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What To Do 7 Days before Your HSC Exams

This is what you must be doing in the seven days leading up to your HSC.

Your HSC exams are coming up. Things are beginning to get real. But, do you know how to prepare for HSC Exams? So what do you do to quell the panic and maximise your marks?  In this guide, we will give you six must do practices to help you make the most of the 168 hours leading up to your HSC exams.


1. Get Organised

As the hours tick down to the HSC exams, you’re working against the clock and must be organised. But with so many subjects to study for, and such a range of information and skills to brush up on, where do you start? Let’s have a look.


Identify your strengths and weaknesses

If you’re going to study effectively over a short time period, then you need to target the weakest subjects the most. To do this, you need to be honest with yourself at these moments.

It can be hard admitting to yourself that you’re not good at something, but it’s important to do this if you want to improve.

You need to ask yourself:

1. What subject is my worst?

2. What gains can I expect to make in this subject?

3. What subjects are my other weaknesses?

4. What is the order of my proficiency, from weakest to strongest?


If you’re struggling to figure out how to rank your subject performances, go to your most recent assessment results or the previous couple of terms’ report cards. Those marks will make clear your abilities in those subjects. You must use these to rank the order of urgency that you have for studying those subjects. You will need to invest more time in subjects that you struggle with, but it is important that you work hard enough to maintain the subjects you do well in.


Make a study timetable for the week

How do you do this? Let’s have a look at a couple of different scenarios.

Let’s imagine a student called Katrina. Katrina is doing 12 units for the HSC.

She’s studying:

  • Mathematics Extension 1 (3 units)
  • Chemistry (2 Units)
  • Economics (2 Units)
  • English Advanced (2 units)
  • English Extension 1 (1 Units)
  • Indonesian Continuers (2 Units)

Katrina’s recent marks are:


Table: Katrina’s Marks
Subject Term 2 Term 3 Trials
Maths Ext 1
92% 90% 84%
84% 91% 92%
80% 83% 79%
95% 94% 92%
Eng Ext 1
95% 92% 93%
Ind Continuers
68% 72% 75%

Katrina’s best subject is English. She’s doing well in both English 2U and Eng Ext 1. However, she is struggling most with Indonesian. She’s doing a little better in Economics. She is doing consistently well in Chemistry. Her Mathematics results started off well, but are starting to slide. So, ranking her subjects in order of priority would give her:

  1.  Economics
  2.  Indonesian Continuers
  3.  Maths
  4.  Chemistry
  5.  English Adv and Ext 1

Katrina is doing 12 Units and so has 2 units spare. The HSC will only take the top 10 units for her ATAR. She doesn’t want to completely fail Indonesian – she’d like a reasonable mark in her HSC for it – but she knows that it’s more important to nail her other 4 subjects. Katrina is also in the school play as the lead, so she needs to make two rehearsals during the week. She also sings in her local church choir. She writes a study timetable for seven days that reflects all of these demands:

Image: Katrina’s 7 Days to go Study Rhythm


Now let’s look at another student.

Raj is doing 10 units for the HSC.

He’s studying:

  • Mathematics Advanced (2 units)
  • Physics (2 units)
  • English Advanced (2 Units)
  • Chemistry (2 Units)
  • Biology (2 units)

His marks for the past couple of terms are:

Subject Term 2 Term 3 Trials
Table: Raj’s Marks
88% 80% 86%
92% 90% 91%
Eng Adv
75% 80% 79%
82% 85% 78%
72% 75% 79%

Clearly, Raj’s best subject is Physics. Maths is his second strongest. Followed by Chemistry, but his marks are dropping here. He’s doing roughly the same in Biology and English. Ranking Raj’s subject in order of priority we see he needs to focus on:

  1.  Biology
  2.  English
  3.  Chemistry
  4.  Mathematics
  5.  Physics

Raj only has 10 Units. This means he must do well in all subjects, as they all count to his ATAR. He must plot his timetable to maximise his marks.

Raj is the drummer in the school band. He still has to rehearse, so he needs to incorporate that into his timetable also. He has 8 hours where he can study effectively in on days without band and 7 when he has band practice. He also has a sporting commitment for 2 hours on a Sunday.  His timetable is:


Image: Raj’s 7 Days to go Study Rhythm

Obviously, some students will be like Katrina and have 12 units to study for going into the HSC. While others will be like Raj and only have 10 units. Regardless of how many units you are doing, you need to plan out a study timetable that reflects how you are doing in your subjects.


2. Prioritise: Target Your Weaknesses

You’ve organised what subjects you need to study and when. But now you need to be precise with what you study for each subject. So, how do you do this? You prioritise!

