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English 11-12

How to Study Smarter in Year 12: Talia’s 8 Practical Tips To Score A 93.6 ATAR

Talia reveals her top 8 study hacks that helped her score an ATAR of 93.60! She explains how she adapted her study preparation throughout Year 12 to match the demands of the HSC.

Matrix alumni and Danebank graduate, Talia, reveals her most practical tips that helped her study for the HSC smarter, not harder.


About me

School: Danebank School

ATAR: 93.6

University Course: Speech Pathology (University of Newcastle)

Hey there Year 12s!

I’m Talia. I enjoy playing the trumpet, bike riding, reading, swimming and spending time at the beach.

In year 12 last year, I was prefect and band captain which grew my skills in leadership and the service of others. I am now a first-year student at the University of Newcastle, studying speech pathology.

I completed the HSC last year (2021), achieving a 93.60 ATAR. Here is a list of tips I believe every student should take on board to study smarter in Year 12. I gathered and tried these over my HSC year and they helped me work towards my goals immensely. So, I have no doubt they will help you all as well!


I’ve categorised my tips based on when I used them, e.g., during the term, before trials, after trials.


Studying smarter in Year 12 Terms 2, 3 and 4

These terms are the months when you should be working up towards the HSC. The months where you will learn the content, ask a multitude of questions to your teachers, and gain confidence for your final exams at the end of the year. Here are my top tips for attacking these months.


Practical tip 1: The syllabus is your best friend – Use it!

In Year 12 Terms 2, 3 and 4, you will be bombarded with new content every which way. In order to not get overwhelmed and stressed about what you are learning, it is important to have a good grasp of your rubric/syllabus. Make sure to write your summary notes under the syllabus headings and subheadings. Not only does this help you organise your notes well, but it also enables you to understand keywords that could be used in the questions of your HSC exam.

My advice is to create these notes as you go. Each week, set a day to write notes for a subject. If you don’t prioritise making your notes, you will definitely regret it later! For English, which has a syllabus that is a slightly different format to other subjects, I suggest highlighting the keywords and making these keywords the dot points for your notes. For example, for the Common Module, my points were individual human experiences, collective human experiences, storytelling and so on. So remember – your syllabus is your best friend! Do not neglect it!


Practical tip 2: Use a mistake book for maths

I found that throughout the year, I needed somewhere to document where I was going wrong in maths, and how I could improve. A mistake book is the best option for that! I suggest writing down the questions you got wrong in your homework and assessments.

Get out some different coloured pens and highlighters and carefully annotate where you went wrong, and what you need to remember for next time, e.g., a formula. Then when another maths assessment comes around, you can pull out your mistake book, and review the areas you struggle with. Here is an example from my mistake book, where I highlighted and boxed important pieces of information to help me review my mistakes.

Mistakes book to study smarter in Year 12

Want to ace Maths like Talia?


Practical tip 3: Keep organised

I’m sure that all of your parents and teachers have told you this one, but it is extremely important! It isn’t always to naturally smart people that get the top marks, but rather – the ones who stay organised.

In order to practically do this, I recommend you invent a system where your summary notes are all in one place, and your class notes are separate from your summary notes.

For example, for English, I had a folder for my class notes, and a separate book for each module, which allowed me to write notes, essays, tips, feedback etc. In a place separate from my general class notes, which I could easily refer back to and add to. I recommend coming up with something that works for you and how you take notes.


Practical tip 4: Write mind maps and summary tables

As you approach assessment tasks, it is essential that you condense your 15-page summary notes (if not longer) in order to retain concepts and connect them well in your head. I achieved this by creating mind maps with paper, pen and lots of colour as well as summary tables like this below to pull out the key pieces of information that I need to remember for my exam coming up.

This process can help make clear the information that is valuable and could be used for many different types of questions.

