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Sophie’s Hacks: How I Scored a 99.70 ATAR at a Non-Selective Co-Ed Public High School

Are your worried that your school will hold you back? Don't be. In this article Sophie shares how she scored a 99.7 ATAR at a Non-Selective Co-Ed Public High School.

In this article, Carlingford High Student and Matrix Alumnus, Sophie Wang shares her best strategies for how she scored a 99.70 ATAR at a Non-Selective Co-Ed Public High School.


Me, myself and I

Sophie Wang

Carlingford High School

Bachelor of Commerce combined with Bachelor of Computer Science at UNSW

My HSC Results

ATAR: 99.70

Table: Sophie’s HSC Results
Subjects Assessment Mark HSC Exam Mark HSC Mark Performance Band
English Advanced
96/100 96/100 96 6
English Extension 1
48/50 43/50 46 E4
English Extension 2
39/50 35/50 37 E3
96/100 94/100 95 6
95/100 91/100 93 6
98/100 98/100 98 6
 Mathematics Extension 1
50/50 47/50 98 6

My best subject was Mathematics Extension 1.

I thought it was the most difficult subject to score high marks in, so I ended up studying for it the most.


My worst subject was definitely English Extension 2.

I pretty much finished my first draft in February and never touched it again.


Internally, I ranked 1st in all my subjects other than 2U Maths (Rank 3) and English Extension 2 (Rank 2).

A high internal rank, especially in a non-selective school, is a great safety net.

But at the end of the day, working together with your cohort will always pull you up.


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Coping with the HSC

Here’s how I managed my time and myself throughout the HSC year.


During the term

I personally didn’t use a study timetable. However, taking this approach meant that…

I had to be very familiar with my own strengths and weaknesses

And I also needed to consistently revise all of my subjects.

I made a mental note to study at least 3-4 hours per weekday, outside of school hours. However, I also made sure that I took a day off every week to prevent burnout.


Working with your cohort

Although the common belief is: ‘every man for himself until Trials ends’, the reality is that this is NOT true. You need your cohort to succeed!

I was consistently asking and answering questions within my cohort throughout HSC. This helped solidify my own understanding, build a support group and improve the overall school performance.


Stress and anxiety

Stress doesn’t usually hit me until the day before an exam. But when it does, I completely shut down!

Knowing this, I had to work my way around it.

This meant studying consistently throughout the year.

Doing this ensured that I was still prepared enough for my exams, even though I did not study effectively the day before.


Don’t wait until it’s too late!

Read this article to learn about different ways you can cope with stress and anxiety and when to seek help!


My #1 Problem in Year 11/12

In Year 11, I was not managing my time properly. I spent about 85% of my time on Maths and crammed for other subjects about 2 days before the test.

In Year 12, I fixed this by mentally planning things out ahead:


Study periods vs homework

Personally, I was able to focus much better at home than school.

So, during free periods, I usually wrote my syllabus notes or practised Maths textbook questions, rather than doing things that require my full concentration (e.g. writing essays). This helped me maximise my productivity.



In Year 11, I always left my homework until the day before class. However, in Year 12…

I did the homework questions during the middle of the week, over 2-3 days.

I took Year 12 Chemistry, Maths Ext 1, and Physics courses at Matrix. And this method gave me time to absorb the information I learnt in these classes, without rushing to finish it the day before class.


Exam blocks

Exam blocks were the only times I had a rough timetable. It consisted of subjects that I had to study for in each day. This is super important to ensure that you can effectively maximise your time, especially with back to back exams.


Image: Screenshot of Sophie’s HSC timetable and study plan


I used Year 11 as a time to experiment with different study techniques so I could see what worked for me and what didn’t.

When it came to my HSC timetable, I had a good 4 days before my last exam, which was Chemistry. Because it was one of my stronger subjects, I didn’t touch it until closer to the date.


My study/exam strategies

English Adv / English Ext 1

I am guilty of memorising essays and spitting them out (Editor’s note: This won’t work with the new 2019 English Syllabus). However, I spent a tonne of time on each text and module first.

I familiarised myself with the context and history of the text.

