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Syed’s Hacks: How I Scored An ATAR of 98.80

Syed aced his HSC. In this post, he shares his hacks for success.

2015 Matrix Graduate, Syed Ahmed, achieved an ATAR of 98.80 and graduated from Sydney Technical High School. He was a leader within the Australian Air Force Cadets, was part of the Sydney Technical High School Titration Team and achieved High Distinctions in the ICAS Maths and Science Competitions. He will be studying Mechatronics/Biomedical Engineering at UNSW this year.


Syed’s HSC Subjects

HSC SubjectAssessment MarkExamination MarkOverall HSC Mark
English Advanced878586
Mathematics Extension 1989999
Mathematics Extension 2949494
Engineering Studies919493


Syed’s Top Tips

Coping with the HSC

For me, coping with the HSC involved dealing with the drastically-increased expectations. I went from about 8 hours of study per week in Year 11, to around 8 hours of study per day during Year 12 and more so in the holidays. Unfortunately, this transition can’t be made in 2-3 days. It took me weeks, if not months of practice, to get into this study routine, starting back in Term 4, 2014. I had to force myself to continually work an extra amount each day, in the hope that this routine would start to feel somewhat natural. Luckily, I picked mainly STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, which are my forte, so I was able to adapt to this increased workload, and actually started enjoying it (I can’t say the same about English unfortunately).


Think about the big picture

Don’t lament over previous assessment tasks in which you feel you could have received higher marks! In the bigger picture, a difference of 1-2 marks in a single task makes little difference! The key to the HSC is consistency. You need to be continually keeping up a solid rank in your internal tasks to place yourself in a position where you’re competing for a Band 6 performance in the overall HSC mark.

For example, my final internal ranks in Physics, Chemistry, Extension 1 and Extension 2 Maths were high, but only in approximately a quarter of those assessment tasks did I ever hit that rank (or higher) in any one task. Usually, I was a couple of ranks lower. However, I consistently kept up solid rankings in each task, so that I ended up with a final assessment rank much higher than my average. The idea is, after each task, make sure you know what you could have done better, and apply this knowledge in your next tasks. My advice would be, don’t get depressed over past assessment mistakes – I’ve experienced firsthand how negatively this can affect people’s HSC mentality. My top tip would be to always look ahead, to the next task, to the next assessment, and focus on how you can improve on those.


Time management

I learned that the most effective way to manage time was to avoid procrastination, or rather, do the work first, then relax (NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!). It probably sounds standard, and not particularly helpful, but if you can adopt this attitude (or already have it), you’re already something like 70% of the way to optimal time management. The rest comes from how you prioritise your work.

I actually had quite a few commitments beyond my studies in my HSC year. I was a senior leader within my squadron in the Australian Air Force Cadets and was part of my school’s titration team and the yearbook committee. Even though I had quite a few duties attached to each position, I prioritised my studies and made the rest secondary commitments. If I felt any of these would hamper my ability to study effectively, I would ask for time off. It might sound like the “easy way out,” but I honestly feel this mindset allowed me to work so much more effectively towards my HSC, by far my highest priority at the time.

Syed’s Mathematics Extension 1 and 2 Tips

Understand the content and then apply it

Personally, I think there are 2 aspects to studying HSC Mathematics. The first part is to learn the content, which can be done with textbooks, classwork, and maybe Youtube videos (depending on your learning style). Sure, it might be a pain, but you really need to spend hours and hours just mastering each concept, especially in Extension 2, where heavy emphasis is placed on understanding each idea.

The second part involves completing past papers and familiarising yourself with the standard exam paper structure and layout. You need to know in what order the questions tend to be asked, and how they assess each topic. Quite often, they will assess numerous topics in a single question (for example, an Extension 2 question may ask you to use curve sketching to sketch a complex looking function, and then use Volumes/Integration methods to find its volume when rotated about a certain line). If you see that type of question for the first time in an exam, you’ll probably feel stressed, but if you’ve done enough papers and have more or less seen every conceivable question (with the exception of the last Questions 15/16 in the Extension 2 exam), you’ll feel much more confident and probably won’t lose those marks unnecessarily.

As you will probably work out, for success in Extension Maths, there is no real alternative approach, beyond spending hours and hours practising questions from various sources. Some people might pick it up quickly, but if you want to improve your understanding, you need to invest a lot of time for each topic (around 40+ hours if you are studying Extension 2).

Syed’s Physics and Chemistry Tips

Learn the course twice

Some people think that Physics and Chemistry should be treated individually as subjects, but apart from the different content and the greater emphasis in Physics on mathematical methods, I think they are structurally very similar. For both subjects, I would say: learn the course the first time, to actually understand the content, and the second time to learn the marking criteria, that is, how NESA (formerly BOSTES) actually assesses the state. While this process might sound like a pain, I found it really effective.

I would recommend that, when learning the course for the first time, focus more on using textbooks and notes to learn. However, the second time around, work heavily on past papers, especially previous HSC and Trial Exams. The extra time you take to learn the marking criteria will really help when you are actually marked against the quite demanding (and at times very specific) marking criteria.


Practice long responses 

Prepare your long responses to certain syllabus dot-points throughout the year and continually refine them. This actually serves two purposes. Firstly, you continually revise the content you need to know for the 4-8 mark questions, and secondly, you don’t waste valuable time in an exam trying to plot out the structure to extended response questions.


Practice calculation questions

I would suggest that you practice enough calculation questions, so that they become second nature to you. These are really the discriminating questions, as most of the state has trouble scoring any marks in these. Given that they tend to make up around 20-25% of your HSC exam, you can really push ahead of most people by practicing these skills, and compete for a middle to high Band 6 performance.


Want to Achieve Your ATAR Goal like Syed did? 

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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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