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Shradha’s HSC Hacks: How I Planned Ahead To Keep My Sanity During The HSC And Score 99.65!

Do you find the pressures of study and exams start fraying your sanity? In this article, Shradha shares how she planned ahead to sane and score 99.65!

Many students get stressed during the HSC, but there is a better way. In this article, Cheltenham Girl’s graduate and Matrix Alumnus, Shradha, shares how she planned ahead to keep her sanity and score 99.65 in her HSC.


Me, myself and I

Name: Shradha Iyer

School: Cheltenham Girls’ High School

University degree: Bachelor of Science and Advanced Studies (Dalyell) with majors in Physics and Data Science at USYD

ATAR: 99.65


My HSC subjects and results

  • Physics: B6
  • Chemistry: B6
  • English Standard: B6
  • Mathematics Extension 1: E4
  • Mathematics Extension 2: E4

My HSC achievements

  • Dux of School
  • HSC All-rounder


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How I planned ahead in order to keep my sanity during the HSC and score 99.65 for my ATAR

Planning your study routine involves striking a balance between schoolwork, Matrix work with your own personal study. Thus, break your approach for each subject into three chunks:

  1. Holiday
  2. During school term and
  3. A 2–3-week period before an assessment.

Following this, this ensured I was on top of things without being too overwhelmed!

Here is how I allocated my tasks throughout the HSC year and hopefully this can help you create an effective schedule yourself! 😀

Shradha’s HSC Hacks_ How I Planned Ahead To Keep My Sanity During The HSC And Score 99.65! timetable

Here is my study timetable for the week. While my routine wasn’t etched in stone, it was a useful guide for me to plan out my study for the week.


English Standard

I still remember the groans from friends and family when I chose English Standard over Advanced. While most students are put off by the low probability rate of scoring a Band 6 in English Standard, this motivated me to study harder!

School holidays:

1. Closely analyse the rubric

Before analysing a text, I would take a deep dive into the module’s rubric statement and look for clues. Then, I would colour code the main concepts and key words/phrases into 3 categories:

  1. Content: These are the main concepts, such as collective experiences in the Common Module, cultural assumptions in Mod A etc., that formed the foundations of how I interpreted my text. Essentially, in my analysis I needed to demonstrate how I think the composer articulates their opinions about these ideas).
  2. Skills: How to demonstrate my understanding of the module and text)
  3. Focus: Any specific language features, aspects of form to adhere to).


2. Read/watch the text along with research on its context and themes

This initial reading of the text allows me to draw preliminary connections with the meaning of the text and the ideas relevant to the Module. I used page tags and kept my Google Docs handy to jot down my ideas.
By supplementing this with research, I start to create a more informed and thorough perspective of the text.


3. Analysis

Once I finish reading/watching my text, I brainstorm 3 to 4 possible themes or main ideas and flesh them out.

It is essential that this pre-work is done before you explore the text at school as you get the opportunity to closely understand the text and develop your opinions. Originality in your essays is the key to success in English Standard!


Shradha's HSC English notes


During the term:

1. Discuss the text with your peers

Group discussions are a great way of consolidating one’s understanding. And with your preliminary analysis under your belt, you can be more proactive in class by sharing your ideas and refining your interpretations!

2. Work with your teacher to cement your analysis

Share your work with your teachers! Setting up a feedback loop for English as early as possible is crucial, as it ensures that you are constantly improving and refining your writing skills and perspectives. The more sophisticated your analysis and interpretation becomes, the more you get ahead ☺.

Exam preparation (3 weeks before assessment task/trial/HSC)

1. Timed theses drills

Set a timer for 5 minutes and grab yourself an essay question. In this 5 minute-drill try and come up with an over-arching thesis and three sub-theses. This strategy will expose you to all the possible types of questions NESA could throw at you and force you to think on the spot!


2. Timed essay practice

All exam practice should ideally simulate the HSC exam, so you should be aiming to complete an essay within 40 minutes. You can further reduce the limit further to 35-37 minutes. If you want to push yourself further, time your essays with a stopwatch rather than a timer. This way, you simulate exam conditions for every essay that you write!

Important tip: I highly recommend writing your timed essays on lined paper that match the style of HSC writing booklets. In fact, NESA has kindly published the writing booklet for Paper 2 so make sure to use them to your advantage!

Trials and the HSC

Remember that 35–37-minute essay practice? This is where it comes in handy. In Trials and the HSC, you are required to write your essays back-to-back. By forcing yourself to write in less than 40 minutes, you are rewarding yourself with a couple of minutes to rest your aching wrist, check your work and plan your next essay response!

Leading up to the trials or the HSC (around that 3-week mark), aim to complete at least one practice paper each week. Focusing on individual module responses and then combining them as one exam time block will help retain confidence and make your exams into a natural, recursive process.


Physics and Chemistry may have different content but they both rely on logical thinking. I enrolled into the holiday course for Physics and the term course for Chemistry.

I personally found Physics to be slightly more content-heavy and so Matrix holiday courses were beneficial in that regard (special shout out to Dr Emma Lindley!).

During the holidays

1. Read the syllabus dot-points for the Module

Just like in English, this step is crucial in providing a brief overview of what you will be learning in a particular module. For Physics, this was done before the holiday classes began.


2. Revise and summarise content into notes

For Physics, this involved re-reading the class material and condensing the information into a series of dot-points and diagrams that addressed a particular syllabus dot-point/s.

For Chemistry, I would use this time to go over my textbook and explore online resources to gain some understanding of the content.

