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Success Secrets

Ann’s Hacks: How To Use Disappointments To Drive You To Success

Ann shares some insightful advice on how to take advantage of disappointments and turn it to success.

In this article, Catherine McAuley alumni and Matrix graduate Ann Berly shares her HSC experience and how she used disappointments to drive success.


Me, Myself and I


Ann Berly


Catherine McAuley Westmead



HSC Results:

SubjectsBand Achieved
English Advanced6
Mathematics (Accelerated)6
Mathematics Extension 1 (Accelerated)E4
Studies of Religion 16


My Best Performing Subject was Maths

I’ve never been super keen with Maths but after undertaking the Accelerated course I almost enjoyed it, especially the extension unit.

I learned to appreciate the different ways of attacking the same problem and finding interesting patterns which helped me understand concepts.

There’s also nothing more satisfying than solving a problem that you’ve been dwelling on for a while.

The solution always comes to you; you just have to be patient and not give up!


My Worst Performing subject was Physics

My knowledge of HSC Physics was great, thanks to Matrix. I consistently achieved high marks in my internals.

However, my fundamental understanding of Physics was flawed.

This was because I failed to dedicate enough time for Physics in Year 11. It always seemed so abstract and required more effort on my part to fully understand it, while Chemistry pieced itself together more naturally for me.

Hence, I overlooked some essential concepts which prevented me from having a holistic understanding of Physics.


My #1 Problem in Year 12: Overestimating my abilities.

In my junior years, I didn’t struggle too much to achieve decent marks. So, this created a false sense of security in my senior studies.

At the beginning of Year 12, my ranks were not as high as expected.

This was a much-needed reality check which forced me to change around my study habits and work hard for success.

Here are some steps to overcome these set-backs:


1. Have a clear goal in mind

It’s always good to keep your goals in your mind and all your efforts will direct itself to achieve it.

I never really had an ATAR goal.

Instead, I chose to focus on scoring well in my individual subjects.

This gave me more motivation to study throughout my HSC year, rather than just waiting for a number at the end of the year.


2. Learn to thrive under stress

I’m sure we’ve all heard the adage, “HSC is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

However, with the sheer workload combined with the anxieties of year 12, you may find yourself falling behind or ‘burning out’ more than once – I did.

This resulted in many of my pre-exam periods turning into “sprints”. However, surprisingly, it was these stressful situations where I concentrated the most and produced some of my best work.

So, in hindsight, stress doesn’t always need to be negative. You can still use it to your advantage!

For me, these stressful moments helped me put my perfectionist tendencies aside and just focus on doing my best.

The key is just to persevere and always keep your goals in sight, provided these goals are within reach and won’t put more pressure on you to achieve them.


3. Don’t neglect your weaknesses

It’s tempting to be satisfied with the good marks you get in a certain subject and neglect the ones you struggle with.

However, the HSC is about all-round success…

So, you’re really only as strong as your weakest link.

This is not to say that you should disregard the subjects you’re good at and enjoy. However, instead, you should be as dedicated to the subjects that you find difficult.

In my case, investing more time in Physics (my worst subject in Year 11) allowed me to come first in my internal assessments and score 89 overall (a mark I couldn’t even imagine at the beginning of Year 12!).

Hard work always reaps reward in the HSC.


4. Make lists

Some of my peers made daily or weekly to-do lists but I couldn’t allocate my tasks on such a small scale.

I tend to overestimate the amount of time I had, so things were almost always left unfinished.

So, instead of assigning a specific time for the tasks to be completed, I made a list of everything that needs to be done including past papers, summaries, important syllabus points and constantly added and crossed things out each day.

This also played with my mind. Seeing a massive list of things that need to be completed helped me study more efficiently and prevented me from wasting time.




5. Write your own summaries and notes for everything

Take initiative and rewrite notes in your own words as this will really ingrain the information in your head.

Or try summarising a topic for a friend who doesn’t do the subject and see if they understand it.

This will really ensure you know your content thoroughly.

This is one of the reasons I chose the term courses for Physics at Matrix. It gave me a week to rewrite notes and really understand concepts.

I also annotated my Matrix Theory Book with notes that I picked up in class. Then, I wrote summaries for every section at home.

I’m a visual learner. So, I made good use of the plentiful flowcharts and diagrams in the Matrix books and used them as a guide to make my own visual summaries.

Although this was quite time-consuming it really helped me understand Physics way better.




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Study and Exam strategies strategies

1. Use your holidays

While it’s important to relax, it’s also good to utilise the holidays to get ahead on future topics and brush up on anything you found difficult during the term.

It will help you stay on top of things. You will find that class time is just extra revision for you (which is always good!).


My plan for the holidays went a bit like this:

First of all, I’d try to wake up early to get started on my day. This ensures I can study the maximum number of hours while incorporating generous breaks.

I always like to stay one term ahead of my school work.

So, I try to understand concepts by myself during the holidays and write a solid set of notes which I can refer back. I would also collate more resources like past papers and questions I can complete for the next term.

Keeping your focus during the holidays is definitely more challenging because there’s no schedule to keep you on track.

I sometimes spend the whole day on a singular task that could’ve been completed in a few hours, because of the various distractions around me i.e. my phone.

