In this article, Justin shares his best tips to help you stay committed to your studies to ace them!
Justin is a Matrix and Knox Grammar student who came 9th in the State for HSC Maths Adv in Year 11 (accelerated course). He now shares his advice on how to stay committed to your studies to succeed.
Knox Grammar School
UNSW or USYD
My name is Justin. I am a student at Knox and I enjoy track and going around with my friends.
I see myself as a student who is forever learning and growing – I do not intend to ever stop learning from others.
Despite this, I always struggled with finding the motivation to study, and like most, I felt as though I simply did not have the work ethic needed for Year 12.
So, in this article, I discuss my experiences and share some advice on how to approach the HSC and how to use hobbies and extracurriculars to stay motivated and committed.
I didn’t do a lot extra-curricular (which I definitely regret) but the ones I did during Year 12 were swimming, track, and being part of the academic prefect team.
During Year 11, I studied Extension English, Extension Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology.
However, at the start of Year 12, I decided to drop Biology and Extension English and picked up Extension 2 Math.
I always intended to drop both of these subjects as I knew my strengths were focused on Mathematics and I would much rather invest 40% (4 units) into one subject that I knew I was going to perform the best in.
The conceptual understanding that’s required for Physics was something I’ve always found interesting.
I yearn to find the moment of cracking the code or the big brain moment where all the physics works out and explains a phenomena.
When considering Mathematics as a whole, everything seems to piece itself together.
There are hardly any new topics that have no relation to all the other points of the syllabus. That’s because every single topic/concept somehow finds its way into each other, just intertwining through all the problems.
For example, a lot of the proof work and algebraic heavy ideas – in most cases – requires a very strong algebraic explanation. However, geometry always eloquently pieces itself into many of these problems, making it all the more enjoyable trying to find the most elegant solution.
Maths is just about finding shortcuts!
In terms of performance, I achieve the best marks in Mathematics due to how systematic and straightforward the preparation is.
Realistically, around 60% of a Math paper are questions that either you have seen before or can predict. So, it is very easy to guarantee marks simply through practice.
In general, what makes Math the most enjoyable for me is discovering the creative tricks that are required for approaching harder questions and also experiencing the revelation of cracking a difficult problem.
Chemistry is 100% a subject that rewards you for your effort. I simply did not invest enough time into having a holistic understanding of the frameworks of the syllabus.
Performance-wise, the reason why I struggled most with Chemistry was the difficulty of pinpointing all the marking guidelines that were required for a top band response.
In order to improve on this, I decided to…
Annotate the question and write a rough plan that allowed me to properly address 7+ marker responses.
I sent these responses to either my school teachers or Matrix tutors who gave me detailed and thorough feedback.
(Surprisingly, I ranked better for Chemistry than Physics, even though I found it to be a much harder subject!)
I believe this subject is universally notorious for how versatile it can be – there are so many possible questions that an English exam can ask.
Due to the flexible nature of this course, I found myself aimlessly studying and never really studying the course with purpose. Rather I spent more time trying to understand what I was meant to study than actually studying it.
This was the biggest problem that I had to address, and so I started to discuss the texts with my teachers and began reading exemplar essays from friends.
My weakness was always my inability to answer the question explicitly.
To combat this,
I scrapped all my pretentious and verbose sentences and began with just writing concise responses – even if they were elementary in vocabulary.
I started to realise that markers would much rather prefer an essay that answered the question, rather than a “sophisticated essay” that completely disregarded the question. From then on, I worked my way up by adding more sophistication to my responses.
I was never really someone that stuck to a strong routine. I was always motivated for 2 days, but then I would procrastinate for the rest of the week.
In simple terms, I had temporary motivation, but not commitment.
So, here are some tips I used to increase my commitment to my studies.
I opted for a to-do list in which I jotted down any things I had to do for the day.
Typically this consisted of just writing English paragraphs, completing past papers etc.
This allowed me to move away from the rigid monotone-like days and add flexibility to what I could do during the day (as long as I finished all the tasks I could do anything else).
I used workflowy to list out all the tasks that I needed to finish for the day. You can get it as an app on your phone, but also have access to it on your computer as well.
I separated everything I had to do by subjects and topics.
That way I could clearly link all the concepts I needed to work on and flow them nicely throughout the week.
Don’t obsess over a routine. I always found that whenever I didn’t complete a task that I set at a specific time, it had a domino effect on the rest of the day… which meant that I simply couldn’t get any of the tasks done from then.
Furthermore, thinking that you need to meet a certain threshold of study time is the biggest issue for any student.
Studying for hours on end only fuelled my false sense of productivity and was really just an illusion of reassurance.
So, I never set hours to my study time – I only based my study on productivity and my understanding of a concept.
For example, studying English for 6 hours is not as productive as writing out 1 body paragraph, sending it through for feedback, and improving it in just 1 hour (that’s just one school English period!).
