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Tim Li’s ATAR Hacks: How I Overcame Poor Time Management to Ace Year 12

Do you struggle getting things done ahead of time? Tim did! In this post, he shares how he overcame poor time management to ace Year 12.

In this post, Sydney Boys High alumni Tim Li shares how he overcame poor time management to ace Year 12 and score a 98.2 ATAR.


Me, Myself and I

Tim Li

Sydney Boys High School

University Course:
Bachelor of Commerce/ Bachelor of Computer Studies, UNSW


My HSC Subjects

HSC Subjects

  • English
  • Maths Extension 1
  • Maths Extension 2
  • Physics
  • Economics

My favourite subject was Maths!

It required the least amount of memorisation. As it required little rote-learning, it was one of the most enjoyable subjects to study for, and the complex and puzzling questions provided an enjoyable challenge.

The subject I disliked the most was English.

With extremely low marks in Year 11, I started Year 12 with no motivation to do well in English.

I disliked the prescribed texts, struggled with comprehension, and was unskilled in creative writing. Just as I saw slight improvements, I answered the wrong question for Module A during trials and got 12/20, which was demoralizing.


My #1 Problem in Years 11 & 12

In Year 11, my greatest problem was my disorganisation!

I had very poor time-management and was easily distracted, which led to me falling behind at school.

So, in Year 12 I took steps to change my study strategy.

This is what worked:


Step 1: Using a daily study planner/to-do list

By not having a daily to-do list in Year 11, I usually left all my homework until the day before it was due, and occasionally had to resort to foolish measures (like copying answers from the back of textbooks). By starting to follow a to-do list in Year 12, I always had something to do, which overall made me more productive.

In Year 12, at the end of each day, I wrote a to-do list for tomorrow, before I went to bed.

Even when you lack the desire to study, even blankly working through your to-do list will benefit you to an extent. As opposed to procrastinating, which gets you nowhere!


Step 2: Find a good study environment with minimal distractions

Mainly studying at home, in my room, I was often easily distracted by my computer and phone, which made me lose track of time and stop work.

I found it easier to study at the library. Some libraries have study rooms which you can reserve, and naturally, you would be more wary of the time you waste procrastinating.

If the library is inconvenient, try a sibling’s room, living room or an unfamiliar area.

Occasionally, I went to a Matrix campus after school because it was less crowded than the local library.


Step 3: Use the holidays to make notes in advance

This is, for me, the most important piece of advice I can give!!!

In Year 11, I made notes at the same pace the content was covered at school. Which I came to think was ineffective and defeated the purpose of notes. Writing the notes took up lots of time that I could have better spent on revising them.

In Year 12, I prepared most of my notes in advance during the holidays (eg. in term 1 holidays, I would finish my notes for Term 2),. This introduced me to unseen concepts and theories earlier. Ultimately freeing up more of my time during the term for revision.


My Study/Exam Strategies

I found it beneficial to prepare notes/learn the course content during holiday breaks, prior to the upcoming term. By doing this, you’ll be ahead of your peers when school resumes, and you can consolidate your knowledge while others learn concepts for the first time.

I recommend taking the Matrix Holiday Courses, as they cover an entire term’s worth of content beforehand, in 3-hour lessons over 9 days. It helps to keep you productive during the holiday, a time where you may lack the motivation to study.

If that’s not for you, you could also try out the Term Courses, which are usually still ahead of school but are delivered weekly.

Both the Holiday and Term courses ensure that you go through the course content twice, adding depth to your knowledge.

During school terms, I spend most of my time reading the notes I’d developed over the holidays, and working on past papers.

Here is how I managed my time:


My routine during the holidays:

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  • After the lesson, I would spend 1-2 hours writing my Economics notes for the upcoming term.
  • I’d spend 1 hour reading through my prescribed English texts.
  • The next morning, I would finish my Matrix Physics homework from last day’s lesson, refreshing my mind and preparing myself for the upcoming lesson.
  • I’d take a break from studying on Sunday.

Image: A picture from Tim’s study timetable in the week leading up to the HSC

My routine during the term:

  • I would usually start studying at 5 pm. Which gave me time for a short break after I get home from school.
  • I did 1-2 hours of Maths work from the school textbook (at my own pace – usually ahead of school).
  • I’d have dinner and procrastinate until around 9 pm.
  • I’d read through my notes for Physics and Economics at a considerably leisurely pace, knowing I’d alleviated stress through my holiday preparation.

