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Matthew’s Hacks: The Five Key Habits For HSC Success And An ATAR Of 99.70

Do you find yourself easily distracted? Do you need to refine your study habits? Well, in this article, Matthew shares his 5 key habits he uses for HSC success.

In this article, King’s School graduate and Matrix alumnus, Matthew, shares the 5 key habits he used for HSC Success.



Who am I?

Hello! My name is Matthew Kearney, and I graduated from The King’s School in 2020.

ATAR: 99.70


University and career goal

I’m hoping to study actuarial studies and applied finance at either UNSW or Macquarie University starting in 2021.

After university, I aspire to work in risk management and corporate finance, as I’m passionate about seeking the best outcomes through compelling valuation and assessment of different opportunities.



HSC Subjects


Course Exam Mark Assessment Mark HSC Mark Band
Chemistry 94/100 93/100 94 6
Economics 91/100 90/100 91 6
English Adv 93/100 93/100 93 6
Maths Ext 1 99/100 97/100 98 E4
Maths Ext 2 95/100 95/100 95 E4
Physics 92/100 95/100 94 6


Best subject

My best (and favourite) subject was Maths Extension 2.

This is because I completely immersed myself in an active study regime, where I reviewed concepts every night.

Through this, I challenged myself to complete every question in the Matrix workbook and tough past HSC questions, which qualified me well for all kinds of problems in my exams.


Worst subject

My worst subject was English Advanced.

I didn’t dedicate enough time to practise essay writing, as most assessments were hand-in alternative tasks throughout the year.

This left me severely underprepared for writing under exam conditions, causing me to perform poorly in trials.

As such, I was studying for English for the majority of the time leading up to the HSC exams. This made me wish I’d worked on it earlier!



Advice for Matrix Classes

At Matrix, I attended Mathematics Extension 1 and Extension 2 classes during the term.

I believe the extra reinforcement of concepts and the plethora of questions available in the workbooks were extremely useful in assisting my concurrent studies at school.


Alternatively, I found that Holiday Courses for my Science subjects helped me maximise my understanding. By learning ahead of my school, I was able to ask meaningful questions to my school teachers and get more out of practical experiments than I would otherwise.


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The Keys to HSC Success

I believe that my most significant barrier to HSC success was the habits that made up my day-to-day life.

For example, where I went to study, how long I slept, and how often I exercised were all critical factors in my productivity.

To establish beneficial habits in my life, I incorporated five ‘keys’ into my school schedule. I highly recommend these to new Year 12 students to consider.

They are as follows:

  1. Teach your peers
  2. Dedicate specific time for rest
  3. Review concepts daily
  4. Continue participating in co-curricular activities
  5. Find an environment that works for you


Key #1: Teach your peers.

The best way to tell if you understand something is to try to teach it to somebody else!

When you do this, you’ll discover a plethora of gaps in your logic, and you may find that it’s harder to recall information when under pressure.

So, by mastering ‘teaching your peers’, you’ll become equipped to face any unusual or challenging questions under exam conditions. This is crucial if you’re aiming for top marks in the HSC.


For example, whenever I found a new concept difficult or interesting in my Maths study, I would ask my classroom teacher if I could explain the question to my class.

This forced me to explain the concept in a way that everybody could understand, rather than merely memorising or internalising patterns that only I could understand.

This skill is vital for the harder short-answer questions in subjects like Physics and Chemistry. These questions require you to explain complex and multifaceted concepts clearly and succinctly.

Here’s an example of a question I wrote and taught to my class about the use of Bernoulli trials in probability:



To make sure others understand what you’re teaching, try employing these three tips:

1. Give analogies and examples for the concepts you’re trying to explain

This will help your peers recognise similarities between what they already know and what you’re trying to teach them.


2. Involve your peers in the teaching process

Ask questions and guide them towards solving problems by themselves where possible, as this helps them with problem-solving and critical thinking with the content.


3. Probe your peers for questions

Often people don’t ask questions out of uncertainty or being polite, so ensure they feel welcomed to ask questions.




Key #2: Dedicate specific time for rest.

When I say rest, I don’t mean idly watching scrolling through social media or watching YouTube videos.

Instead, I mean do something that you’ll thoroughly enjoy, like spending time with friends, cooking, the park, or eating out.

By clearly separating rest from work, you’re less likely to become distracted while studying and will feel much more rested.


1. Exercise

I found exercise – such as running – to be a great form of relaxation, as it helped calm my nerves and focus my mind after a long day of work.

I set aside two hours every weekday for exercise and reading, and dedicated half of every weekend to spend time with friends, cooking, or a long run.


2. Set realistic goals and stay accountable

To find the ‘sweet spot’ for how much recreation you should have, set realistic goals for the amount of study you want to complete every day.

Then, dedicate some periods of leftover time to recreation, and organise somebody or something to keep you accountable to those obligations.

For some people, using social media blockers or keeping technology away from your work environment is effective.

However, I believe having other people nearby is the best deterrence from becoming distracted and breaking your routine.

Experiment! Find something that works and stick to it.




Key #3: Review concepts daily.

The Matrix workbooks are excellent for this. Whenever you have time to study, try to answer questions from different areas of the syllabus.

By revising topics you’re not currently learning daily, you keep all of the content in your long-term memory,

This makes exam preparation far more efficient.

For example, when practising for Advanced English, you may write an introduction paragraph for a Common Module essay one day, then write a discursive piece the night afterwards.

For Maths, you might continue studying permutations and combinations from Year 11 at different points throughout Year 12.

And, for Science subjects, you should study content from Module 5 or 6, even whilst you’re studying for Module 7 or 8.



Key #4: Continue participating in co-curricular activities.

Please, do not give up your co-curricular activities during Year 12!

Whether it is dance, running, chess, or a coding project, having things to look forward to other than studying is crucial to being productive and maintaining mental health.

Also, many University scholarships and Co-op programs look for students with a well-rounded schedule throughout the final years of school.

So, keeping these activities will help you immensely in these applications.

During Year 12, I continued to participate in theatre performances, an international ethics olympiad, and the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF).

These were wonderful opportunities and excellent breaks from the hours of study.

I balanced these activities alongside my study through an effective work-life study routine, which I discussed earlier in Key #2.



Key #5: Find an environment that works for you.

Studying is not a ‘one size fits all’ activity. You’ll quickly find that the study environments that help you focus are different from everyone else.

To optimise your study routine, try experimenting with studying in your room, with friends, at the library, or the dining room table, and compare how productive you found each session to be.

Be honest with how productive each environment is, and find a unique study routine that works for you.

For me, studying at the library was most effective, as I found that being surrounded by an academic environment encouraged me to focus on my studies.

I evaluated this by the increased amount of work I was completing in the library compared to at home. Indeed, I managed to complete an extra practice paper every two days when I was studying at the library.

This is because I wasn’t tempted to browse social media or watch videos, since everybody around me was working hard and concentrating on their studies.

So, go and try different study options!


I found this library to be a highly productive environment conducive to study, but both school libraries and local libraries are great too!



With these five keys under your belt, achieving success in your final year of school is certainly possible.

I wish everybody all the best for your Year 12 journey, and study hard!



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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