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Coco’s Hacks: Getting Into Actuarial Studies At UNSW

In this post, Matrix Maths tutor Coco Xu shares the study tips that got her into actuarial studies at UNSW.

In this post, Matrix Maths Tutor Coco Xu shares her ATAR Hacks that got her into Actuarial Studies at UNSW!

Me, Myself and I


My name is Coco Xu and I am a graduate of North Sydney Girls High School 2017. I am undertaking B Actuarial Studies (Co-op) at UNSW this year.


My HSC Results

ATAR: 99.80


HSC Results
Subjects Assessments Mark HSC Exam Mark HSC Mark Performance Band
English Advanced 93 94 94 6
English Extension 1 45 45 45 E4
Mathematics Extension 1 99 99 99 E4
Mathematics Extension 2 98 97 98 E4
Chemistry 95 92 94 6
Physics 93 92 93 6

I performed the best in 
Mathematics because I started off with a good foundation, and because I invested the most time into it. If there was anything I didn’t understand, I would ask multiple people and refer to textbooks in order to learn the concept thoroughly.

Learning all the content in advance also helped, as mathematical concepts takes a lot of time to process. I find that by learning each topic twice, everything made much more sense and I was able to engage with the information at a much deeper level the second time around.

I performed the worst in  Extension English because I did not prioritise it – it was a back-up for underperformance in Advanced English.

Its exams would always clash with another subject (for example, it was examined on the same day as Chemistry for trials, and on the same day as Physics for HSC), and I would usually prioritise everything else over Extension English. (If you would like detailed tips on improving your English results, read the Matrix Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English).


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My #1 Problem in Years 11 and 12

The biggest problem for me during HSC was my lack of motivation during the term. I would only work well and be motivated under pressure from upcoming exams, but not during exam-free periods. This is because goals or deadlines that were far away seemed very abstract to me, whereas goals that were more imminent were more concrete and tangible, and hence it was easier for me to set specific goals.

I realized that my inconsistent study schedule was impacting my results, and hence took the following measures to tackle this issue:


Step 1 – Changing habits and removing distractions

The hardest part about finding motivation for me was dragging myself away from my comfortable spot on the couch or bed and forcing myself to just start studying.

Once I got into the swing of studying, it was a lot easier to keep up my momentum and to continue. It was this momentum that encouraged me to keep studying until I had completed the section of work I wanted to finish.

I had a bad habit of studying on my bed, where I would just fall asleep instead of doing work. As silly as it sounds, I bought myself a more comfortable chair just so I became more motivated to sit at my desk rather than on the bed. Surprisingly, this worked for me, and I was able to be a lot more productive at my desk.

I also kept getting distracted by my phone, so I used the ‘Forest’ app to prevent me from opening up my phone. (You plant a virtual tree before you start studying, and if you leave the app, your tree dies). This allowed me to stay focused on my task, as well as keep track of the hours that I was putting into study.


Step 2 – Being held accountable for my study

I had quite a few people hold me accountable for my study, including my friends and a mentor. It’s much harder to feign study when you have people checking up on you all the time.

My friends and I set up a system called ‘Accountability’ where, in the weeks leading up to HSC, we would write up a daily list of our study goals on a Google document. This way, with everyone being able to see everyone else’s goals, we were all more motivated to complete our individual goals.

We would also support and encourage each other to study, which created a positive study environment and mindset.

Here is a screenshot of my to-do list for September 26th, which is visible to all of my friends (who have also put up their own lists):



Step 3 – Splitting work up and rewarding myself (but not too often)

I realized that it was important to just start DOING without thinking too much about the long study process.

I would treat myself when I had completed a difficult task. I thought about my study goals for the day and broke them down into portions (say, if I was revising maths, I would split them into question sets).

We’re not built to be machines, so I tried not to treat myself like one.

I realized it was unhelpful to just spend hours and hours at my desk mindlessly reading through a textbook. I found that if I rewarded myself with a snack or free time after each chunk of work, I would become more motivated to start my next chunk.

My Study Strategies

All study and exam strategies will have varying levels of effectiveness for everyone. Personally, I never wrote notes, but I know that many of my friends only learnt the content through writing their own notes.

