James’ ATAR Hacks for Overcoming a Lack of Confidence to Score 99.70!

Posted on December 19, 2017 by Patrick Condliffe

James Wang scored an ATAR of 99.70! In this post, James shares his ATAR Hacks and how he conquered his self-confidence to Band 6 and E4 in each of his units.


Me, Myself and I

Hi there! My name is James Wang and I went to North Sydney Boys High School. In 2018, I hope to be studying medicine at university (I do not have a university preference).


My HSC Results

ATAR: 99.70

HSC Results:

Assessments Mark
HSC Exam Mark
HSC Mark
Performance Band
 English Advanced
 93 95 94 6
Mathematics Extension 1
 99 99 99 E4
Mathematics Extension 2
97 97 97 E4
94 93 94 6
 French Continuers
90 89 90 6
87 92 90 6

I performed the best in Mathematics Extension 2 because it’s a subject that I’ve always enjoyed. You will always be motivated to study and work hard for subjects that you love, even when you may not be at your best. I always tried to do Maths every day, whether it would be a whole past paper or the multiple choice section on a busy weekend. Having consistency to your study routine for Maths is especially ideal as it keeps your mind sharp. It’s a bit like regularly sharpening your kitchen knives so they’re always ready to use.

Whilst Extension 2 Mathematics looks extremely daunting at first, the challenges can always be met given you have the right mixture of work ethic, support and commitment. I would always complete my Matrix and school homework but also look to practice on areas of difficulty with questions from past papers.

Furthermore, having an ACCOUNTABLE study group is almost essential for any subject but I think underrated for Maths. My friends and I would share tricky questions over Facebook and work together to find solutions. Given the number of past papers, it’s impossible for an individual to do every single one of them so a study group where everyone contributes is the most efficient way to see a wide range of questions.

I performed the worst in French Continuers (did not contribute to my ATAR) because I’m not French. As silly as that may sound, I do want to reinforce the importance of consistent action in Year 12. I didn’t do French every day early in the year and I believe that may have caused me extra strife later on, especially with speaking. Being from a Chinese background did not help either. Whilst I did pick up my efforts in the lead up to trials and HSC, my ability was not as solid as it was with other subjects and thus, I was more prone to making basic errors.

Even then, a foreign language takes hours and hours of practice and implementation in order to reach competency. In an ideal situation, I would be speaking French all the time; at school, at home, with friends. If you are doing a foreign language for your HSC, don’t stress. This is just my personal experience and you may well be much more talented than me!


My #1 Problem in Year 11/12

One of the biggest challenges I faced in Year 12 was my own confidence. Everyone will do poorly in a test in Year 12 and given the pressures associated with your last year of high school, the mental effects are magnified.

There were 2 occasions where I lost confidence in myself:

  • My first Extension 2 Mathematics result was significantly below the average;
  • I finished near the bottom of my grade for my Chemistry trial (hence the poor internal mark).

These results can be so disheartening and they were but I had a number of steps which helped me rebound.

  1. Find a mentor/support from others – It is near impossible to rebound from these setbacks by yourself. I was fortunate enough to participate in a mentoring program at our school and I dedicate a lot of my success to the support I received. Have someone who will be there to support you and give you the confidence and resolve you need to keep going and stay focused on your goals. It’s not always easy but try and not let a bad mark destroy your poise. It’s your response that matters. After my poor maths mark, I recollected myself with the help of my maths teacher. He instilled in me some faith and confidence. I never looked back.    
  2. Develop a new plan of attack – You should always look to be improving and the exigency is heightened after a disappointing mark. Work with your teachers, friends and/or tutors on areas you have struggled with. Adjust the amount of time you spend on a subject if need be. People say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and knowing the result, so it’s important that you make the necessary adjustments. After my Chemistry trial, I solely focused on improving the structure of my short answer responses as that was my biggest issue. That was also my focus right up to HSC and it paid off (thankfully).
  3. Turn the page – This was the hardest step mentally for me. It’s the notion that you need to focus on the task ahead and not let the past dictate your future. One bad test did not ruin my ATAR by any stretch so I know you have the ability to recover. Show some dedication and fight. Believe in yourself. 