But remember, you also need a healthy balance of study and free time in your holidays.

So, to combat these distractions, I ensured I took minimal breaks during my study periods, which were usually in the morning-afternoon and then relaxed for the rest of the day.

I try to finish all my work in the first week of the holidays and leave the second week to chill and be more flexible with study.



2. Be unique

In subjects like English, ideas and themes can get repetitive.

So, instead, try to make your ideas relevant to your understanding.

You’ll find yourself much more engaged in your writing if your ideas resonate with you.

Even in straightforward subjects like Studies of Religion, you have to make sure you’re not copying facts from a textbook because they are usually pretty out of date.

So, it’s definitely worth the extra effort to research new and interesting facts, as this will make your work stand out.


3. Use a ‘Mistakes’ book

I used one for Maths, Chemistry, and Physics.

For Maths, I noted my repeated mistakes and formed methods which helped me tackle common question types easily.

You don’t want to make the same mistake twice!

For Physics and Chemistry, I structured responses for 7-9 mark questions because I knew that I didn’t write very concisely and would often miss crucial points.

So when I practised, I wrote down everything I knew first. Then I looked at the criteria to see what I needed to do to achieve the marks and pre-made a rough plan for such questions.


4. Compile difficult questions

I tried to do every possible question I could find and picked out the difficult ones to re-try them until I got it.

I also found difficult questions in the Matrix theory and homework books, and familiarised myself with the solutions.

This helped me get through those band 6 style questions.


5. Refine your exam technique

Look at your past exams more reflectively to refine your exam-taking techniques will maximise your marks.

Finding good exam technique really rewards you for what you know.

You might know all your content. However, if you approach a question wrong, you will lose marks unnecessarily.

Personally, I found that doing multiple choice after I completed the main section of the exam is really beneficial because you’re not wasting your initial momentum on deceivingly difficult, one-mark multiple-choice questions.

(P.S. shoutout to my maths teacher for this advice! :))


6. Find when/where you are most productive

This could be the morning or evening.

You can also stay back at school or go to the library if there are too many distractions at home.

Working in your peak time will help sharpen your focus and keep you productive. So, it’s important to take advantage of these times.

I discovered my peak times by observing the quality and quantity of work I get done.

I found that I could concentrate the best in the mornings and during study periods at school.

So, I tried to write my English essays and get past papers done at these times to ensure that quality work is produced.

If there is a Maths exercise I have to complete or some notes I have to write, I usually get this done in the evening because it doesn’t require as much brain exertion so I can finish these easily.

Self-evaluation is key to finding these peak periods.


7. Write practice essays

Even though it may seem like the worst form of torture, it’s imperative for English success.

From experience, the earlier you get into the habit of writing essays, the better it is.

I avoided doing this for most of Year 12 and my English marks weren’t great.

However, when I started writing timed essays, my marks improved exponentially.

I tried to write as many full essays as I could.

However, sometimes I also just wrote a brief scaffold that structured my ideas for different questions to ensure I could answer as many different question types as possible.

blog-success-secret-ann-berly-how-to-use-disappointments-to-drive-you-to-success-essay writing



My Regrets

Not joining extra-curricular activities.

This would’ve provided the balance which would have made year 12 a tad easier.

The pandemic made this particularly difficult as I was almost forced to stay inside most of the time.

This was really mentally exhausting and not healthy.

So, I would suggest not dropping any extra-curricular activities or even a part-time job as this will help you de-stress and forget about school for a while.



Tips for Yr 12 students

You must do these things:

1. Start study in Year 11

A thorough understanding of the basics taught in Year 11 is essential for success in the HSC even if it is not officially assessed (besides Maths).

Always remember: Year 11 is assumed knowledge in year 12.


2. Take breaks

With a bit of caution, breaks can help optimise your study time.

Studying for long periods of time may sound productive, but in reality you only really concentrate for an hour or two.

So, it’s really worth your while to take the breaks.

I tried to avoid technology in my breaks because it was way too addicting and did something active like going for a walk.


3. Listen to advice

Your teachers, friends, people who’ve done HSC before, and friends from other schools are your best asset to achieve success.

Their wisdom will help you develop good habits and inspire you to do better.

Using resources from different schools will also help give you a well-rounded knowledge of content and syllabus points.


You must never do these things:

1. Set a strict study schedule 

The last thing you want to do is make study even more monotonous and dull with a strict timetable of tasks which must be done.

Learning to prioritise tasks and allowing flexibility in your study makes it less of a chore and more enjoyable.


2. Waste time

It’s a sad truth that you’ll never really have enough time for anything in Year 12 (or in life in general!).

And, the more time you have, the more likely you are to waste it.

Hence, make sure you’re not in a situation to waste precious time.

So… lock your phone in another room and block websites on your laptop if you have to do it.

You’ll learn more about self-control in Year 12 than you will have your whole life.


3. Set unrealistic goals

Trying to reach unattainable goals can be mentally draining and won’t help you achieve them.

So, be realistic about your abilities and be proud of your achievements!



Save time and get ahead of your peers from home!

At Matrix+, our HSC experts will guide you through all Maths Ext 1 concepts to ensure you grasp everything! Learn more now. 


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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