"English is easy" said no one ever. Thanks to Matrix graduate Shailaj, though, you can learn the hacks you need to improve your English rank and achieve a Band 6 in the HSC.
In this post, Shailaj explains how he managed to improve his English Advanced rank to second internally and score a Band 6 in the HSC so he could score a 99.40 ATAR! Hint: it has a lot to do with mindset, planning and consistent effort.
Name: Shailaj Paudel
School: Parramatta High school
University degree: Medicine at UNSW
English was my weakest subject.
This was mainly because I went into Year 11 with the wrong mindset towards the subject. I had this idea that English was ‘subjective’ and that I did not have the ‘flair’ in writing.
While this is true to an extent, this mindset led me to not doing so well in Year 11. I ended up averaging around the 60s for most of my assessments and ended up with a rank of 36th.
Going into Year 11, I knew that if I wanted to get a good ATAR, I had to improve my English marks. It was the single subject dragging me down.
I feel that this is relatable to a lot of students as my friends were also struggling with English in the same manner. In the end, however, I ended Year 12 ranking 2nd in my cohort and achieving a Band 6 in English.
So, how did I manage to pull this off?
The mindset I had in Year 11 was not going to work. Though I despised English, I went into Year 12 with an open mind.
I forgot about my past experiences with the subject and told myself that English was going to be fun and that I would get a lot out of it. I think another important thing to tell yourself is that you have the ability to improve and do better.
Having confidence in myself and being open were the two most significant factors that allowed me to improve my marks.
I was also fortunate to have an English teacher that made English fun and interactive with games, group activities and quizzes on top of normal class lessons.
Instead of letting my horrible English marks in Year 11 (and previous years) get the better of me, I used it as a way to reflect on all the mistakes I had made in the past.
I understand that this expression gets thrown around a lot. How exactly do you “learn from your mistakes”?
This part is actually not that difficult. Have a look at the essays or creatives you have written in the past.
Simply read through the feedback and jot down what you could have done better in a word doc or a notebook. Ask your teacher as well. It is surprising how much your teacher knows about the way you write and ways you can improve your English rank .
This allowed me to note down all the things that I could have done better during Year 11 and worked on improving those aspects in Year 12.
You will find that as you begin to expand on this list throughout the year, the things you need to improve on will become more and more specific.
For example, most of my feedback at the start of Year 12 was not answering essay questions directly. As I progressed through the year, this would change to things such as sustaining my thesis in my body paragraphs or something more technical such as structuring my essays appropriately for a better flow of ideas.
After you know what mistakes you are making, ask your teacher on how you can work on improving it.
My English teachers at school and at Matrix (shoutout to Dr Trish May!) were very helpful with this. They knew exactly what I had to do to work on my mistakes and all it took was to listen to them and make sure it was written down so I did not forget.
You can even do some research online or watch videos on the topic.
However, I always found that asking your teachers was the most effective.
Once you know how you can improve, I made sure I put aside time to get it done. Using something like Google Calendar or a to-do list can help with this.
This is the difficult part. Now you have to put in the work.
Going back to my example on answering questions directly for essays, I worked this by writing introductions to essay questions.
Every week I would sit down for about 30 minutes and write essay intros that I thought answered the question really well. I made sure that it was my best possible work and I would hand it to my teacher to mark every week.
They would provide feedback and I would jot it down in my notebook (step 1), make an action plan for it (step 2) and take action (step 3).
I found that after repeating this cycle multiple times, I began to improve and my feedback became more positive.
Given how much I avoided doing English in Year 11, I ensured that I spent at least 3 hours studying English per week (excluding homework and assignments). I would make note of the number of hours I spent studying English using Notion.
During trials and HSC, I aimed for around 6 to 7 hours of English study per week as I had not felt fully prepared for the exams.
It is a very rewarding feeling checking the boxes after studying for a couple hours.
Finally, I made a commitment with my teachers to hand in a short piece of writing every week.
These would then be marked and I would put them in a separate folder next to my table. Every now and then, I would read through the feedback to touch up on any issues or to gauge at how much I had improved overtime.
This allowed me to stay motivated as I could see the progress I made. It also helped me improve as I was constantly doing some writing.
