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Tracy’s Hacks: From 60% to 90% in English Adv to Score a 97.85 ATAR

In this article, Tracy shares how she went from 60% in her school assessments to 90% in one term.

Are you doing badly in English and doubt you can turn it around? In this article, East Hills Girls student and Matrix Alumnus Tracy Kuo shares how she went from 60% to 90% in English Adv to score a 97.85 ATAR!


Me, myself and I

Tracy Kuo

East Hills Girls Technology High School

University Course:
Bachelor of Applied Science (Physiotherapy) at USYD


My HSC Subjects

CourseExam MarkAssessment MarkHSC MarkBand
English (Advanced)9283885
Maths Extension 1959595E4
Maths Extension 2909090E4

I performed the best in Mathematics Extension 1 and 2 because I really enjoy using the logical side of my brain and it intrigues me how a simple question can have a complex solution – just like our life problems. Because of this, I was able to appreciate the thought of thinking outside-the-box and understand things from different views which was be applied to my perspectives of the world.

I performed the worst in English during school because I found it difficult to articulate myself and ideas onto a piece of paper.

As I was born in another country, my English was not the best compared to my peers and I disliked writing essays and my marks were inconsistent.

I started to make a lot of progress in my marks during mid-year 12 when I finally figured that my weakness was poor articulation skills. I decided to change my study method and improve that weak spot– tracking down as many sample essays from as many different schools as I could and also collecting sample answers from the past HSC and Trial HSC papers. Because of this change and hard work I was able to achieve a high exam mark in my HSC.


Coping with the HSC – How I managed my time


During the holidays

I would attend Matrix’s accelerated class for Physics and Chemistry as I knew I would procrastinate during the precious free time I have. I figured that it would be in my best interest to attend the lessons and get ahead of school in the syllabus and, honestly, it really helped a lot.

The resources provided by Matrix such as their Theorybooks, homework and online materials aided my studies throughout the whole holiday. I was able to understand the contents thoroughly and it enhanced my ability to study at a faster pace since the holiday courses are pretty intense. After the lessons, I would complete the allocated homework and if I had enough time, I would start preparing notes on the computer on the contents I’d learnt that day.

During the weekend, I would have English and Maths tutoring for revision. After these classes, I would further study for Physics and Chemistry on different days, reviewing what I have done for the past week to refresh my memories and also finish the notes for the theories I had not covered.


During the term

Honestly, I didn’t have a strict timetable throughout my whole HSC – I only studied for the allocated subjects after I have completed my school work/assessment.

For example, on Monday I would study for Chemistry and English. I am the type to not stick to one plan and so that’s why I’d have two study schedules – the variety would keep me somewhat entertained and so as to not get sick of one particular schedule.


My Study Schedule


Image: My study timetable

Since my schedule during the holidays was quite intense, I allowed myself to study lightly on some days during the week so I could recover before burning out.

Also, having notes before trials, HSC or any other exams was very helpful for me as I tend to study on the last minute – and what I meant by that was studying a night or two before exams!

I would print out a copy of the note that contains relevant information for the exam and highlight the important parts that must be remembered. I also tend to forget some details in the notes and I would write it down on a sticky note and place that on the first page of my notes so that I could remember what I needed to look for when I reviewed the notes.


How I dealt with stress and anxiety?

There were many ways to relieve stress for me. One of the main ways was to go out and have fun.

Once a week, I would hang out with my group of friends or family to have a dinner or doing activities such as watching movie, ice skating or bowling as it allowed me to temporarily escape the pressure placed on me during the HSC.

It really did help me mentally as I was constantly stressed over my rankings and my scores as I come from a relatively low-ranking school compared to selective schools.

Another way for me to cope with stress was crying – it may sound like an unorthodox way but it really did help me to get through. Crying was a way for me to let out my emotions that I had bubbling away – be it anger, stress, or fear – and let me hit the reset button for a fresh start.

