still and watch the sunrise.
  • Waking up at 5am is a challenge, but rewarding if you can build the habit. It’s often really quite at this time of day and I find focus is easier.

2. Do other things other than study

  • Sport and exercise: Make sure to keep active. It’s not only good to keep yourself healthy, but also serves as a nice way to break off from studying. Eg. After school training or doing a few exercises when you get home helps to break the gap between school work and at home work.
  • Extra-curricular activities: Whatever activities these are eg. Debating, leadership, volunteering, they’re all great ways to keep Year 12 fun and engaging. In their own right, they help your self development, but it’s your last chance doing them in high school, so make the most of it.

3. Do nothing

  • Relax and consider your existence
  • Try to meditate or just sit down and…

4. …Outline your future path

  • You don’t need to set down anything, but make sure to take the steps to investigate all your options. Early entry, scholarships, are all opportunities which you may miss if you leave post-high school matters until too late

5. Read

  • Read for leisure and for learning
  • Reading articles

6. Drink water and eat less carbohydrates

  • You are what you eat and drink!

7. Post its and flags

  • In addition to or instead of proper notes, just write everything you learn on post-it notes
  • Use flags on schoolwork or Matrix books to highlight points you should review.

You should not do these things:

1. Sleep late

  • Don’t mind me as I write this article late at night ¬_¬, but I’ll definitely regret it when I wake up tomorrow feeling tired and groggy. I’ve found it’s never a wise trade-off.

Always sleep early, and get enough of it as well!

I aim for before 10pm, normally…

2. Compare yourself to other people

  • Don’t focus on what others are doing. Whether they’re doing more or less than you. It can be a good indicator of where you could be, but ultimately it’s futile. We focus too much on school rankings and our friend’s test results, and not enough on what we can do ourselves to change ourselves, cause ultimately the only people we have true influence over are ourselves.

3. Take anybody else or yourself too seriously

  • Do things your own way. Study how you want to and find new ways or ways that work for you. Everybody is pretending to know. I’m pretending to know, your friends are… why? Because admitting we don’t know makes us look stupid. But truly, we’re all learning and even if we find a way that works, it’s only for our specific situation. Nobody is an authority on this. Even teachers who may have suggestions don’t truly know your individual situation.

4. Rely on caffeine

  • Use it like it’s your final drawing card, like a mini boost which pushes you over the top. Personally, I’ll only have caffeine before an exam.


Take control of Year 12 like Alan with holiday accelerated courses!

Written by Guest Author

We have regular contributions to our blog from our Tutor Team and high performing Matrix Students. Come back regularly for these guest posts to learn their study hacks and insights!


© Matrix Education and, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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