Part 5: HSC tips from 99+ ATAR students

In Part 5 of the ATAR & Scaling Guide, we share the do's and don'ts from past Matrix students who scored 99+ ATAR.

How do you get a 99+ ATAR?

Have you wondered how to get a 99+ ATAR? In Part 5 of the ATAR & Scaling Guide, we share the insights from some of the highly successful Matrix graduates who scored an ATAR above 99.

If you are thinking, “is it even possible for me to score 99+ ATAR?”, you are not alone.

The following list of students felt exactly the same way when they started their HSC journey.

Read on to learn their HSC tips ranging from maintaining focus and motivation to implementing effective study routines.


Steven Luu: 99.95 ATAR and 100th Percentile for UMAT

100th percentile for umat

My #1 Advice

One of the biggest challenges you’ll face during the HSC year is receiving bad results. No matter how intelligent you are; you are bound to have disappointments over the course of the year. However, it is the decisions that you make in reaction to these setbacks that will dictate the outcome of your HSC experience. Students who are unable to move on from these obstacles become bogged down by their failures, which ultimately define them.

You must understand that the HSC is about consistency.

However, students who understand that the HSC is about consistency and learn from their mistakes take control of their goals rather than letting it spiral out of their reach.

What you shouldn’t do

  • Don’t neglect Study Notes: I believe notes should be prepared as the ultimate tool, such that a student can adequately answer any question in a variety of ways, solely using the information contained within their notes. You should also write your own notes as the process helps retain knowledge, even when the notes are not looked upon weeks or months later. My advice would be to complete your notes for each exam period two to three weeks prior to their start.
  • Don’t think solutions are a waste of time: Exam solutions were another integral part of my HSC experience. I found that exam solutions were invaluable in refining my exam technique, training me to recognise the parts of syllabus being tested in each question. Also, when used in conjunction with marking guidelines, exam solutions greatly improved the conciseness and quality of my answers.

You can read more of students tips in Steven’s post, here.


Michelle Wu: 99.95 ATAR

My #1 Advice

When I got home from school each day, I would make a list of tasks I would do that afternoon, which would allow me to achieve my weekly goals.

Make a list of small tasks for each day to achieve your weekly goals.

I found that incorporating small tasks, such as printing past papers, helped me break up the monotony of constantly doing larger tasks, such as finishing notes on a chapter. It also gives you the satisfaction of checking off tasks!

What you should start doing

  • Past papers: The first study tip that I found particularly effective is to do a lot of past papers. I chose to complete past papers from a variety of schools, focusing mainly on those from the top 5 ranked schools.
  • English – Collect questions: For English Advanced, I collected a large pool of past questions and made sure that I could answer each of them by writing a scaffold essay. This scaffold would include: a thesis statement, topic sentences for each paragraph and a sequence of quotes that I would explore in each paragraph.
  • Maths – Take advantage of textbook questions: I attended the Holiday Accelerated Course classes for Maths Extension 1 at Matrix, which prepared me well for the school term ahead. Thanks to the Holiday Course school classes were a form of revision and allowed me to learn different methods/approaches to questions. I would do the textbook questions if I felt that I did not have a strong understanding of the topic, but most of the time I made past papers my priority.
  • Book of mistakes: I also recommend keeping a small book of your common mistakes I had a 10-page A5 booklet of notes for Maths Extension 1 that involved items like ‘remember units for motion!’ or ‘check for the ambiguous case when using sin rule’.

You can read the rest of Michelle’s Success Story, here.


Steven Paredes: 99.95 ATAR and 100th percentile in UMAT

My #1 advice

Take study breaks and have a weekly “no-study” night. You might be thinking, “oh yeah, I’ve heard all of that before,” but many people aren’t actually 100% bothered to commit themselves to all of the above – so what is the biggest secret to HSC success?

My secret to HSC success was staying motivated by having a clear future goals and aspirations.

