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Areebah’s Hacks: How To Score A 99.45 ATAR And Beat Your Harshest Critic. Yourself!

Malek Fahd Islamic School and Matrix graduate, Areebah, shares insightful advice that helped her overcome her personal judgements and criticisms to achieve HSC success.

Do you find yourself being your own harshest critic? You’re not the only one!  In this article, Areebah explains what she did to score a 99.45 ATAR and beat her harshest critic. Herself!


Me, Myself and I


Areebah Hossain


Malek Fahd Islamic School

University Course:

Bachelor of Actuarial Studies/Computer Science at UNSW




My HSC Subjects

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


My best performing subject was Mathematics Extension 2.

I was able to effectively put ‘quality over quantity’ into practice when doing my practice papers. I did very few papers leading up to the exam, but the ones I did I would complete thoroughly.

Maths Ext 2 is all about knowing how to slow down and figuring a way to solve the question in front of you, even if you’ve never seen it before. Doing a million practice papers will not expose you to the myriad of different questions that can be asked.

For me, the key was to use a limited number of papers to stretch my brain to its limit.

I trained myself to think creatively and outside of the box, so I don’t reach a dead-end, no matter how difficult the question is.

In the case of actually reaching a dead end, my strength was realising early on in Year 12 that it was not a real dead end. Success in Ext 2 Maths does not come about without collaboration. Whenever I had a problem, I asked everyone. Maths Ext 2 in a way, is the cultivation of a hundred different thought processes and ways of thinking to solve one question.

So, even if someone does not know about the subject, they can still give you an idea, a different perspective that can make the lightbulb go off in your mind for a question that you seemed to be stuck on forever.



My worst performing subject was Advanced English.

I was not consistent with practicing my writing throughout Year 12.

Learning content, memorising quotes, familiarising yourself with the context of a text can all be crammed (although it should not be), but the one thing you can’t do the night before an exam is practicing your writing.

Success in Advanced English exams comes from being sophisticated, natural, and cohesive in your writing.

This must be practised regularly over a long period of time. It was something I did not do, but I wish I had!



How to score a 99.45 ATAR and beat your harshest critic. Yourself.

The #1 enemy that stood between me and my ATAR goal (99+) was me not believing in myself.

For me, the HSC was a mental game.

I was plagued by my anxieties and worries. They slowed me down and stopped me from giving my best in my most important year of High School.

To combat this, I built a mental barrier in mind that eventually fused with my way of thinking to allow me to do my best in my HSC:


Step 1: Build a wall

Don’t eliminate your anxieties and concerns. Instead, pretend that they don’t exist

Dealing with stress and anxiety has always been my weakness. Entering Year 12, I was swamped with assessments and the impending doom of my HSC exams. I knew I could not eliminate my worries completely.

I could not stop the occasional intrusive thoughts. So, I decided to hold them off and pretend that they don’t exist.

‘Building a wall’ was a process of restricting all the external factors that would disease my mind and slow me down.

The only but quite extensive step in doing this was to stop comparing myself to anything and anyone.

Though it is only one thing, I found the issue of comparisons plagued all aspects of my school life, and I put into action small changes that allowed me to solidify my mental wall:

  • Don’t compare your marks to others
  • Don’t obsess over who got the highest mark in an assessment
  • Don’t compare your study methods to others’ study methods
  • Don’t compare your quantity of studying to how much others’ have studied (or at least claimed to)
  • If different teachers teach the same subject, do not engage in any discussions of the comparisons of the classes and the teachers. This is a big one, because there will always be endless (and quite frankly, unnecessary) discussions comparing teachers’ teaching methods, if one teacher has created or marked an assessment there will always be all sorts of speculation. These things might seem trivial and silly, but they do a lot to the mind, and you might catch yourself thinking of a subject in a subjective, rather than objective way, which leads onto my next point,
  • Don’t form an opinion on a subject. You might have a favourite subject, but avoid forming negative views, whether that is your own opinion, a consequence of a bad mark, or the constant discussions at school that might subconsciously influence you. No matter how you feel about a subject, the goal is to do your best, and you can’t let a negative outlook on it guide that.

Once I started avoiding these things, I realised how irrelevant they were to my studies, and how detrimental they could be if I let them meddle and mess with my mind.




Step 2: Create a Fog

I combined this with lies I told myself, or rather ‘words of encouragement’.

I told myself that nobody could do an assessment as well as me; when the time came for an exam, I told my anxious self, hiding in the depths of my mind, “If you don’t do it, who will?”