Dealing with stress and anxiety

I tried managing stress and anxiety by giving myself plenty of study breaks.

Studying too much is unhealthy, puts you under prolonged stress, and may lead to exhaustion and “burnout”.

I used the following method:

  1. For every 25 minutes of studying, I took a 5-minute break (this is commonly known as the Pomodoro technique).
  2. On top of that, I took 30-60 minute breaks every 2 hours.
  3. I took Saturday and Sunday afternoons off studying (unless there was an upcoming exam or something important).
  4. Also, because I made subject notes ahead of the term, I felt that I didn’t have big workloads during school, compared to most others.

My Study Exam Strategies

When exams were approaching, I tried to prepare for them at least 3 weeks in advance.

Obviously, the effectiveness of study strategies varies depending on subjects and personal preferences. But this is what worked for me:


Since the Advanced English syllabus has changed for 2019, this may be irrelevant – but I memorised a creative piece of writing that can be modified to suit the exam question, and a generic essay for each Module (editor’s note – the new 2019 English syllabus won’t allow this approach). In the exam, I changed up my generic essay, modifying certain ideas, and using different quotes to better suit the question.



For Maths Ext 2, I would go through past papers and attempt the harder questions 13-15, as well as re-do textbook exercises for topics I struggled with.

For Maths Ext 1, I went through past papers. To prepare for the HSC I did them under a 1 hour 20 min time limit.

I made a list of careless errors, which I read through before an exam to make sure I didn’t make the same mistakes again.


Image: An excerpt from Tim’s log of common mistakes



For Physics, I read through my Matrix Theorybook, making sure I understand everything, before doing past papers. I didn’t write notes for this subject as the Theorybook from the Matrix Physics courses are highly detailed and contain everything essential, in a very organised format.


Image: A page of Tim’s Matrix Physics Theorybook with his class notes.



For Economics, I made essay plans for major topics, to prepare for the extended response questions. Also, after reading my summary notes, I wrote shorter, concise notes (basically notes of notes), which was more efficient to revise with and saved reading time.

As an example, here are how my syllabus notes for 1 subtopic looked compared to the shorter, condensed notes.

I actually cut down my notes even further, but this should get the point across:


Image: Tim’s comprehensive economics notes



Image: Tim’s shortened economic notes for study

My Regrets

I had many regrets during Year 12, so if I could start the year again, there are many things I would change:

  • I would pick up more extracurricular activities and sport. My school life in Year 12 was heavily unbalanced, and I contributed to the school far less than most of my peers. As a result, I become unmotivated and noticed a lack of focus when it came to studying. I also ended up not using any of the extra time gained effectively.
  • I would sleep more. Throughout the year I aimed for 7 hours of sleep, but too often, I’d only get 2-5 hours because of heavy procrastination. This would ruin my study routine for the next day, making me study at night, which I felt was less effective as I was more tired and had less focus.
  • I would seek more help from teachers. I didn’t appreciate how much assistance and support they could provide until after I completed the HSC.

My Advice to Future Year 12 ‘Subject’ Students

Things you must do:

  • Develop a study routine and stick to it (e.g. to-do lists). For time management, a to-do list helps keep you on track and makes sure you get important work done every day. Don’t make this too rigid, allow extra time for unexpected events and breaks.
  • Read all questions carefully. Before an exam, revise NESA’s Glossary of Key Words, and understand for example the difference between keywords (eg. explain, evaluate, analyse).
  • Keep a positive mindset. Thinking optimistically is important especially due to the stress and anxiety of Y12. Find sources of motivation – your parents, siblings, teachers, etc. that inspire you to work hard and do well.Enter the room feeling confident that you’ll do your best and answer everything you can, regardless of whether you’ve revised enough – you don’t need to get a perfect score in every test.

Things you must never do:

  • Dwell over bad results. Getting an exam back with a lower score than you expected may be upsetting, but let it motivate you to catch up and do better in the next assessment task. There’s plenty of time for improvement as assessments usually increase in weighting as the year progresses.
  • Drop extracurricular activities to focus on studying. Good mental/physical health is necessary as it makes your studying more efficient and improves focus.
  • Leave work until the last minute. Doing so adds high levels of stress, and staying up late/all night to rush work damages your health, so make sure This shouldn’t be a problem if you have an organised study routine.

Thanks for reading my tips. Good luck with Year 12!


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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