Self-motivation! You should ask yourself, why are you doing the HSC? What motivates you to go to school? What are your future goals and aspirations?

What you should start doing

    • Plan: Plan your study effectively.
    • Stop wasting time: Don’t Procrastinate! Space out your exam preparation throughout the term.
    • Be consistent: Study for at least four hours a day.

Read more of Seven’s tips in his post, here.


Karen Zhang: 99.95 ATAR and Dux of Pymble Ladies’ College

My #1 Advice

Because of my duties as Captain of Community Service and my preparation for the Oxford University entrance process, I was particularly aware of my time constraints, and so I did what I would recommend to each Year 12 student: I planned early.

Develop your study plan early. It should start in Year 11, not Year 12.

Through Matrix’s generous Scholarship program, I accelerated most of my school subjects, so during Year 12 I was only attending Trial and HSC Preparation courses, and perhaps the odd Mathematics Extension 2 class to consolidate a difficult topic.

What you should start doing

  • Teach others: You’ve heard it all before, but the best way to learn is indisputably in teaching others. As well as consolidating content, you learn to explain concepts in a clearer manner, and are exposed to different approaches to a question.
  • English – Draft Essays: Make sure you continually hand in draft essays to your school teacher or Matrix Teacher as they best understand your school’s assessment criteria, and are therefore in a position to give you the most constructive and relative feedback. Towards the HSC, have someone who has marked the HSC previously (such as Matrix teachers) to help you further perfect your essays.
  • Chemistry – Develop Syllabus Expertise: Know the Syllabus! Make sure you continually hand in draft essays to your school teacher or Matrix Teacher as they best understand your school’s assessment criteria, and are therefore in a position to give you the most constructive and relative feedback. Towards the HSC, have someone who has marked the HSC previously (such as Matrix teachers) to help you further perfect your essays.

More of Karen’s tips for achieving a 99.95 ATAR can be found, here.


Rohan Krishnaswamy: 99.95 and 1st in Chemistry

My #1 Advice

Sleep is one of the things most HSC students fail to recognise the importance of. Too often I hear about students who’ve stayed up until 3 am studying for their extension 2 exam the next day.

Get adequate rest the night before the exam day.

No sleep means that not only are you going to be tired for the test, but also your mental capacity and ability to think will also be reduced. All in all, resulting in a test result that is much less than you should have got.

What you should start doing

  • Use your holidays: I was always able to finish my Chemistry and Physics theory during the Matrix Holiday Accelerated Courses, allowing me to dedicate more time towards Maths and English during the term.
  • Know your stuff: If you want to do well in Chemistry or Physics, you really need to know your facts and provide detail – especially when you get slapped with a 6-7 mark question (for example the soap or CFC question in the 2016 HSC Chemistry exam paper).
  • Learn the detail: Adding vast amounts of detail really help to certify the adequacy of your answer to get the marks and a lot of times impresses the marker. I remember even for eutrophication, I made sure that I even knew an example of a fish that dies in hypoxic environments (European carp). Your Matrix teachers will really help with these, especially if you have Louise or Matt!

You can read the rest of Rohan’s hacks, here.

Ymer Bushati: 99.90 ATAR

Ymer's ATAR hacks

My #1 Advice

The largest problem that I faced throughout my preliminary years was procrastination on my phone or computer, which severely detracted from my study time.

Remove the biggest distraction to your study – phone!

This was especially bad after periods of intensive study and I would often feel myself ‘burning out’, leading to me spending even more time on my phone or going out.

Unlike my computer, that was necessary for school and study, my phone didn’t assist my study in any way, but only took away from it. So, I decided to get rid of it!

What you should start doing

Learn from your failures: A lot of the time, even though I performed relatively well, I knew I had not performed to my potential, and this was largely due to me procrastinating away a large portion of my study time. So, at the end of Year 11, when I did not receive the marks I had hoped for, I resolved to improve my study technique and remove procrastination for my HSC year.