When I first started telling myself things like this, I felt like an imposter. Of course, the things I told myself weren’t true, but I realised that being condescending to yourself isn’t going to get you to a good place.

If Step 1 was about restricting your external enemies, this step is about the internal.

I prepared for my first Maths Ext 2 exam for two months, and I got a mark in the 80s. I didn’t expect 100%, but I thought I’d do better than that.

However, I realised that the problem with my mindset was the first part of the last sentence: you must expect 100%.


It doesn’t matter if you get it or not, but as long as you put those mental shackles on, you won’t even be able to come close to your goal.

If you aim for 100, you’ll get 95; if you aim for 80, you’ll get 75.

That is what I realised as my assessments went on.

So, I boosted my ego endlessly, I aimed for 200%, while practicing and in exams. Whenever I had difficulties, I would tell myself that there is no question I cannot solve, and that it’s a piece of cake for me (even if it wasn’t).

Creating a fog isn’t about being delusional and blocking yourself from reality (which is how I felt in the beginning)- it’s about using the fog to mould it into the reality you want.




Step 3: Focus on the present

For the first 2 steps to be more effective, I trained myself to separate the past from the present, and pretend that the future doesn’t exist.

In Year 12, I did not do very well in a Chemistry assessment. This made me anxious for the next one and eventually losing hope in getting a Band 6 in the subject.

So, I knew that I needed to pull myself together.

I realised that if I obsessed over my last mark, that would negatively impact my next assessment.

If I thought too much about the future, I would not be able to give my 100% to the assessment that I have to complete in the present.

Thus, I forgot about everything but my next Chemistry assessment, combined steps 1 and 2 and ended up getting the highest mark in that assessment.

Also, there is no point assessing the difficulty of a question: if you think it’s too easy you might make a silly mistake; if you think it’s too hard, your own mind to give up, and you’re just not going to get it.

You just have to tell yourself that you can… and do it!




Step 4: Look straight ahead

Another thing I trained myself to do was forget about all my marks.

If I did badly in an assessment, I would forget about it so that it would not discourage me from doing my best in my next one.

If I did good, I would also forget about it, so that I didn’t get a big head and become overconfident.

I’m sure that it’s a universal experience for students after getting back an assignment or exam, to realise all the places they could’ve gotten more marks and easily gotten a higher mark if they:

  • Weren’t stressed at the time
  • Just hadn’t been overcautious because someone from the other class said it was going to be hard
  • Just had focused more and picked up on their silly mistakes
  • Had just stopped thinking about the fact that they did bad in their last exam, and couldn’t possibly do better than whoever got the highest mark last time
  • Only concentrated on the question in front of them
  • Only they had just believed in themselves.

Don’t have these regrets!




Step 5: Battle through the path you’ve carved for yourself

This fifth step is more of an outcome than a step.

The simultaneous application of steps 1-4 throughout my HSC year allowed me to consolidate the strongest mental barrier that would not interfere with me giving and doing my best in my subjects and achieving my ATAR goal.

Strengthening my mental front when approaching my studies in the HSC was the key to my results.

I didn’t apply any new study techniques in Year 12 that just worked like magic.

I only followed these 5 steps. I incorporated them into my mindset and attitude, until they started to reflect themselves in my reduced stress levels and increased confidence while preparing for, before, during and after exams.

How you conduct yourself at all these times contribute to how well you eventually end up doing. And this, for me, was a drastic improvement in all my marks.

I should mention that I hadn’t naturally gotten a lot smarter, or even worked a lot harder.

How smart you are, how much you actually know, all these things are completely separate to, and not a reflection of, the concept of marks.

What improved my marks was me constantly training my mental state.

I would never pity myself or second-guess any of efforts and hard work: when I was eating, while doing homework, in an exam, in class, during recess, at home- all the time.

That is what allowed me to pull through in my entire HSC experience.




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My Study Strategies

I studied differently for all my subjects, and these are some of the strategies I used in the subjects I did the best in:



Initially for Chemistry I attended the Term courses, but the week long gaps between lessons didn’t allow me to learn content in a cohesive manner.

So, after switching to the Holiday courses for the last three terms of Year 12, I found myself with a much better understanding of the content, equipped with the skills and confidence to attempt all questions types from completing the questions in the work book every night.

This allowed me to remain a lot more relaxed during the term and I saw a dramatic increase in my marks.


1. Learning the Content

Matrix Chemistry Theory Books were my lifesavers for the subject.