I definitely had a lot of anxieties throughout HSC – let it be worrying about rankings, marks, and also dealing with the fear of not being able to get into the course I wanted. One of the best ways I dealt with it was talking to someone supportive. Their words were very encouraging and motivated me to do well and embrace my fear, pushing me forward to do better next time with a positive thinking.


Overcoming my #1 Problem in Years 11 and 12 – From 60% to 90% in English Advanced

My number 1 problem during both year 11 and 12 was English.

I realised that I did not put as much effort into this subject that I knew was my weakest and was the only 2 units that must be counted toward the ATAR.

I really understood this mistake after my second assessment for the HSC – and it was pretty late of me to notice. I received 60% in that assessment and it honestly shocked me, I didn’t accept that and initially ended up blaming the teacher who marked my paper.

It was later when I realised that it was my mistake for not putting enough effort in and running away from a subject that I disliked.

That was the moment where I decided to step up.

In my next assessment, I achieved 90%. Yes, it increased by 30%!

A big jump for a person that disliked English. You may wonder what kind of special tricks I used, but it’s very simple.

Let me tell you what how to do the same.


Step 1: Always show drafts to your teachers

Teachers are there for a purpose, they want to help you!

Ask them to review your draft for essays or where you made a mistake in the exam and how you could improve them.

During my HSC, I literally pestered my teacher for feedback on my drafts and my essays I wrote during the exams. You need to take advantage of what you have.

You can also ask other English teachers in your school to review your work and that’s what I did – this allows you to see what different teachers look for in exams and help you to develop a piece of writing that is suited for the markers in HSC.

Yes, I came from a low-ranking public school and may have thought that my teacher was not the most trustworthy person. However, I came to realise that that was the wrong perspective to have. After each assessment, I asked him to review my work and he always gave me harsh feedback and this was something that I used to improve my English.

I used his criticism to my advantage – changing my essays in areas that sometimes seemed minute and but ultimately made my points stronger.

By using this method I was able to achieve an exam mark of 92 in my HSC.

Step 2: Don’t follow the flow!

One of my mistakes was to follow the flow. The information and resources provided by the teachers can be limited and this can lead to everyone using the same information and writing the same essays with the same idea.

Teachers definitely get bored of reading the same thing over and over again. And if you follow this flow, your essay is not going to be outstanding and interesting for the markers.

Different ideas grab the markers’ attentions and this could put you at an advantage position especially within your cohort.

Instead, EXPLORE! Use the internet! Ask other friends from other schools for their resources if they are doing the same thing!


Step 3: Read the question properly!

Always read the question properly and underline important keywords! USE THEM! They are worth more than you may think.

Yes, you may think this is an easy and obvious job but it’s harder than you think. There are people out there that don’t read the question properly and brain dump their quotes and analysis or the whole essay that that they’d crammed into their head .

You may have great ideas and analysis, you may have a great pre-prepared essay, you may have great articulation skills but if you don’t read and answer properly, all those skills are wasted.


My Study and Exam Strategies

You should find a method that suits you the best. Don’t look at another people’s method and follow theirs unless it benefits you. Just because someone achieved a great result from using the method doesn’t mean it will suit you and benefit you in any way.

The following strategies were the ones I used during HSC and I hope you find them useful.



Write and edit essays

For every single module that I did, I always produced many essay drafts. It took a long time to write them but they came in very handy during trials and HSC.

Remember to always edit your essays, they can never be perfected. Try to aim for a generic essay with strong points – it’s very hard to achieve this as the quotes and analysis you use have to be selected properly and this takes a while to do. You should always ask your teachers for advice and feedback. They will become your best friend on that.


Have organised notes

English is a heavy content subject. There are a lot of things to note down and if your notes are messy, you can easily miss out a strong point that can be used in your essay.


Image: My English notes



Note down what you need to change

As I said before, your teacher would be your best friend in reviewing your essays and giving feedback. They will tell you which parts to improve on and suggests some points that you could use.