  • Solve the issue by getting rid of it: My biggest sources of procrastination were YouTube, my phone and going out. To address these, I took the following actions:
    • Procrastination blockers for my computer
    • Getting rid of my phone
    • Limiting social activities
  • Find a long-term solution: So, whilst I found ways to solve my procrastination issue, it was important for me that they weren’t short-term solutions, but long-term ones that would carry throughout my HSC year. If you come up with a plan to overcome an issue holding back your ATAR, stick to it.

If you need more advice on beating procrastination, read more of Ymer’s success secrets, here.

Henry Higgins: 99.85 ATAR and state rankings for English Adv and Modern History

HSC State Rankings

My #1 Advice

Nobody I’ve come across sits down for the first time after reading a literary text and transcribes a 20/20 essay.

Have a clear understanding of the process leading to writing your final essay.

For me, the process of drafting was essential to crafting an essay that I was confident would score highly. I think the process of drafting itself has a few aspects to it.

What you should start doing

  • Get feedback: Firstly, show it to your teacher! Your teacher is by far the most important asset you have during the HSC and one that you should make the most of. Do not feel as if you are a nuisance if you ask for help. For me, it got to the point that my teacher would jovially remark, “oh not again, Higgins!”
  • Read the work of your successful peers: Reading the work of former successful students AFTER you have already written your own analysis. I want to stress the importance of writing essays on your own first. I strongly believe that if you read the work of former students beforehand it will negatively taint your work. By extension, reading the work of literary critics can also be useful to help sharpen and add sophistication to your analysis.
  • Holistic preparation: I also believe that the idea of preparation extends further than merely writing study notes. It involves preparing all aspects of your life. For instance, getting to sleep by 9:30pm so you have adequate sleep falls into the notion of being ‘prepared’. Therefore, developing a routine is crucial, yet ensure it allows for some flexibility.

You can find more of Henry’s tips, here.


Emma Chen – 99.85 ATAR and state rank in Biology

My #1 Advice

It’s crucial that you have a thorough and complete understanding of the Preliminary (Year 11) content. It is assumed knowledge for the HSC course and without a solid foundation, it is much harder to grasp new concepts in the HSC.

Particularly in the Mathematics and Science subjects, the HSC syllabus will go into more depth about the ideas learnt in the Preliminary course, so it’s essential to have basic and prerequisite knowledge in order to maximise your understanding in Year 12.

Take Year 11 courses seriously. If you don’t, you will be putting in extra effort in Year 12 to fill in that knowledge gap.

I found that subjects I struggled with in Year 11 were the same ones I struggled with in Year 12, and I had to prioritise my study so that I would be putting more time and effort into my weakest subject. Having a better understanding of the Preliminary coursework negated the need to put in the extra effort and made HSC a lot easier.

What you should start doing

  • Write your own study notes:  I found word processed notes to be the best because you can finish them in a shorter amount of time and then spend that extra time reading over them and adding handwritten annotations. Annotations can be small reminders or just extra information you might have received after first writing your notes, but these annotations really complete your understanding of the course.
  • Get a study partner:  I found studying with just a partner was an easier way to achieve the same results. You can have different study partners for each subject but make sure they’re as dedicated and motivated to study as you are or they might end up being a huge distraction. The best time to form study pairs is after you’ve done some individual study, for example, after reading through your study notes and completing a past paper, you might have some questions to discuss with your study partner.

You can read the rest of Emma’s hacks, here.


Alpha Bi – 99.75 and 99th percentile in UMAT


My #1 Advice

I found difficulty in maintaining motivation throughout the year, and thus sticking to a study schedule was hard.

Establish a study routine as early as possible.

I managed to cope with this by setting a study timetable early on in the year, which I followed as best I could. When I found myself slipping, I would make up for it on the weekend. Closer to exams, however, instead of sticking to such a schedule, I made a checklist of the past exam papers I needed to complete.