My Study/Exam Strategies

Everyone studies best in different methods and you should find out what works for you. For example, I never wrote my own notes and studying at a library only got me distracted. Nevertheless, I think there are a few things that everyone can do.

  1. Study Groups – It’s the overused term that can easily be under-performing. If done right, they can be game changers for your whole grade, not just you. There are a few things that every successful study group needs: accountable members, open and reliable communication mediums and dedication. It’s very easy for study groups to fizz for a few weeks and dissolve so it is up to all members to try and make it work. Come with things planned to do/ topics to discuss when you meet. Use Facebook or Skype as a way to communicate outside of school and share your questions or essays. Now for some subject-specific advice:
    1. English – Share your essays regularly and receive feedback from your study group members. Always be open to discussion and share your ideas for essay topics. Diversity of thought goes a long way in English. Using resources like the Beginner’s Guide to English to complement your study process will help you stay on top of things, too.
    2. Mathematics – No need to meet together as such but constantly share questions.
    3. Sciences – I think the most effective sessions involve sitting down and doing a bunch of short answers, marking them and then going through the content/ answer structure afterwards. Ensure all members have learnt the content before the meeting.
  2. Time Management – It is such an important skill but I know a lot of students can struggle with it. I managed to be in bed by 10:30 pm every night and get a good night’s sleep. I kept a to-do list on my desk to ensure I finished everything by the deadline. Moreover, I also worked without distractions, taking steps to hide my phone, earphones and use regular textbooks over online copies to avoid technology as much as possible. Altogether, these strategies minimised wasted time, allowing me to study almost every subject each night.
  3. Composure – This is the one that will keep your head at least above the waterline in Year 12. There will no doubt be times where the workload will seem immense but keeping your poise and composure is the key to slowly working your way through the tasks whilst maintaining a high level of performance.If you work consistently and keep yourself on schedule, you will never be fazed by a task. During exams, there will also be questions that may stump you initially. Again, the teaching point here is to think through the question in a calm manner. Have some faith in your ability. Never disregard a question because it’s on the last page or there’s a lot of text. There will always be something you can write that will get you marks; the questions will never be that hard.

My Regrets

One of my biggest regrets was not keeping my extra-curricular activities. I am a keen runner (No smugness but 5x Cross Country Age Champion) and also played the violin. Keeping a balanced lifestyle is very important so I really regret not continuing to do these activities.

Whilst my ATAR may have justified dropping these activities for the year, I truly believe that I could’ve done just as well even if I had kept one of my extra-curricular activities. Keep your extra-curricular activities up during Year 12 to give your body a well-deserved break and the energy it needs. If you don’t have a sport or an instrument to play, find a hobby to do. Consider sudoku, reading or crosswords. There’s something for everyone.


My Advice to Future Year 12 ‘Subject’ Students


What would your advice be to your younger sibling who is about to start Year 12?

If you have not yet started Year 12, my biggest piece of advice for you would be this: Respect the process.

Understand that there will be ups and downs in Year 12, situations that you will not have anticipated, and moments of joy. Take them all in heed as there is always a new challenge to overcome.

Work from the inside out. Find something that you are truly passionate about because it will keep you together in those difficult times.

Work consistently. Show a level of commitment towards your goal and never lose sight of it. Take pride in your work.

You must do these three things:

  1. Work consistently – Work every day, even if it’s just for a little bit. Everything adds up in the end.
  2. Create a routine – I think a routine will keep you on schedule and keep you working at an efficient pace
  3. Team up – Work with your friends, your teachers and your whole grade. It takes absolutely everybody for you to get a good mark. Be grateful for the time and effort they put into your learning.

You must never do these three things:

  1. Don’t tail off at the end – Work right up until HSC. Don’t give it up at the last moment.
  2. Don’t wait – Year 12 is done best with a proactive approach. The onus is on you to do what is best for yourself. There will never be a point in Year 12 where you will have nothing to do. Write another essay paragraph or do a portion of a past paper.
  3. Don’t be a slave – Quality over quantity. Make effective use of your time. Locking your bedroom door and chaining yourself to your desk chair will not only have detrimental health effects but will not help your academic performance much.


What Next?

Found this article interesting or useful? Share the knowledge!


You may also like

Get free study tips and resources delivered to your inbox.

Join 27,119 students who already have a head start.