These are just some strategies that worked for me:


Developing a good understanding:

I think the most effective strategy for me was that I tried to thoroughly understand all of the content when I first learnt it.

I would invest time into concepts or ideas that I found difficult to grasp and seek help when I needed clarification. This made it a lot easier for me when it came to studying for exams, because the concepts I took so much time learning would come naturally to me, and I only needed to adapt and apply the information to different styles of questions.

This saved me so much time during the HSC, because most of my study time consisted of revising key concepts rather than re-learning them.


Prioritising weaker areas:

English has always been a weakness of mine, and so I decided to invest more time into it.

I was determined not to let it drag down my ATAR. I spent hours upon hours perfecting my practice essays, approaching my English teacher for help, asking peers to review my work, making my sister sit in front of me and listen to me recite my creative stories.

If you have an area of weakness, make sure you spend a little bit more time focusing on that area – it will pay off in the end! (If you’re pressed for time, but need to boost your English marks, check out the Matrix English Trial HSC Preparation Course.)



For the more content-heavy areas of Physics and Chemistry, I would use repetition as a means to ensure the information stuck in my head.

Remember, it is important to understand everything you are learning.

Repetition is a good way to achieve this and drill information into yourself, but it is pointless if you don’t understand what you are memorising.


My Regrets

If I were to start the year again, I would organize my time more effectively and space out my study instead of learning everything in chunks.

I was only motivated to consistently study in the months leading up to HSC. Before that, I would sit down with all my books and cram in the few nights before every school exam.

This has usually worked for me because the weighted exams at school only tested one or two topics at a time. However, it is important not to underestimate the amount of content the HSC demands. There is a lot more information than you would expect, and it is crucial to space out your time to understand each and every dot point.

Fortunately, because I had invested lots of time when initially learning the content, and because I had fixed my motivation problems throughout the year, I wasn’t in too much trouble when it came down to studying in the weeks before HSC.


I would have liked to keep up at least one sport.

My extra-curriculars were mostly volunteering/leadership-based, and I only realized the importance of keeping up my fitness when I started running out of breath after walking up two flights of stairs!

If you are currently playing a sport, please don’t drop it (unless you feel that it is taking up way too much time) – it will keep you fit and energised, which is surprisingly useful for maintaining focus and concentration while studying.


My Advice to Future Year 12 Students

You must do these three things:


1. Take care of yourself.

Make sure you are eating well, sleeping well, exercising well.

Yes, the HSC is important, but so are you!

Don’t become too bogged down by HSC, and set some time aside to relax and do things that you enjoy. During busy exam blocks, health as a priority drops significantly, but remember that your own well-being comes before most other things. Be mindful and pay attention to yourself!

2. Study smart, not hard, and study consistently.

You may have heard this many, many times already, but there is a lot of truth to it. Find a schedule that works for you, and don’t force yourself to study for, say, 10 hours every single day. You could easily learn/retain the same amount of information in half the time by studying more efficiently. Be consistent in your study, make sure that you are understanding everything along the way, and don’t leave everything to the end.

3. Ask for help.

If there are concepts you are unclear of, make sure you reach out to friends or teachers for help. They will always be happy to explain difficult concepts to you, and this is faster and more effective than going on the internet and reading through lengthy articles.


You must never do these three things:


1. Don’t become discouraged when you make mistakes.

Mistakes are all the more reason to pick yourself back up and do the best you can! Reflect on what you did wrong, address any holes in your learning and apply these techniques to your next exams so that you can do even better.

Don’t be too worried if you accidentally flunk an internal exam – there is always time to fix your mistakes for the actual HSC, which is weighted a lot more than one single internal test.

2. Don’t become complacent or cocky.

There is always room to improve, even if you are coming 1st in your course at the moment. Even though this is amazing, don’t lose focus of your goals and continue working hard!

3. Don’t focus entirely on the HSC.

I wouldn’t be where I am right now if I hadn’t continued my extra-curricular activities in Year 12. Work on developing yourself as an individual with unique skills and traits, especially since employers (and university scholarships) are increasingly searching for people who are more well-rounded and have a wide variety of experience.


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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