Don’t use the same document to reform your essay because you WILL forget where you made the mistakes.I would always note the mistakes down and write another new essay on another document so I can remember where I went wrong.


Image: One of my draft English essays

This method helped me to improve my ability to articulate fluently which was something that I lacked in before. It is a good strategy for those who want to remember their mistakes in writing essays.




Maths is always about applications and the only way to get better at it is to practice them. Maths is a subject that requires a lot of practice before mastering it – you cannot ace maths without a lot of practices.


Do a lot of questions from different sources

Doing many questions from different sources will definitely prepare you for any curveballs thrown at you by your school. You may think your school (especially for public) only tests you on the type of questions you’re used to but you are wrong. There will always be questions that are foreign to stuff you over. If you don’t want to come undone, you need experiences in doing many different types of questions that is structured differently.


Note formulas and memorise them

You should always have notes for our formulas. There are certain formulas that does not appear in the reference sheets and it is very important to note them as they could appear in any exam when you least expect them.

Additionally, try to remember as many formulas as you can because it saves your time looking through reference sheet for your formulas. Time is important during maths.




Simplify notes

The only thing that I did for my science subjects was to write notes (and of course past papers later on). But I simplified them to my liking. I dislike looking at chunks of information in paragraphs and it is a waste of time reading through them in a careful manner. You can even miss important points.


Image: My Physics notes


Usually, I would put extra information in boxes as relevant resource next to a dot point. It helped me to write excellent responses both Physics and Chemistry.


Image: My Physics notes


I put some information into flowcharts as it would be easier to understand them that way and a great way to review the theory in a faster manner. This note taking would be great for those who like to review their notes quickly and efficiently as it would be hard to miss information this way.


My regrets

I don’t have many regrets but the ones I regretted were big and these are:


Starting past papers too late

Yes, I started doing past papers very late and this led me to not doing enough past papers – I started doing it on the last week of holiday before the HSC and I managed to do only 4 past papers for every subject except maths. It was a very stupid mistake and I really wished I could turn back time to allow myself to redeem the faults. You may think you have a lot of time but things go by quickly during HSC. Keep an eye out on that.


I am a heavy procrastinator especially dealing with the things I dislike. English. I always left my assignment to the last minute and honestly, I wanted to change that. It caused so much stress and anxiety on me that I lost many hours of sleep for it.

If I did not procrastinate then maybe everything would’ve been different – I could have had a healthy lifestyle throughout my HSC and not been so stressed about assessments.


My advice to future Year 12 students

One of my tips for future year 12s is DON’T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF to the point you are burnt out!

Being burnt out during the term would definitely be a bad situation as that tends to cause an individual to lack in motivations and procrastinate at a higher level. I would definitely recommend to have occasional breaks during the week (it can just be one full day of chilling out or half a day doing nothing) to refill the burnt fuel in the brain and have a fresh start.

Another important thing I would advise is to understand how the HSC works. Know what external (exam) and internal (assessment) marks are and how they work. It will surprise you that there are many students that doesn’t know how it works and honestly, I think it is a good thing to learn because it will help you to get the result that you want – especially for those coming from a low-ranking public school.

Overall, follow what you want to do. Don’t let others influence you. I know there are many of you that are pressured by your parents to do well but at the end of the day, who will be sitting for the HSC? YOU. I know it’s hard. You NEED to stand up for yourself and DO the things that you LOVE, not what they do.

Remember, at the end of the day ATAR does not determine who you are – you choose to be who you are and that’s what matters. Your progress throughout the year is more than you think – you develop into the best person you can be and that’s what matters more than your academic results.

As you go through HSC, your relationship with your classmates becomes stronger and you should cherish those bonds and enjoy the moment you spent with them.

Finally, always believe in yourself and strive to be a better version of yourself. Your only enemy is yourself.


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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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