  • Use your support network: As exams are stressful, it is important to have a strong support network around you. Make sure you are checking up on your friends, and that you are communicating your worries to alleviate the weight off your chest.
  • Own your failures: Do not beat yourself up over a not-so-decent mark. Let it drive you!

You can read more of Alpha’s success secrets, here.


Jacky He – 99.70 ATAR and Dux of Marist College Penshurst

How I Overcame My English Barrier To Achieve 99.70 ATAR

My #1 Advice

Write your ATAR goal on a blank sheet of paper in big blocks of writing. Stick this onto a wall slightly above where you sit so that every time you raise your head up, you can see the wall.

Stay disciplined by reminding yourself of your goal daily.

Whenever you feel like you don’t want to study or when you want to give up, look at the ATAR goal – you will remind yourself where you want to arrive at by the end of HSC and you will force yourself to study

What you should start doing

  • Use your holidays: A very important thing I did that changed my entire HSC fate is that I used my Christmas holidays very effectively. Whilst everyone is out partying and playing video games in this “Last Holiday in the HSC Year”, I devoted 3 hours every day into revising the previous term’s contents and studying next term’s contents at Matrix Holiday Accelerated Course. This isn’t really a lot to ask for, but after Christmas holiday is over, you realise that you have done almost 100 hours more than everyone else.
  • Keep clear notes: Having simple, clear, nice looking study notes would really encourage you to look through them. Here is an example of my physics notes:
    My physics notes.


  • English – Read: Read, read, read!!! This is the biggest tip I can give to anyone when it comes to improving your English skills. During my early high school years, I would train myself to read 30 pages of a novel every day and mentally summarise what I had read. This allowed me to improve my reading efficiency, so that I wouldn’t be intimidated when faced with large chunks of texts during the HSC.
  • Use it or lose it: When I attended a Catholic high school, I was forced to speak English because no one in my year spoke Chinese. It was painful at the start because I was stammering whenever I spoke. I always needed time to think about the words I was going to use before I spoke. Over time, having to speak English every day, my communication skills were gradually improving. Reading, writing and speaking English gradually became an instinct. This helped me significantly with HSC assessments that involved oral presentations. It also allowed me to complete my essays within the time limit without needing to think excessively about sentence structures and grammar.

Jacky has more HSC tips here in this blog post.

Jacky has also written in detail about his experience of coming from a non-English speaking background to nail English Advanced, here.


James Wang – 99.70 ATAR (Band 6 & E4 in all subjects)


My #1 Advice

Having an accountable study group is almost essential for any subject but I think underrated for Maths. My friends and I would share tricky questions over Facebook and work together to find solutions.

Use study groups to study more efficiently.

Given the number of past papers, it’s impossible for an individual to do every single one of them so a study group where everyone contributes is the most efficient way to see a wide range of questions.

What you should start doing

  • Use study groups:  It’s the overused term that can easily be under-performing. If done right, they can be game changers for your whole grade, not just you. There are a few things that every successful study group needs: accountable members, open and reliable communication mediums and dedication. It’s very easy for study groups to fizz for a few weeks and dissolve so it is up to all members to try and make it work. Come with things planned to do/ topics to discuss when you meet. Use Facebook or Skype as a way to communicate outside of school and share your questions or essays. Now for some subject-specific advice:
  • English- Share essays and get feedback: Share your essays regularly and receive feedback from your study group members. Always be open to discussion and share your ideas for essay topics. Diversity of thought goes a long way in English. Using resources like the Beginner’s Guide to English to complement your study process will help you stay on top of things, too.
  • Science -Workshop short answers: I think the most effective sessions involve sitting down and doing a bunch of short answers, marking them and then going through the content/ answer structure afterwards. Ensure all members have learnt the content before the meeting.

You can read more of James’ success secrets, here.


Ella Yang – 99.55 ATAR


My #1 Advice

If I could restart year 12, I would start writing my notes earlier instead of trying to cram.

