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David’s Hacks: How I Came 1st in Physics and Achieved a 99.95 ATAR with 4 State Ranks

Want to ace your HSC like David did? Read this article to see all his best tips and tricks.

Are you in the search for great Physics hacks? Or maybe you’re just looking for some awesome HSC tips? Either way, Matrix alumnus and Barker College graduate, David, shares his best tips for how he came 1st in HSC Physics and achieved a 99.95 ATAR with 4 State Ranks.


Me, Myself and I:


Wenquan Lu (David Lu)

High School:

Barker College




My HSC Subjects:

Subjects Assessment Mark HSC Exam Mark HSC Mark State Rank
 Chemistry  98/100  98/100  98  16th
 Physics  99/100  99/100  99  1st
 Maths Extension 1  100/100  99/100  100  10th
 Maths Extension 2  98/100  98/100  98
 Chinese and Literature  95/100  95/100  95  4th
 English EAL/D  91/100  91/100  91



My best performing subject was…

My best performing subject was Physics, because it is one of my favorite subjects.

I have a solid foundation of Physics from my 12 years of schooling and extracurricular activities.

Physics became an element of my daily life, as I saw everything – both the natural and artificial world – through the scope of Physics.

To be honest, I only had 2 days to revise Physics during my HSC exam month, so I was quite surprised when I heard I had been ranked first in the state.

On the other hand, it demonstrates how important my daily efforts and contributions throughout the year were. All the prior hard work in Year 12, meant I could revise in the 2 days before the exam to get to the state top.



My worst performing subject is…

My worst performing subject is English EAL/D, because I didn’t put as much effort in this subject compared to other subject.

When I say effort, I mean everyday effort.

Although the half of my HSC month was spent on English, it was not enough. Doing well in English really required consistent effort and gradual build-up of the skills.

It is not a sprint. It is a marathon.

So, achieving a Band 6 still satisfied me, but it is not great.




Want to ace Physics like David did?

Our expert teachers will guide you through the content, so you can learn and consolidate your understanding!


My Physics Journey

I got first place in all of my school Physics assessments in Year 11 and 12, and finally topped HSC Physics.

Here are my tips for doing well in HSC Physics.


Tip #1 Optimise for efficency

To be honest, studying is almost like a science subject.

Like I did, you can design your study using scientific method:

  1. Make an observation of the recent test performance
  2. Ask a question on improving it
  3. Form a hypothesis to adjust your study method
  4. Conduct an experiment  = exam
  5. Analyse the results
  6. Test the hypothesis, and
  7. Maybe try again…

This loop effectively improves your study towards perfection.



Tip #2: Understand the syllabus

Firstly, understanding the syllabus and its features is very crucial.

HSC Physics is a pre-calculus and elementary, but comprehensive, course that covers topics from quarks to universe.

It emphasizes on both analytical and memorization skills.

So, a top student should be excellent both quantitatively and qualitatively.

From my HSC experience, I  think that long response questions embedded with calculations are becoming increasingly common. They are much more complex than blindly recounting information.

Furthermore, the added module “Working Scientifcally” is another major focus of the syllabus.

It focuses on the processing, analyzing primary and secondary data, performing practical experiments. So, quantitative long-response questions and experiments are the two main focuses for the new syllabus and you need to work that focus into your schedule.


Tip #3: Detailed summaries

Since experiments are a major focus of the syllabus, I made many detailed experiment summaries.

This included analysing all the aspects of the experiment:

  • Sources of error (random and systematic)
  • Accuracy
  • Reliability
  • Validity

To give you an idea of my notes, below is my summary for the photoelectric effect experiment:

success-secrets-davids-hacks-how-i-came-1st-in-physics-and-achieved-a-99-95-atar-with-4-state-ranks-experiment-summary-1 success-secrets-davids-hacks-how-i-came-1st-in-physics-and-achieved-a-99-95-atar-with-4-state-ranks-experiment-summary-2 success-secrets-davids-hacks-how-i-came-1st-in-physics-and-achieved-a-99-95-atar-with-4-state-ranks-experiment-summary-3 success-secrets-davids-hacks-how-i-came-1st-in-physics-and-achieved-a-99-95-atar-with-4-state-ranks-experiment-summary-4

Moreover, I also made many concentrated summaries to memorise for the historical part of long response questions.

I used them like palm cards!

Below are some examples:






Tip #4: Use mathematical derivations

My unique method of learning Physics is using mathematical derivations.

When I encounter a new formula in Physics, I always think:

  1. What is the connection between this formula and other basic formulae or experiments that I already learned?” and…
  2. “Can I derive this new formula from its very root?”

So deriving formulae became one of my hobbies.

I felt a sense of achievement after each successful derivation…

Which further tempts me to deduce more formulae.


Moreover, the interconnection between different fields of Physics can be established by deriving formulae.