It is important that you be specific for what parts of the subject you struggle with. Do you kick arse with quadratic equations but struggle with probability – you need to focus on studying probability. Get consistent Band 6 results for essays in English, but struggle to get Band 4 for your creatives – then you need to practice writing creatives.


Make yourself a list like this:

Table: Identifying Weaknesses
Subject English
Strongest Area – 1 Mod B – TS Eliot
                             2 Gatsby / Browning
                             3 AOS Short Answers
                             4 Go Back to Where You Came From
                             5 AOS Creative
Weakest area – 6 Mod C – Henry IV pt 1

By breaking down the subject like this, you can pinpoint where you are weakest and what you need to focus your study on. For example, if this is you then you may only write one practice essay for TS Eliot, but you should produce several for Mod C – Henry IV!

You must use this to weight your study to time towards your weaknesses. Then, when you are revising for a subject, you can use that to allocate time to each subject area. If Raj has 13 hours that he can allocate to Biology, knowing his weaknesses means that he knows he can allocate 4 hours throughout the week to his weakest area.


3. Organise Your Notes to Study Efficiently


Now you’ve got your priorities straight, you need to make sure that your notes are accessible! You can’t study if your notes are not organised. With seven days to go, it is important that you are efficient in your approach to revision. Compile your notes by subject and topic.


For Humanities subjects

Ones that are essay focused like History, English, and Legal Studies, you should try and transcribe the crucial parts of your notes into tables. Ideally, you will have done this throughout the year. But it’s worth spending a couple of hours doing it if you haven’t. Transcribing will help you memorise and clarify the information you need to learn.

Table: How to keep your humanities analysis and notes
Theme/ Character Example Technique Effect Research
What to do
Develop your notes by theme or character
Present a quotation or example from your text




Identify the technique and describe how it is used




Explain how the technique develops your understanding of the ideas in the example




Try to look for scholarly articles. Look for what do others say about this theme or example from the text? Do others agree or disagree with you?

Wikipedia is a good place to start your research, but it can be unreliable and inaccurate. After reading a Wikipedia article, you must check the sources and read those articles.

Wikipedia articles should include further reading, these are ideal places to continue researching.

Note down your findings and keep track of the various references.

“The Difficulty of Year 11”
Year 11 English is like scaling a mountain.


The use of “like” signifies this is a simile


This compares Year 11 English to climbing a large mountain. This argues that Year 11 is hard and requires a lot of careful preparation.


25th June: People say Year 11 English is hard. others argue that universities require to study specific units of English and achieve specific marks. I must find out why that is, to develop my notes further.

28th June: The Matrix blog states that “The English Advanced Modules are more complex and demanding than the English Standard Modules.” (

Example From Othello
Iago’s Villainy
Iago: And what’s he then that says I play the villain?  / When this advice is free I give and honest (2.3. 330-331) Rhetorical Question (hypophora – asks a question and immediately answers it) Iago is giving them logical and helpful advice. The use of hypophora is a manipulative technique. Answering the question he’s asked immediately means that Iago’s listeners aren’t given time to formulate an answer against it. 24th June: Not sure why Iago is evil?

26th June: Found a quote by R.Berry: “This is of the same order as the grotesquely
exaggerated hell-imagery in his speeches, which we should not take at face-value. Iago, in truth, likes to think of himself as evil, as the villain: he plays the role in capital letters.” Berry argues that Iago revels in his villainy and his concealment of it. (R. Berry 1972.


Once you have your notes, you then want to write practice essays. Practice essays will help you develop your subject knowledge and essay structure – two key skills you will be examined on.


Study tips from Matrix Subject Experts

Table: Matrix Teachers’ Top Tips
Dr Michelle Wong, Matrix Senior Biology Teacher Dr Peta Greenfield, Matrix English Coordinator Oak Ukritnukun, Matrix Senior Maths Teacher
During the first two days do 2-3 past papers in full.

Mark them and find the areas you are weakest at.

Take note of where marks were awarded in the questions, especially if they were awarded for things you didn’t expect.

Look over more past papers.

For each paper:

1. Only attempt questions that you have not encountered before, or questions from your weakest areas. Again, take note of the marking criteria and where marks were awarded.

2. Skim over the marking criteria for all questions, including areas you are good at. Take note of any places where marks were awarded for things you didn’t expect, and see if you can spot things that are consistently awarded marks across many papers.

3. Take plenty of rest and sleep well

My 7 Day study guide for English is to set aside 2-3 hours a day.

1-2 hours for re-reading the text.

1 hour to build up the study notes as they go.

I also recommend reading parties, where everyone gets together and reads silently in the company of others. This reinforces your reading practice.