Start making your own notes as soon as possible.

This would have saved a lot more time to complete past paper questions rather than memorise my notes, and prevent stress from building up.

What you should start doing

  • Prioritise: Having a ‘to-do’ list that was ranked in terms of priority. This helped me to be more organised in terms of dealing with all the things that I had to do, as well as allocating time more efficiently.
  • Don’t ignore rote learning: One technique I used [for rote learning information] was to pretend to teach a class of students while writing down keywords and drawing diagrams on a whiteboard, which was recommended by my biology teacher. It was surprisingly useful. For example, when learning about the nephron (in the kidney), I drew coloured diagrams and explained the function in each specific section. By ‘teaching’ a certain syllabus dot point, it forces you to explain complex ideas with clarity and simplicity – which mirrors what you should do in short answer questions.
  • Keep a mistake book: In my ‘mistakes book’, which was a 5 subject notebook, I had each subject (Maths 2U, Maths 3U, Chemistry, Biology, Economics) in a different section and wrote any mistakes I had made (including from homework, assessment tasks and past paper questions). Before an exam, I would revise any relevant mistakes and attempt questions of a similar nature.

You can read more of Ella’s success secrets, in this post.


Kim Nguyen – 99.35 ATAR and 8th in the state for Maths Extension 2

how kim nguyen scored an atar of 99.35

My #1 Advice

I did all my homework during my free periods at school so that after school I could launch straight into studying.

Make use of free periods at school to free up more time at home.

For those who are struggling with balancing their extra-curricular activities with their academics, I recommend that you halt all extracurricular activities past a certain time and devote the rest of the day to studying.

What you should start doing

  • Set goals: Before Trials, my goals were to rank in the top five for all my subjects and in the top two places for Mathematics. This kept me on track and instead of taking one assessment task at a time, I viewed them as stepping stones to increasing my ranking. It also lessened much of the pressure I felt as I set more realistic goals for each assessment task.
  • Read your English texts, twice (at least!): Make sure you read all your English texts at least two times. The second time you read it, I recommend using sticky notes or highlighters to annotate and analyse your text. Read all your assigned texts at least once before the end of the summer holidays or at least before you start to study it in class.
  • Break up tasks: Remember, break large tasks into smaller tasks and plan during the weekends what main tasks you want to complete throughout the week. Also, try to complete minor homework earlier so that you can focus on the bigger tasks!

You can read the rest of Kim’s HSC hacks, here.


Matthew Winfred – 1st in the state for Maths Extension 1 & 100/100 in Maths Extension 2

hacks for scoring 100/100 in extension 2 mathematics

My #1 Advice

I find it extremely important to not just remember formulas but to also understand how they are derived and applied. Especially during classes, I tend to ask any lingering question to my teachers and explore slightly beyond the scope of the syllabus to gain this understanding.

Dont compromise on your understanding. Otherwise you’ll need to memorise everything.

Being curious and not just accepting what is being taught until knowing it back to front is essential to long-lasting learning.

What you should start doing

  • Use your resources: When studying mathematics, I start by revising any concepts learnt during class. I then go through multiple textbooks to ensure that I have a solid fundamental understanding. The Matrix Workbooks are a great resource that really helped me in covering my basics.
  • Teach others: The best way to test your understanding is trying to teach it to others and always questioning, “Why?”.
  • Practise, practise, practise: The only way to improve your speed and accuracy is by exposing yourself to a variety of different questions. During my study, I would complete as many practice questions and exercises as I could and impose strict time ‘challenges’ on myself.
  • Mark your work: Remember to actually mark your work, adhering strictly to the marking criteria given for each examination. It is really important that you try and identify areas where your working out may be deemed inadequate, and to ensure that any marker will not be able to take marks from you for insufficient reasoning in the future.

The rest of Matthew’s in-depth Maths HSC hacks are in this post.


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