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Amanda’s Hacks: How to Get into a Routine for Exam Success to Achieve a 99.85 ATAR

Exams are stressful... However, that doesn't mean you can't reduce the stress! In this article, Amanda shares her best tips to prepare for exams and ace them.

In this article, Matrix Scholarship and James Ruse student, Amanda Shi, shares her best tips for getting into a routine for exam success.


Me, Myself, and I

Name: Amanda Shi

School: James Ruse Agricultural High School

Grade: 12

ATAR: 99.85

University goal: Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Dental Medicine at the University of Sydney


A little about me

I enjoy the occasional run and swim, and I like hanging out with my friends and family. I probably read less than I should, but I love getting stuck into a good book. I also am a terrible dancer and watch too much reality TV.


My subjects:

  • English Advanced
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Mathematics Extension 1
  • Mathematics Extension 2


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My school life

I was a school prefect and relatively well involved in clubs around the school.

My transition from Year 11 to Year 12 was pretty uneventful as I continued all the same subjects apart from dropping English Extension. It was an interesting subject but I felt like I wasn’t putting in enough effort to do it justice.


I am pro at:


I like how everything comes back to these fundamental concepts and equations so it doesn’t feel that content heavy. The long responses can get a little tedious, but a solid understanding with some help from teachers gets me there!


Okay, I’m not pro at it, but it’s pretty satisfying when you manage to solve a question that at first looks like a nightmare.

While Extension 2 always feels like an uphill climb, it’s important to remember that you’re not dumb, the questions are just hard and it’s like that for everyone (at least I hope ahaha)!


I struggle with:


I find it difficult to understand what the composer is trying to say and articulating that in a clear and sophisticated way.

Fortunately, that is what English teachers are for!! I do my best to listen to their feedback, keep handing in drafts and hope that they don’t give up on me :O


I have never been great at doing practicals and in exam settings, I can often revert to panic mode.

Don’t be like me; remember to breathe and practice simulating the exam conditions to ease you into the assessment.



My routine

During the term

My study routine during this year has been quite different with online classes.

It has definitely required more discipline and I found that setting alarms throughout the day to imitate the school bell has helped me stay on track.

I usually don’t have a fleshed out plan for the whole term, but rather every week.

I’ll have a homework list and an extra study list that I’ll update weekly to organise my priorities.



During my holidays

Unfortunately (and fortunately?), there is no one to wake you up or hassle you if you glaze over in an online class so I had to make sure I held myself accountable during the two weeks of holidays.

Alarms throughout the day were crucial for structuring my holiday studies during online Matrix lessons.

I did three holiday courses via Matrix+ for Physics, Chemistry and Maths Ext 2.

I will admit, there were some days when I would fall behind on homework, but I would make sure that I caught up over the weekend (in between my breaks, of course) to maintain the rhythm I had worked hard to start.

My schedule was simple; I followed the times of a normal Matrix day (3 lessons at 9:30 – 12:30 pm, 1:30 – 4:30 pm, 4:40 – 7:40 pm) and went to sleep at a time that would allow at least 8 hours of rest.



My secrets to exam preparation

I don’t really have a secret (however, if you do, please share ;)) but I try to be methodical about my approach and set myself a timeline that I can follow up on in the lead up to exams:


1. Preparation:

When I know I have an exam period coming up, I write down all the subjects I have, the content being tested, their weighting and what I hope to learn/revise before the exam.

Although it’s not always practical, it still gives me a clear idea of what I should be working on during the week.


2. Resources:

I use school homework and Matrix resources to learn the content, and I use past school papers and HSC papers to practise applying that content.

The STRIVE textbooks are pretty useful for the new science syllabi because they pick out questions from past papers that are still relevant and organise them into modules, so you don’t have to manually sift through the HSC papers.


3. Practice:

Even when I’m not feeling confident with remembering the content, I push myself to do past papers throughout the term.

This helps me identify what parts I’m not confident with and how I can fix that.



Staying on top

I fight distractions by…

Putting my phone somewhere more than an arm’s reach away because I know I won’t be bothered to go get it.

Okay, that doesn’t always work because I have my laptop as well, but I think the most important thing is to remember that we are still human and it’s unavoidable that we procrastinate sometimes.

In fact, I find that I often waste even more time thinking about how I wasted time…

So, I’ve been working towards being more resilient and staying motivated by keeping in touch with the people around me!


I keep healthy by…

Running at least once a week and eating healthy snacks.

Ice cream is great (life is too short to go without it) but only in moderation.

Emotional wellbeing is just as important as physical health so I also make a point to hang out with my friends and family.



My subject hacks

English Advanced

Annotating your texts in class and jotting down those pearls of wisdom your teachers say are probably the best things you can do for your future self, who will be frowning over an empty page, second guessing every topic sentence they come up with.

I think it’s important to remember that whatever you write the first time will not be perfect (and if it is, then you really shouldn’t bother reading this) and that your work will probably get some form of criticism, no matter how great you feel about it.

Like everything else in life, try not to overthink your first draft.

Just try to get your ideas across as clearly as you can, so that your teachers can help guide you into a more perceptive and articulate response.

To put it simply:

  1. Listen AND make notes in class
  2. Smash out a body paragraph
  3. Ask for feedback (your teachers’ constructive criticism isn’t a personal attack, I promise)
  4. Revise your writing according to their feedback
  5. Do it all over again with different questions (after you are feeling confident with your application of textual evidence, you can also condense this process by just writing a plan including an introduction and topic sentences in response to a new question)


Mathematics Extension 2

After understanding the content, Extension 2 is all about exposing yourself to a wide variety of questions so that you develop familiarity with a range of unique methods to address new questions.

It may seem like a trek, but doing past papers (even in small sections at a time) is definitely worth your time!


Expose yourself to a variety of questions!


My achievements

  • Ranking in the top 30 in my cohort for most of my subjects
  • Getting an ATAR estimate 99+


My regrets

My biggest regret is probably getting upset about past exams and letting that affect my confidence in a subject.

It all honestly doesn’t matter in the long run so take it as an opportunity to reflect and improve yourself.


My advice to future Year 12 students

The HSC is just another thing in your life to help you to get where you want to be.

Try your best but try not to stress about it too much because there are always other pathways if you don’t get the ATAR you want.


3 things you must do in Year 12

1. Have a schedule

Have a schedule but don’t hate yourself for not sticking to it! Life happens and your ability to adapt to it is what controls the outcome.

2. Practise writing long responses (for subjects like science).

Writing in a clear and cohesive response can be hard even when you know your content back to front. Have a plan for each of the subtopics that could be asked in long response; this will help you map out all the ideas you need to include and ensure you don’t forget things in the exam.

3. Ask your teachers for feedback (especially English)

English can be subjective, but your teachers have a lot of experience and maturity so trust them to guide you in the right direction!


3 things you must not do in Year 12

1. Try to work non-stop

It just doesn’t work. We both know it. Save your brain cells and find a hobby to relax!

2. Write a memorised essay word-for-word

You might be lucky and have this amazing essay that you have become very attached to (!!), but your marker can’t give you a mark that reflects its quality if you don’t answer the question.

3. Walk into an exam without doing a practice past paper in exam conditions

While you may not learn anything content-wise from the paper, it’s important that you emotionally prepare yourself for the pressure of the exam that could really mess you up, despite your hard work.


Read more of Amanda’s articles:

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!


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