So, in simple terms, if I understood a concept, then I was done for study. If I needed more time to perfect something, I kept at it until I was satisfied.
Setting goals specific to the course syllabus is much more effective than setting goals of “doing 6 hours of study per day”.
The latter is too overwhelming.
If you really put in the time to understand your concepts, rather than simply “studying for 3 hours”, then the momentum will carry you.
The best resources don’t require money – they’re HSC papers!
Once you’ve learnt a topic go straight to the past papers and do the questions in that topic.
You are working off questions directly tested to prior HSC students so it is the perfect practice to familiarise yourself with the structure of your trials, and of course the HSC.
For additional work, the Matrix workbook questions provide conceptually challenging questions which hone down the skills for harder questions such as 7+ markers.
The HSC is a game. To beat the boss, be consistent and work on good preparation.
During the holidays, don’t guilt yourself into studying!
But rather start easy and aim to finish off topics that you found the most struggling during the term.
This is your time to hone all your skills and start the next term fresh and battle-ready.
Remember, do not lose yourself to the façade of other students flexing all the stuff they know, just stay consistent and you will naturally find yourself mastering all the topics.
This meant I was studying 6-hours of lessons every day. However, since I had quite a few friends in all my classes, it made all the 6 hours feel enjoyable and productive.
Realistically, if you are productive with your time, 6 hours is not a lot of time.
Think about it, including 8 hours of sleep per day, you’ll have 10 hours left for free time!
Furthermore, I always made sure to make friends and banter with the teachers in order to enjoy everything I learnt and not see lessons as “forced” but rather as optional and fun.
In terms of balancing Matrix studies alongside school work, I never weighed either as more important.
Instead, I worked on what I thought I needed to improve on most
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to use whichever resources that will effectively help you with a subject.
In terms of actually scheduling my Matrix work, I would typically do it the night or two nights before my Matrix class. This helped me stay fresh for their weekly quizzes and learn effectively for the next lesson (which sometimes worked off the preceding lessons).
Also, I found that the workbook questions were always helpful as revision for my work at school. This is especially true for Matrix’s Term Course due to their weekly lessons
Every time I received papers and questions from school, I was already familiar with the concepts.
Typically, I aim to complete one whole module thoroughly (this includes practice questions and past paper q’s) in one term. This means that I can start the next module with no uncertainties of the prior topic and learn confidently.
Stay committed to your studies and get ahead with Matrix Maths Adv Course! We break down the term’s content in detail and provide you with a wide variety of practice questions to sharpen your skills. Learn more now.
Studying with friends and making it a social activity is one of the best ways to study if you struggle to study by yourself at home.
I find that I work better when I am with my friends or just in an environment where everyone else was doing work.
Also, I work best under pressure. So for people that are avid crammers, try doing past papers with your friend under timed conditions to best simulate an actual exam.
Put your laptop in the middle of the desk with a full-screen timer and do a paper (study with someone you know will not distract you during the paper)
Also, as an avid procrastinator, my phone was the embodiment of my demise.
My best (and generic) advice is to just put your phone under a pillow or give it to your parents.
Cut off all your conversations by saying you need to do something (or lie about going outside lol), so you can study with ease and with no anxiety of getting any messages.
This is weird on my part but I also found that listening to rain sounds helped me concentrate and feel relaxed while studying.
I personally suggest not listening to anything excessive (hard-style, rap etc…) and instead opt for instrumental music and keep it on loop (no variety, keep it as background noise).
After the quarantine I found myself doing track 3 times a week and either moderate cardio or strength-based exercises every other day.
I was extremely invested in sprinting.
This was one of the main things that kept me from burning out.
I woke up every morning looking forward to getting up early simply because I enjoyed the feeling of going all out and seeing steady progression.
This was my secret to waking up early and also psychologically keeping me in a good mood for the whole day.
In terms of the food I ate, I avoided eating cup ramen or any oily foods (pizza, burgers) because I always found myself waking up with stomach pains and a really bloated face…
However, I didn’t limit anything I ate. I only thought about “calories in, calories out” regardless of the foods I ate.
As long as there is caloric maintenance or deficiency, the food you eat doesn’t matter.
I highly suggest watching your friendly neighbourhood doctor Greg Doucette if you’re interested in maintaining a healthy life-style.
Your exam performance is a product of your preparation. So, always prepare by doing past papers and getting feedback.
If you stay well revised throughout the term, you will only really need to study hard 3 days before an exam.
You should prepare by learning all the content and applying it to practice questions.
So, if you’re ever given an opportunity by your school to do a practice exam under timed conditions… ALWAYS do it.
Don’t ever say “I haven’t revised this topic…”. Do the exam and see the areas you need to work on. This is the best reflection on your strengths and weaknesses.
It will show you how you should allocate your time effectively within each subject.
The majority of my resources come from past HSC papers. These have to be your top priority.