One of main goals in Year 12 was to improve my English rank, but I still needed to sustain my maths marks.
I enjoyed problem solving and found it relaxing to just sit down and solve Maths problems.
It was almost a break from the stresses of my other subjects. I also did Maths as a form of ‘productive procrastination’.
For example, when I didn’t feel like writing an essay for English or writing long responses for Physics, I would procrastinate ‘productively’ by doing a few maths problems.
After writing extensive notes in Year 11 for all of my subjects and not getting much use out of them during my preliminary exams, I decided to ditch note taking and focus solely on listening in class and consolidating my knowledge with practice questions and worksheets given by my teachers!
I also attended Matrix Holiday Courses for Chemistry and Mathematics Extension 2 to get ahead during holidays so that I could consolidate my knowledge even further during school with more thoughtful questions on topics.
By the time the school term had started, I knew almost all of the topics I was going to learn for that term and I could focus on refining areas of weaknesses with practice questions.
With regard to reading your texts, I read my prescribed texts 3 to 4 times!
This may seem quite a bit, however, it is actually not that difficult to pull off.
My first reading of a text was always just reading. I would sit down with the book and read it as I would any other book.
With my second, third and fourth reading however, I would use an audiobook set at 1.5x speed and listen along with the text and a highlighter in hand.
I would highlight any key quotes or ideas that came up and mark the page. I would then use these quotes and ideas along with ideas I learnt in class to form my own opinion on the texts.
Using this, I was able to not only read and understand the texts faster, but also start writing practice essays quickly so that I could get feedback from them.
These essays (or parts of an essay) essentially became my ‘notes’ and I would use the feedback from them to address any weak points or gaps in my knowledge and skill. I found that this really helped me improve my English rank.
With these subjects, I ensured that during the term, I was always ahead of what was being taught at school.
As I mentioned above, I used Matrix Holiday Courses for Mathematics Extension 2 and Chemistry to get ahead. For Physics, Mathematics Extension 1 and Business Studies, I used the textbooks and online videos to learn ahead.
This meant that I could ask more thought out questions in class and start practice questions earlier. If I found that there were gaps in my knowledge in certain aspects of the syllabus, I would simply ask my teacher and go over the content with my textbook. I would then immediately go on to practise questions to consolidate the theory and to ensure I understood it fully.
This ensured that I did not waste my time on writing notes that would be redundant later on, but rather, used the time to understand and be able to apply the theory to a range of questions.
The above strategy was one that worked for me; I continued to do well in Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics, and I greatly improved my English rank. However, it is important to realise that this may not work for everyone.
As a matter of fact, my peers who performed better than me in some of my subjects did in fact write notes and that was what worked for them.
Make sure that you figure out what works for you. Use Year 11 to try and experiment with different study strategies.
Studying near exams was simple. I printed past papers from other schools for each subject and completed as many as I could under timed conditions. I will summarise the process in 3 simple steps;
The last step is especially important as it ensures that you do not make the same mistakes again. Doing this helps you recognise your weak areas as well as improve your marks.
It can be difficult to stay motivated during Year 12. For me, having goals allowed me to stay focused and motivated.
Something as simple as writing down what you have to do in a to-do list or on a white board will force you to work.
With that said, the most significant factor that helped me stay motivated throughout the year was the fact that I enjoyed my subjects.
Admittedly, there were parts of the syllabus that were tedious to learn. However, I enjoyed most parts of Physics, Chemistry, Maths and even English.
With regard to staying organised, buying a small whiteboard and sticking it on a wall near your study desk is a worthwhile investment. I used my white board mainly as a to-do list and a calendar for important events (such as assignment due dates or exams days).
I also used Google Calendar as my study planner.
I would use Saturdays to either relax or catch up on any missed work during the week.
Year 12 is quite stressful, however, it is also very much fun.
Make sure you take one exam at a time and dust yourself off from failures. Take breaks and make sure you have other activities to help you de-stress when you are not studying.
Most importantly, make sure you do not hesitate to seek support from teachers, parents and your friends. It doesn’t matter how big or small the issue is. Building these habits helped me improve my English rank, and they will also help you excel in other areas in your future.