Matrix Blog

Success Secrets

Emma’s Hacks: How I Scored An ATAR of 99.85

In this post, Emma gives her hacks for achieving a State Rank in Biology.

2015 Matrix Graduate, Emma Chen achieved an ATAR of 99.85 and graduated from James Ruse Agricultural High School. She achieved a state ranking in Biology. She is currently studying a combined Bachelor of Science (Advanced) and Doctor of Dental Medicine at the University of Sydney.

Emma’s HSC Subjects

HSC Subject
English Advanced
Mathematics Extension 1
Mathematics Extension 2


During the HSC year, it’s important to consider the bigger picture – there is a world beyond the HSC! Sometimes it’s easy to get lost amongst the mountains of homework, assignments and exams to study for, but looking forward to the end goal and beyond the HSC can really keep you motivated. If you think about your HSC as the top of a staircase, you should be taking small steps throughout the year in order to reach that end goal. It’s much easier taking it step by step rather than trying to scale the whole thing all at once. Setting that benchmark or goal – whether it’s an ATAR, course or career, or even a certain mark, is the best way of staying focused, tracking your progress and motivating yourself to study effectively.

Emma’s Top Tips

Write your own study notes

From the beginning of Year 11, I wrote all my own notes for most of my subjects. Firstly, it’s important to choose a style which best suits your personal preferences whether that might be handwriting or typing. Handwritten notes take a lot longer to complete but better consolidates your learning, whereas typing notes is a lot quicker, but information might not be as well studied. For me personally, I found word processed notes to be the best because you can finish them in a shorter amount of time and then spend that extra time reading over them and adding handwritten annotations. Annotations can be small reminders or just extra information you might have received after first writing your notes, but these annotations really complete your understanding of the course, and that way you keep building upon your notes and accumulating more knowledge.

Also, remember to keep your notes concise and add in the HSC syllabus dot points to ensure your information is relevant and to remind yourself of the type and scope of questions that can be asked in the HSC exams.


Study partners

While I think study groups can be a really great way of studying, I found studying with just a partner was an easier way to achieve the same results. You can have different study partners for each subject but make sure they’re as dedicated and motivated to study as you are or they might end up being a huge distraction. The best time to form study pairs is after you’ve done some individual study, for example, after reading through your study notes and completing a past paper, you might have some questions to discuss with your study partner. What group study can provide is a way for you to identify any gaps in your knowledge, and any areas you’ve successfully understood and remembered, as well as giving and receiving feedback. Another way you can utilise your study partner is to set common study hours and keep each other accountable for those hours. A good way to do this is over Skype and you can discuss, in real time, any topics you might encounter. So if you’re finding it particularly hard to motivate yourself, get someone else to! But remember it works both ways – don’t let each other down but work together to really make the most of your study.


Maintaining a balanced lifestyle

For most people, HSC will mean that certain sacrifices must be made, particularly extracurricular activities and sports, in order to accommodate for the additional study. While it is a personal choice, I think it’s beneficial to keep at least one activity that is not study-related and something that engages your whole body. Participating in weekly sports or joining a gym maintains your physical fitness and should be regarded as a break from your study, not something added onto the endless list of tasks to complete. Whilst it is incredibly important to study during the HSC year, there is more to life than study. Maintaining or even improving your overall health and well-being will benefit your academic performance, so keep this in mind if you’re deciding whether to give up extracurricular activities.


The importance of preliminary subjects

While it is true that only exams and assignment marks in the HSC count towards your ATAR, it’s also crucial that you have a thorough and complete understanding of the Preliminary (Year 11) content. It is assumed knowledge for the HSC course and without a solid foundation, it is much harder to grasp new concepts in the HSC. Particularly in the Mathematics and Science subjects, the HSC syllabus will go into more depth about the ideas learnt in the Preliminary course, so it’s essential to have basic and prerequisite knowledge in order to maximise your understanding in Year 12. I found that subjects I struggled with in Year 11 were the same ones I struggled with in Year 12, and I had to prioritise my study so that I would be putting more time and effort into my weakest subject. Having a better understanding of the Preliminary coursework negated the need to put in the extra effort and made HSC a lot easier.

Emma’s Final Tips

It’s important to keep in mind that each person has a distinct learning style and that changes how effective study tips can be. The best thing to do in any case is to try out these tips for yourself! See what works for you and what doesn’t and then go ahead and continue doing what suits your learning style the best. If too much study is getting you down, remember you are not alone during the HSC! More than 70,000 other students are in the same situation with you, so don’t be scared to ask for help and support when you need it.


Want to Achieve Your ATAR Goal like Emma?

Get ahead with Matrix+ Online

Expert teachers, detailed feedback and one-to-one help. Learn at your own pace, wherever you are.

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!


© Matrix Education and, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Get free study tips and resources delivered to your inbox.

Join 75,893 students who already have a head start.

Our website uses cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies. Read our cookies statement.

OK, I understand