It can help you support a completely different argument, even if you’ve prepared for a different question:


Image: Screenshot of Sophie’s notes on the Tempest, Including context and techniques


Here, by just understanding one aspect of the context, you can draw 4 different themes and various examples from the text.

Related texts:

I used the same related text for Discovery and English E1.

For my related, I found a  copy of the film’s script, Interstellar (2014), and made annotated it while I was watching.

blog-success-secret-how-i-scored-99-7-atar-non-selective-co-ed-public-high-school-Related Text-annotations-interstellar-film-script-drama-sci-fi-typed-notes-handwritten-white-paper-act-1-scene-1

Image: Sophie’s Eng ADV and Eng EXT 1 related text – the script from Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”(2014) – and its annotations


Knowing a text in detail was beneficial for both subjects. Always annotate while studying your text!


Mathematics / Maths Ext 1

Prior to year 11, Maths was my worst subject. I often got scores in the 70s.

I knew I had to fix this.

I began to dedicate 1.5 hrs every day just for Maths.

I would start off by answering questions in an easier textbook (Maths in Focus) for each topic. After I mastered that, I would then move to exercises in harder books (Cambridge/Fitzpatrick).

For past papers, I would usually skim through Question 11 and most of Question 12.

Since they were textbook-standard questions, I ended up saving time whilst exposing myself to a greater variety of questions.


Physics / Chemistry

Remember, the syllabus is your bible!

These subjects are completely based off the syllabus, so I always kept a copy of it with me. Exams will never ask any questions that is not outlined in the syllabus.

Whenever I had time, I would write notes from it. And to make sure that they’re ‘good enough’, I would do ask myself this:

Can a person with no knowledge of the science syllabus pick up my notes and understand them?

If they can, then my notes are enough to answer any long response/short answer.


Image: Sophie’s Physics Notes – answering dot points as if they were questions


I also wrote out each dot point as if it were a question and proceeded to answer it in detail. I used diagrams and graphs where possible. In an exam, visuals will allow the marker to quickly award marks based on the marking criteria.


Past papers

Since I began Year 12, I consistently completed HSC past papers from up 20 years ago.

I didn’t wait until I finished the whole syllabus to start working on past papers.

I completed the ones I was able to do, based on the topics that I’d finished in school.

After completing a tonne of Physics and Chemistry questions from workbooks and HSC papers, I started working on other schools’ past papers. Usually, I would complete the previous 2 years under exam conditions. But with the other papers, I would just answer the easy and familiar questions in my head, and work through the harder ones on paper.

This meant that I ended up finishing more HSC papers than my peers, giving me the opportunity to expose myself to more difficult questions by the end of the year.

If a question could be mentally answered, it meant that I was already confident in that topic. This gave me more time to answer more difficult questions. This approach also allowed me to go through at least 5 papers a day, exposing myself to a variety of questions.


Matrix: My approach

At Matrix, I took Chemistry, Maths Extension 1, and Physics.

I always completed my homework and read through the theory books, but I never really ‘studied’ for Matrix Assessments (weekly quizzes/topic tests).

Instead, I saw Matrix Assessments as an opportunity to practice and see what I could already completely understand.

If I answered a question correctly without revising it, that meant that I already had a solid understanding.

Doing this allowed me to identify and then focus on my weaknesses!


My regrets

I have a couple of regrets.


Abandoning my extra-curricular activities

During year 12, I stopped participating in sports and community events. Thinking back, they could have helped me take my mind off of schoolwork and cured a lot of headaches and frustration.


Spending too long handwriting extremely detailed syllabus notes

Instead, I should have spent more time doing other schools’ past papers (I found that I didn’t do many of them, only HSC papers).


My advice to future Year 12 students

Always, always remember that it’s okay to take a day off if you need it!!

Your brain will tell you when it’s about to switch off, and it’s better to take a day to recharge your batteries to achieve 100% efficiency for the next day rather than always running on 20%.


You must do these three things:

  1. Be consistent and disciplined with your studying
  2. Spend more time on subjects you’re struggling with
  3. Don’t neglect English!


You must never do these three things:

  1. Lose consistency
  2. Throw away extracurricular activities/social life
  3. Overwork yourself!


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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