By the end of the holidays or once you have finished with the Module, you will be able to gauge which dot-points need more attention and which ones you have already understood.


Shradha's HSC chemistry notes

During the term:

1. Physics: Go through the classroom material and re-read Matrix theory, go over the unfinished or challenging workbook questions to revise and consolidate my understanding.


2. Use the term Chemistry lessons to revise concepts and seek assistance on the topics you struggled with during the holidays. My Matrix teacher, Vivian Law played an instrumental role in understanding complex Chemistry in a logical and structured way.


3. Use the homework from school as further revision resources to gain a solid understanding of the Module.


4. Make use of the life-saving Matrix workshops in order to clarify individual doubts and seek extra guidance on your weak spots. This applies to all subjects.


5. Don’t forget to brush up on your scientific skills! Allocate around 2 hours in a fortnight to go over the key experiments relevant to the Module.

Exam preparation

1. Annotate the syllabus

By this, I mean to jot down keywords, equations, diagrams, flowcharts etc. next to the dot-points listed in the syllabus document. This is just a quick reference guide to the information you have learned so far.

Shradha’s HSC Hacks_ How I Planned Ahead To Keep My Sanity During The HSC And Score 99.65 English Std Notes

The colour-coding system used helped me clearly understand the needs of the module and what I had to do to ace it!


2. Scaffold extended response questions

Especially in later modules, both the subjects have a greater focus on long response questions. In order to nail these, it is essential to scaffold and plan your responses. Check your plan against the suggested responses and the marking criteria to see if you are on the right track.

Here are essential features of Band 6 responses:

  • Have a logical flow: you can create this through headings and adequately paragraphing your response
  • For Physics: strong links to underlying Physics laws and where appropriate relevant equations
  • For Chemistry: chemical equations relevant to the concept, reference to Chemistry principles (e.g. According to Le Chatelier’s Principle…, By Collision Theory…)
  • The use of scientific terminology and phrases: Matrix teachers always stress these in their explanations so make sure you are paying attention!


3. And of course… past papers.

For any assessment, you want to give yourself less time than allocated.

So, for a 3-hour Trial/HSC paper, you want to give yourself only 2 hrs and 50 mins of working time, with at least 20 minutes time to spare. This is just to accommodate for the unexpected challenge questions in your exam, help you plan your responses and most important check your answers!

Trials and the HSC

For HSC preparation, I cannot recommend the HSC preparation courses enough!

The general fatigue post-Trials is completely normal, and the structured online lessons offered by Matrix helps you get back into the mindset and continue striving for the HSC exams.

These courses provide a strong emphasis on exam technique, how to efficiently answer questions and quite literally overwhelm you with soooo many questions so you can truly cement your understanding.

At the 3-week mark, you should try and do as many past papers as possible. I aimed for at least 2 per week.



I can confirm, Extension 2 was a daunting experience. I assumed that it was a subject designed for Maths wizzes that win a few Olympiads in any given year. And entering this rigorous subject with such a bleak outlook certainly paid off- I bombed my first assessment task. Luckily, I found Extension 1 content was much easier to understand but I knew at this rate I was doomed for the HSC ☹

During holidays:

I enrolled into the holiday course for Extension 2 thinking that I might give myself more time during the term to ponder upon the content.

Holiday lessons (special shout out to James Kang) are truly enjoyable, with clear explanations. This was my first step in building confidence in the subject.

While for Extension 1, use the time to look over the course outline for your school. Start exploring the topics that you will be studying at school and Matrix in the term ahead.
Make copious notes!

From formulae to step-by-step worked examples, making notes are a great way of revising and consolidating your understanding. Use this opportunity to write down areas of error and improvement so you can be wary of this when practising during the term.

During the term:

1. Complete schoolwork and Matrix workbook questions.

This can help you determine where you need more support from your teachers and narrow your focus to practising exam-style questions that address your weaknesses.


2. For Extension 1, I was more productive in class and had the opportunity to clarify my doubts with my teacher (shout out to Matthew Lau!).


3. Reach out to your peers

By working through questions together, not only are you able to revise the content but also learn and share new problem-solving tricks and strategies that you can implement in harder questions.


4. Use other textbooks and online resources (with more emphasis on harder applications of the theory)

This will expose you to a variety of questions and allow you to make links with interconnected topics and discover the situations where that topic plays a key role.

Exam preparation:

1. Since Extension 2 was my weakest subject, I endeavoured to complete a past paper every day! Yes, this was tiring but by the end of it, I had built the self-confidence needed to tackle a significant proportion of the questions I’d face.


2. Like always, complete all past papers with 10 minutes less than the actually allocated time with at least 20 minutes to spare (perhaps more for Extension 2).


3. Solve past papers using the NESA’s writing booklets.

Did you know that NESA has shared their exact style of exam booklets? These are found at the end of the examination-style questions booklet ☺.

This may seem trivial, but by writing your answers in the HSC-style answer booklets, you can improve the way you structure working out as well as mentally prepare yourself for the exam.

Final thoughts

And there you have it! This is of course a simple organisational strategy by which you can tackle the HSC in a systematic and structured manner. While this was not mentioned above, remember to take a break- whether it is reading your favourite book (not necessarily your prescribed text), listening to music or simply binging on some YouTube, you deserve it!

As a wise person once said,

You are a culmination of effort and persistence you put in and not the number you receive.

[Hint: That wise person is none other than me, I made that quote up on the spot 😎].

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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