Biology summary table to study smarter in Year 12 and score 93.60 ATAR


Studying smarter leading up to trials

Practical tip 5: Plan out your study time

You need to plan time to:

  • learn/review notes
  • complete practice questions
  • complete past papers

In regards to planning this time, I have a detailed method on how to do this in the ‘Studying smarter after trials’ section.

Even with the perfect study plan, it’s completely normal to still run into problems. If you ever get confused or don’t understand a concept, make sure to ask for help! Your teachers and tutor are there to help you!

Moreover, if you find that you have short blocks of time that aren’t enough to actually get into anything, plan an essay/extended response instead. It only takes about 5 to 10 minutes and it will greatly benefit you in the long run to know how to quickly plan a response, particularly for English. If you want to study smarter in Year 12, you’ll need to be flexible like this.


Studying smarter after trials

Practical tip 6: Relax and reflect

Once you’ve completed your trials, it is important to take a step back, and not only relax but reflect. This step is crucial in figuring out how you are going to spend your time leading up to the HSC. Your main goal is to understand what you did well in each exam, and what you could improve on as you prepare for your final exams.

In order to complete this process, it is important to have a growth mindset. You need to know that it is possible to do better! Here are some steps I took to reflect. Further into this article, I’ll give you more tips on how to reflect during these weeks when you start to approach your HSC exams.

  1. Go through your trial papers, and write down any questions you may have about how it was marked, or what feedback was given to you, so you can ask your teachers how to improve.
  2. Write down a list of improvements for each subject, specifying the module/syllabus dot point.
  3. Use the traffic light system. Colour code in red what you feel you are struggling with, colour code in yellow what you’re doing ok at, but could work on, and colour code in green what you know really well.
  4. Create a table similar to the one below to help you think of practical ways to improve your trial marks. This may include drilling a certain syllabus dot point, filling in gaps in your notes or redoing questions you could improve on. This step is what will help you refocus and plan ahead for your HSC exams.
Reflection table on trials to study smarter in Year 12 and score 93.60 ATAR Filled out reflection table to study smarter in Year 12 and score 93.60 ATAR

A note from my own experience

After trials, I felt like I had no idea where to start, and how to prepare for my HSC. However, after completing this reflection process, I felt more motivated and clear-minded on how I was to approach my HSC exams. But remember, to effectively do this process and see improvements, it’s important to be honest with yourself.

Make sure you write down every single thing you could do better at. This will allow you to actually make improvements on these things, rather than disregard and do poorly in a section you told yourself you were good at. It is the best way to learn to study smarter in Year 12.


Practical tip 7: Schedule your study time

A detailed schedule of what subjects you will study each day in the lead up to the HSC will help reduce your stress levels. You won’t need to decide each morning, as you’ll already know what the plan is. I recommend you have consistency over each study day, such as setting up three blocks, with breaks in between (or something similar to your school schedule) to keep you in the headspace of school-like learning. You can either create a timetable digitally or print out one.

Another tip to creating your schedule is using sticky notes to write down your subjects. This allows you not only to colour code your subjects but also to easily move subjects/topics around. Here is a snapshot of my schedule during the HSC.

Talia's schedule that helped her study smarter in Year 12 and score 93.60 ATAR


Practical tip 8: Be selective about what you study!

This is my last tip for you to study smarter in Year 12, not harder. Studying smart, not hard is very easy to say, but can be difficult to put into practice. Personally, I hadn’t really understood what it meant until a couple weeks out from the HSC. I began to realise that I didn’t have time to study every aspect of each subject in detail. So, I knew I needed to focus on the things I didn’t know well. That would be more effective than reviewing again and again the things I did know well.

The traffic light system is perfect for understanding where your weak points are — the ‘red’ or ‘yellow’ dot points. These must be given more focus than your green dot points. As well as this, make sure you don’t just read your notes, but complete practice questions and past papers regularly. That is the only way you can truly put your knowledge into practice.

That’s all my tips for now! I hope this gives you a good outline of how to approach your HSC year.

Wishing you all the best of luck!

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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