Before an exam, I would go through all Theory Books three times, conducting a ‘foundation’ study, ‘memorisation’ study, then a study I would use to test myself randomly on all the concepts.


2. Start with what’s difficult

Module 7 was the most difficult for me in Chemistry and so I always started my study with it.

Getting the hardest thing out of the way first made the rest of my studying much easier and more enjoyable.


3. Become a teacher

The way I would go through all my Theory Books was by talking to myself. I would read a page, and then stand up, walk around my room, stand in front of the mirror and act like a teacher in front of a class, explaining the concepts, giving examples and linking to other concepts and modules.

This allowed me to consolidate all my knowledge while creating a mind map of how the sections of a lesson linked together, how lessons linked to each other and how modules linked to other modules.


4. Use practice papers to make notes

After studying all the content for Chemistry, you’ll realise that you may still come across questions that you are unsure how to answer.

When I did practice papers, I would highlight all such questions, and then use the worked solutions to write brief notes on how to answer that particular type of question.

This gave me more ideas on how to improve my answers, make them more detailed and ensure maximum marks.



Mathematics Extension 1 & 2

1. Quality not quantity

This is something I explained in relation to why Ext 2 Maths was my best subject, and it applies to Ext 1 Maths as well.

In fact, when I tried doing too many papers, I found myself impatient and frustrated, unable to solve even the simplest of questions.


2. Create a Mistake Book

For every mistake I made in my school exams or practice papers, I would write out the full question and worked solutions in a mistake book.

Then, in a different colour I would write why I made the mistake and scold myself to not repeat it.



3. Don’t let your practice papers put you down

Initially, whenever I did really bad in a practice exam, I would start feeling unconfident and start losing hope. This made me do progressively worse as I did more exams.

So, I decided to use my mistakes as my strengths and always told myself: “Remember, the more mistakes you make now, the more you won’t make in the actual exam.”


4. Take the whole paper seriously

This applies for practice papers and actual exams. When I started becoming more confident in my papers, I started taking multiple choice, questions 11 and 12 less seriously.

As a consequence, I would lose the majority of my marks in those sections.

The important thing is to attempt the entire paper with equal amount of focus and precision (throwing away from your mind that the beginning of the paper is usually supposed to be easier). You should only be losing marks in Ext 1 & 2 maths for questions that are truly difficult.

The last thing you want to be doing is making silly mistakes.


My Regrets

My only regret is not trying harder for Advanced English.

As I’ve already mentioned, my inconsistency in practicing my writing was the main thing that prevented me from doing my best in the subject.

Because I did not practice my writing, I did not have ample opportunity to ask my teachers and peers for feedback and then improve myself.

I was at a standstill for the entire year, and I wish I had pushed myself to improve throughout the year, so that I did not feel as unprepared as I did for my trials and HSC exam.



My advice for future Year 12 students

You must do these three things:

1. Don’t let your stress control you:

The last thing you want is for you to focus so much on your anxieties and concerns that you end up unable to perform to your full potential.


2. Talk to your teachers and peers:

Remember you are not alone in your HSC journey. Talking to those around you can make you feel less alone and overwhelmed and help you do much better.


3. Create your own study strategies:

The strategies I have provided are only suggestions. When I read articles like this in my senior years of high school and found that I could not effectively apply all the strategies I was reading about, I felt like a failure.

However, I overcame this feeling by realising that the HSC is about figuring out your own weaknesses and adopting the strategies that work for you.



You must not do these three things:

1. Force yourself to study:

Whenever I tried to force myself to study because I wanted to get things done, I found that the information just wouldn’t go into my head, I just couldn’t solve the question. If you don’t feel like studying, then don’t. Take a break: go outside, eat something, watch something or talk to someone. When you feel refreshed, you will realise that you can study more efficiently and get things done much quicker than before.


2. Keep everything to yourself:

Whether this is about a worry you have or a question you’re stuck on, you should never keep it to yourself. Talk to someone. The HSC is a big enough source of stress and burden as it is, and you want to be doing the most to help yourself get through it.


3. Ignore the subject that you find difficult:

I did this for Advanced English, and when the time came for my results to come out, there was a huge gap between the rest of my subjects and English. You really don’t want to regret any your efforts for the HSC. Do your best and good luck!



Build a solid understanding of Maths concepts

Our HSC experts will break down Maths concepts into manageable chunks of information, and provide you with a plethora of practice questions to sharpen your skills. 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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