Once you finish all the questions, that’s when you work on additional resources such as other school trials or Matrix workbook questions.
I cannot stress how effective doing exams under timed conditions are – including READING TIME.
Always take the opportunity to familiarise yourself with time conditioned responses because you do not want to come into an exam and panic.
The best feeling while doing an exam is familiarity.
This is when you open the paper and already know how all the questions are structured.
As the saying goes “train like you fight and fight like you train”.
1. Structure themes and characters
When it came down to preparing for English exams, I always tried to structure all the themes and characters into multiple body paragraphs.
From there I looked for essay questions that referred to the themes and tried modelling my responses to it.
2. Get feedback
I took every chance to send my writing through for feedback from my teachers.
I always recommend asking for feedback.
This provided me with the building blocks of all my essays. From then on, I tried to write as many introductions and body paragraphs to different questions from other schools.
By doing so, I was able to improve my flexibility and versatility with approaching unfamiliar questions and explicitly answering the question.
1. Cambridge textbook
I always started a new topic by thoroughly going through the Cambridge Textbook. This ensured that I understood the concepts by learning the proofs and reasoning behind why a theorem held true.
Due to how interconnected all the topics in Math are, it is essential to have a deep understanding of everything – finding out the frameworks of how every idea supports one another.
2. Past paper
From then on I worked on HSC questions, Trial questions, and BoS trials.
In this order, the questions began to progress in difficulty and I began to develop experience in approaching questions in more creative and efficient ways.
I also really enjoyed doing compilations of hard questions, then writing out my own set solutions to send to my friends.
This allowed me to structure my responses in a coherent way that made it easier for the markers to follow, but also for me to remember.
1. Practice long response questions
For both Chemistry and Physics, I found that the best way to improve (especially for internals) was to practice long response questions
e.g. Explain the economic, social, and safety issues associated with the Haber process – 9 marks
By familiarising yourself with all the marking guidelines that your school works off, you can guarantee a strong internal rank simply through practice and rote learning.
2. Prepare quick plans that followed the marking criteria
In terms of the HSC however, there are a lot more conceptual based questions. Thus a very detailed understanding of each concept – including the nuances of the syllabus – is required.
One of the few strategies I used to help structure my responses was a quick plan that assessed all the key points that were in the top band marking criteria.
I am proud of performing zoom lectures that helped people approach harder mathematics questions and plan for extended responses in Chemistry during the pandemic.
Just collaborating with the whole year is a good feeling and a great experience.
I am also happy with my Mathematics Advanced results from Year 11 where I managed to come 9th in the state.
Though not contributing to my final ATAR, Advanced Mathematics helped a lot with the fundamentals of Ext 1 and Ext 2, and was definitely a great motivating factor for me to pursue Ext 2 Mathematics.
Unfortunately due to the pandemic, my athletics champs were cancelled.
However, I was proud to sprint for my school last year.
I absolutely regret not being time-efficient.
This is life skill that only sets you up for success in the short and long run.
There have been countless times when I have hypothesized “if only I was productive with my time… then I could balancing everything effectively and achieve so much more…”
This is my biggest regret!
Another thing I regret is not talking with enough people from other schools.
I always wanted to make a lot of connections with different schools, but I procrastinated too often, and had this narrow mindset of “I’ll be wasting time…”
However, Matrix has definitely helped in this area. I was able to meet many students from ranging schools – though I do wish I had started doing this much earlier…
1. Have strong self-control
As someone that battles with procrastination, self-control is a must to be HSC ready. If you want to achieve the goals you plan for in Year 12, learn to have self-control and reduce the time you procrastinate
2. Have a small study group
The social aspect of studying is the biggest motivator and will help you study a lot more effectively than when studying individually. You can all share resources (especially from other schools) and provide each other with your own unique understanding of a concept, or your structure to a hard question.
3. Manage your time effectively
This is the one skill if perfected will make Year 12 a lot less stressful and manageable. If you know how to balance your academics with other activities, you’ll feel so much more prepared than your peers.
1. Take naps
This will ruin your sleep schedule and keep you in a perpetual cycle of feeling sleepy and exhausted every single day.
2. Set specific hours of study per day
While it can be a good way of managing your time, do not get overly invested in hours…
If you force yourself to meet a specific threshold, you’ll begin to inflate the amount of study in order to complete the hours for the day.
This reduces your productivity.
Instead, try completing your study based on tasks, topics, or timed past papers.
3. Be influenced by laziness
If you’re ever given an opportunity (be it school-related or not), don’t go in with the mindset of “it’s Year 12, I need more time for study”.
Don’t use this as an excuse to be lazy.
Realistically, we don’t study as much as we expect from ourselves.
For the people who say they study 10 hours a day, they’re either capping, or their study time is not productive.
The people with the greatest academic success, in most cases, are involved in leadership, sports, and many other social programs.
Being academically successful is a mindset– it is rarely exclusive to academics and will often prove successful in all other fields.