Penelope’s Study Hacks: How To Study Effectively Through Uncertainty

Are you finding uncertainty is adversely affecting your studies? in this article, Penelope shares her advice for how to cope and stay ahead when everything else is topsy turvy.

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2021 has been hard on students, especially HSC students. More challenging than anything has been the uncertainty hanging over students that has created enormous amounts of stress for them. In this article, Matrix Scholarship holder and Sydney Girls High Student Penelope Lukes shares how she managed to study effectively in uncertain times.


Imagine this stressful scenario

So, it’s the holidays before Trials, and your Trials are in Week 3. How are you going to prepare?

Oh. Wait, hang on.

Trials have actually been moved to Week 5 and we’ve reached the weeks leading up to the new date. So, it’s time to get serious about study — huh? They got moved again?

So, Trials are now in Week 6. About time we – wait. You’re kidding! Changed again?

Sorry, sorry, let me start again.

Ok, ok. I’ll just start over!

So, school says we can’t use the word ‘Trials’ anymore. It’s Task 4 or something. And it’s online. And the weighting is all changed. And half your subjects don’t even have an exam. And some of the exams are open book, and some aren’t. And those Crucible quotes you learnt? Well, The Crucible isn’t even assessable this time. Well, at least, that’s what happened to me…

It’s hard to reduce studying down to a simple formula when the world is changing so rapidly around us, but it seems like uncertainty is the new certainty, at least for now.

6 years ago, the HSC was the most certain landmark in our lives. Even though things keep changing, we still have to keep ourselves focused on the future. Here’s how I tried to do just that.

Penelope's Study Hacks- How To Study Effectively Through Uncertainty lighthouse in a storm image


Exam prep when your exams keep changing

While the format of online ‘trials’ will likely change from your average 3-hour exam, the content is guaranteed to be things you already know.

The best way I found to study for indeterminate exams was to make sure I understood all areas of the content and could apply information from memory to any type of question, rather than doing trial papers over and over again, and absorbing none of my mistakes.

I went back to each topic of each course and covered it first by reviewing the theory for the topic, then, using practice questions pulled from textbooks, my Matrix Theory Books and Workbooks, trial papers, and HSC questions to test my knowledge.

If there was a question I couldn’t do, I looked at the solution, then screenshotted the question and solution to add to a word doc to refer back to later. By handling each topic one by one, I could focus my attention on it and guarantee I understood it. Prior to the exam, I revisited my mistakes and made sure I knew how to do questions I originally struggled with.

Penelope's Study Hacks How To Study Effectively Through Uncertainty Keeping a _Book_ of Mistakes


This leads to my next secret: Checklists, checklists, checklists.

The first thing I did before I started studying for trials was to make a massive checklist for every subject that laid out all the syllabus content included in my assessments.

quotation saying: While it may appear overwhelming, visualising everything you have to do will make you realise it’s achievable after all. Penelope How To Study Effectively Through Uncertainty overwhelming quote


Penelope's Study Hacks How To Study Effectively Through Uncertainty A very big Trials to-do list
This is what my Trials to-do list looked like

Finally, it helped to dedicate equal attention to each subject. It’s easy to pour all your time into your favourite subject and still write it off as productive, but to do well in every subject you have to spend time on every subject. In the leadup to my ‘trials’, I knew English was my least favourite subject, but that it needed extra attention. But by forcing myself to spend maybe an hour per day on it alongside an hour for Maths, Chemistry and Economics, and some time on my Textiles major work, I settled into a pattern and routine that necessitated I dedicate time to every subject to complete my study days in full.

Once we cancelled trials, I was relieved, but also upset I had spent so much time on subjects that had their exam cancelled. But I eventually realised it’s crucial to recognise that every little bit of study is going to help you now, even if it won’t do so directly, and it will definitely help you once the HSC comes around.


Managing stress and motivation in lockdown

Lockdown brings with it an inescapable sense of groundhog day – every day melds into the next. Another Gladys presser, another disappointing increase in case numbers and another vague email from the school telling us they’ll have more information next week.

You may have seen the pressure-performance curve before:

Penelope How To Study Effectively Through Uncertainty pressure vs performance graph


Usually, in the leadup to an exam block we begin to move out of our comfort zone and stretch or strain ourselves, then take a well-deserved break afterwards as we sink back into routine and comfort. However, 8 weeks of repeated cycles of study-related adrenaline followed by the inevitable mingling of relief and disappointment following an examination delay took its toll on me and brought me a little too close to burnout.

My advice to anyone studying for trials and the HSC, lockdown or not, is to give yourself a real break from study once in a while to keep yourself performing optimally. Taking breaks is not something to feel guilty about, even when you feel everyone around you is always studying.

quotation saying "Taking breaks is not something to feel guilty about, even when you feel everyone around you is always studying." Penelope How To Study Effectively Through Uncertainty breaks quote

Sometimes I’d just take the whole day off to do things I liked instead, like baking, going cycling or sitting down and rewatching my favourite TV shows. It’s a good change of pace that refreshes us and prepares us to tackle our work again.

Sometimes even the basics seem undoable, but we have to take care of ourselves in Year 12 because we have to come out the other end in one piece!

So, if you can, remember to:

  • Eat 3 square meals a day even during long days of online class
  • Drink your recommended 2L of water every day
  • Get outside, even if just for 10 mins or so.

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How I’ll move forwards towards the HSC

As we approach the HSC, we won’t have school anymore as a marker of our time. To tackle this, I’ll be planning my days and dividing my time so I give each subject the attention it deserves across each week. I currently love using Notion to plan my objectives for each day, plus my objectives for the week:

Penelope's Study Hacks How To Study Effectively Through Uncertainty Objectives in Notion
Using Notion has been invaluable.

It’s a great way to give structure to an otherwise structureless couple of months in the leadup to the HSC.

Another important preparation tactic that helped me was seeking out my teachers for help. They are there to support you as you progress towards the HSC, so use their expertise to receive feedback on responses and ask for clarifications on tricky content. I definitely used to be intimidated by the concept of asking for help but the more I do it the more I realise it’s the best possible way to learn!

Last of all, lockdown has thrown us all around. It’s important to keep motivated and keep striving for your goals, but it’s important to not be too hard on yourself too.

quotations saying: There are always going to be good days and bad days. We need to be proud of ourselves for doing well and forgiving when we don’t. Penelope How To Study Effectively Through Uncertainty good days bad daysquote

We’re all in this together!


Want to prep for your HSC like Penelope?

Matrix+ HSC Prep and Trial Prep courses will get you exam ready over the break. Learn more.

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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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