This is perhaps the most important skills in studying Physics…

You need to draw connections between everything.

Formulae, equations and theories are not scattered and arbitrary. They all connect to each other in some way… integrating into a consistent theoretical framework (I mean, high school Physics, not ToE, theory of everything).

I still remember how my Physics teacher, Mr Dearn, derived Rydberg’s equation from Bohr’s postulate on the board. This was proof that everything in Physics is interrelated!

Matrix students were lucky to have the Matrix Theory Books which have excellent derivations. Working through all of them can potentially improve your Physics.



What was the end result of my Physics Journey?

Eventually, I achieved the top of the state for Physics!

I think this result was catalyzed by all my experiences and education. But there were some key things that helped me along the way:


1. My High School’s strong Physics department

My high school, Barker College, has a very strong Physics department. The teachers were super helpful and knowledgeable.

I also have several very smart competitors whom motivates me to study harder.


2. Matrix’s Theorybooks, Workbooks and Teachers

Also, Matrix has fantastic theory and work books; so I don’t need to hunt for the good questions.

I was also very lucky that I could have a Usyd PhD, Emma Lindley, teaching me Physics at Matrix.

I could always ask her those cutting-edge, high-level Physics questions.


3. Physics related extracurricular activities

Additionally, many extracurricular activities consolidate and extend my Physics knowledge.

In Year 10, I passed the aeronautical engineering and astronautics courses provided by Delft University of Technology and MIT on edX.

I studied First-Year Uni mechanics and aerodynamics.

In Year 11, I participated in Imperial College London Global Summer School Physics stream.

I had to use computational language to simulate coupled-oscillators & damped simple harmonic motion and solve differential equations.

Those were very valuable experiences that silently accumulated my Physics knowledge and improved my scientific thinking.


Tips and Tricks for my other HSC Subjects 


For this content-heavy subject, there are two crucial things you need to do:

  • Process the information
  • Summarise them in your notes.


Maths Extension 1

Honestly, to do well in Extension 2, just try your best to…



Maths Extension 2

You need some hardcore practice time for this subject.

1/3 to 1/2 of your homework time should be spent on this subject.

I know it is a bit unfair, but Extension 2 greatly overlaps with Extension 1 and Physics.

In the exam, once the tip of your pen touches the paper, you are running at one thousand miles per hour.

Be as crazy as you can!


English EAL/D

To do well in English EAL/D, just write with clarity and use an advanced vocabulary!


Chinese and Literature

Format for each text type is important.

Also, in Chinese & Literature, logic is more valued than flourished vocabulary.



Managing time between all your subjects and your extracurriculars

This part is ridiculous.

Time management is not my thing. In Year 12, I struggled with time management. I was just busy all the time!

Apart from my academic study…

I was also the concertmaster of chamber and symphonic orchestras in my school.

After tutoring classes, I usually got back home at around 8:30 pm. Then, I would do my homework and practice violin until around 1 a.m.

I still remembered during my trial exams, I slept around 3 a.m. Many people doubted this way of study. However, I still got first place in all of my subjects in my trial exam.

Because music was not my HSC subject, I didn’t practice violin on a daily basis in Year 12. So, orchestra time was an opportunity to consolidate my violin skills.

In reality, all my ‘excellence’ in violin was cultivated in my early years of schooling.

Again, this demonstrates the importance of completing work prior to Year 12 as it gives you time to focus on your studies in the crucial year.

So, I actually didn’t actually balance academic work and extracurricular work in my final year. It was completely tilted towards the academic work.


Well, my philosophy of time management isn’t recommended for everyone.

If you don’t want to suffer from sleep deprivation, you probably shouldn’t try it.

However, I still stuck to a timetable during my HSC revision time:

  • Morning: Go to the library, collect mistakes and practice random questions
  • Afternoon: One past paper
  • Evening: One past paper and practice random questions



How I unwind and cope with stress

Stress is a lie.

People feel stressed because they are unsure about something.

In students’ case, we feel stressed because the exam is coming in a few days and we suddenly realise that we didn’t work hard in the past.

So the best way to cope with stress is to quickly get into the work.

If you have time to stress, divert it to completing your work! This will ensure that you won’t get stressed in the future.

I know it is a radical idea.

However, in my opinion, as long as you think that you well prepared for an exam, you won’t be purely stressed anymore… Just a bit nervous and excited!


My regrets

Biggest regret #1

I forgot to consider the second case of the Simple Harmonic Motion (SMH) question in HSC Maths Extension 1 exam.

Takeaway: Always think about different possible cases (or formula or methods)


Biggest regret #2:

I misread the second last MCQ in HSC Chemistry exam.

Takeaway: Read all your questions carefully!


My Advice to Future Students

There is no golden rule for study.

Everyone should make their personalised mode of study through trials and error.



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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