Keep a small notebook of formulas and rules and how they are applied to each type of question;

Practice questions according to the level of difficulty – start with the simpler material from Year 11 and build up to the harder questions from Year 12;

Study past errors and mistakes to reinforce your skills and improve. This is crucial!Practice past papers. If you’re confident with your skills, focus on the final two questions from each past paper. These will make the largest impact on your marks.

Take plenty of rest and sleep well!

4. Do Past HSC Papers

In the final weeks before the HSC, you need to tackle as many past HSC papers as you can. At the bare minimum, you should find time to do at least one past paper for each of your subjects in the final week!

Past Papers for all subjects can be found on the NESA website Here. NESA posts the past papers and solutions and marking centre notes.

The following links will take you to the Past Papers for 2016 and their marking centre notes and solutions:

Doing past papers productively

When practising the papers, do the following:

  1. Mimic exam conditions – set a timer, turn off the phone and computer, put away your books.
  2. Stick to the time limit. Answer as much as you can of the paper before time runs out. Make note of where you ran out of time.
  3. Finish the paper.
  4. Move on to a new subject and come back to paper the next day.
  5. Mark the paper according to Marking centre rubrics, solutions, or notes.
  6. Make note of what you did well at and what you did poorly at.
  7. Find more questions like the ones you struggled with from other past papers and do them over the following days.
  8. Sit another practice paper.


5. Look After Yourself

You are a human, not a machine. No matter how much you try, your brain won’t maintain a strong focus on studying unless you give it time to rest. You need to fuel and rest your grey-matter to keep it working at peak performance.

Here are some things you must do to aid your study retention:

• You should aim for blocks of 45 – 50 minutes. You’ll struggle to retain information if you work in longer blocks.

• Take 10-minute breaks. You don’t need to interrupt your study dramatically but you should get up from your desk and walk around and eat some food.

• Stay hydrated and fuelled. Make sure that you eat and drink consistently. Your brain needs food and water to function.

• Get exercise. You need some exercise each day. This could be a walk around the block or a jog, or a half hour doing yoga or playing sport. Your body needs to be healthy to allow your brain to function well. Exercise is a great way to clear your head. Don’t overdo it, though. Running a marathon the Sunday before an exam will leave you very fatigued!

• Talk to people. The HSC is stressful! You will have hopes and fears. Make sure you discuss these with your friends and family rather than bottling things up. You won’t perform at your best if you are crippled with anxiety and stress.

• Sleep well. Late nights and early mornings are a recipe for disaster in the week before an exam. You need to have consistent sleep to function properly. Make sure you are getting around 8 hours sleep a night in the week before your HSC exams.

• Do some mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that teaches you how to relax and how to focus. It is an excellent method to overcome stress and anxiety. You can find out more about it here.


6. Don’t Waste Time

With 7 days to go before your HSC exams, you don’t have the time to waste on television, video games, or YouTube. There will be plenty of time for that in the weeks after the HSC is over. Instead, try to utilise as much of your time as you can for study. Here are some ideas for how to do this:

• Get up at a reasonable time. Don’t stay in bed till noon – you’re not a vampire, are you?

• Rather than trawling through social media before bed, use it as an opportunity to read through your notes, a past essay, or a creative.

• Use travel time as an opportunity to read. Public transport is a great opportunity to work through your study material. You can read notes on the train or bus. You can solve problems and equations while you’re sitting waiting for the bus!

• When you go to the library with your mates, don’t waste time talking and mucking around, work together.


7. Don’t Leave it to the Last Minute!

It’s very important to establish a study rhythm and put the hammer down during the final week before the HSC. But it is important that you study consistently throughout the final weeks before the HSC. You want to use the final week before the HSC to polish your skills and knowledge, not to build them.

Matrix students develop strong study habits during the HSC Prep courses that give them confidence going in to their HSC exams.

We hope this blog and the links provided are a useful resource in preparing you for your HSC exams, and in achieving your academic ambitions.

Want to Learn More Top Study Habits?

Not sure how else to improve your study habits and marks at school. You must read our High School Survival Guides! We’ve produced an in-depth and detailed guide to help students and parents navigate each year of High School. Each guide contains an explanation of what the year ahead entails and how it differs to previous years. We’ve included useful hints, tips, and links in each guide to help you study smarter and not harder.

Written by Patrick Condliffe

Patrick has a Bachelor of Arts (Hons. 1st Class - Australian Literature) from USYD. His poetry, short stories, and essays have been published online and in print and he regularly reviews film and other media. Patrick is the editor of the popular Matrix blog and has been an English teacher at Matrix since 2012.


© Matrix Education and, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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