[ This post was created for students completing their final years of high school BUT can be applied for any level of schooling/ university/ college. My sister & I put together our best tips and what helped us achieve high marks. Sami got an ATAR of 97.6 and I got an ATAR of 94.4, placing us in the top 3% and 5% of the state. I hope this helps!]
1. Choose the Right Subjects.
- Pick the subjects that you enjoy. There is a misconception that only the traditional high-scaling subjects such as Math Ext 2/ Chemistry/ Physics will allow one to get a high ATAR, however this cannot be further from the truth.
- Both Sami & I did humanities based subjects without maths or science, along with many top earning students. What is more important is how well you do in a subject, rather than the subject itself. You are more inclined to perform well in something you enjoy, so choose wisely.
- Don’t be swayed with what those around you say- it’s you who will be spending two years completing the subject so it’s imperative that you’re doing what’s best for YOU. Think about your strengths, what you want to do in the future, and what you think you will enjoy.
2. Create a Routine.
- Figure out what type of person you are: do you like to wake up in the morning to start your day early, or do you prefer to study once everyone is asleep? I used to wake up early to get study done in the morning and sleep at 10pm each night, while Sami didn’t start studying until mid-evening and finish around 12-1pm.
- Once you know what you prefer, structure your time to allow the most out of your day. Make a timetable like THIS, and set aside time for relaxing, eating, studying and a set bed-time each night. This will allow you to achieve balance in your day, train your mind into effortlessly switching to different modes, and decrease anxiety to make time for everything.
- Don’t leave anything to chance or ‘I’ll do it later/when I feel like it’ approach. Be pro-active and MAKE time for this.
3. Have a Study Space.
- Have a study space reserved solely for study. I would find a space in home where it is quiet, preferably has natural lighting, where you can put all your textbooks, folders, and study things. I would avoid using your bed to study as you’re more likely to drift off.
- If there isn’t such place in your home, consider going to a local library after school to do your homework/assignments.
- Tell everyone in your home: “This is my study space. GTFO.”
4. Be Organised and Plan.
- Have different folders/exercise books/ binders etc for each different subject or even multiple things for different subjects, such as a folder for homework, class work, assignments.
- After each day or week, organise your work into these categories so when it comes to exam or assignment time, you can easily find what you are looking for.
- Consider the use of dividers, colour-coding, plastic sleeves, post-it notes, whatever is necessary to keep you organised. Don’t waste time searching for things. Clutter in your life will result in clutter in your mind, and will put you off study.
- Invest in a planner of some sort, may it be a daily planner, wall calendar, desk calendar, phone calendar, whatever you prefer. This is where you put exam dates, assignment due dates, extra-curricular activities. Fail to plan = plan to fail!
5. Make Notes Regularly.
- After each topic, make notes of what they key information is. This is important when it comes to exam time, and you have already done the work throughout the year! It’s also a great way to learn the information and keep it fresh in your mind.
- Experiment to find out what works best for you: perhaps you prefer handwriting the notes, or typing on your laptop, or recording notes & playing it back on your music player. Try out everything.
- Share notes with your friends. This will fill in the blanks of your work, and get a wider range of perspectives.
- Once your notes are made, organise them using the abovementioned organisation methods! Your future self will thank you.
6. Do Practise Papers & Use Your Teachers
- Doing practise papers is an extremely effective method of testing and enhancing your exam ability. 50% of your final ATAR is a timed exam, usually 3 hours. These exams are stressful and not only examine how well you know the content, but also how well you can convey this knowledge in the timespan. By practising past questions in the allocated time, you improve the legibility of your writing and your capability to think under pressure. After practising questions, get it marked by teachers/ tutors. You’ll see what your strengths/ weaknesses are and focus solely on improving them.
- Establishing a relationship with your teachers will be very beneficial for you. It’s their job to teach you, help you and mentor you. Don’t be scared to ask them questions and to help you succeed. Ask them to review your work, what you should improve on, hand in drafts etc. They will be marking your work and they know what is required in assignments and exams.
7. Do Your Homework
- No matter how small it is, or how insignificant, make a habit of always completing your homework. This will help you revise the content at the same time and stay on top of your work. Doing your homework can also substitute for study for the day. It is also a good way to see holes in your understanding.
8. Have a Goal
- Don’t go through the HSC (or any year of schooling) without goals that you want to achieve. These goals determine your effort, your preparation, your outlook. Whether it be to get an ATAR of 99 or 75, write it out and aim for it.
- Break this big goal into little daily, weekly and monthly goals. A daily goal could be “Finish all my homework and start on the assignment.” A weekly goal can be “Finish half of the assignment.” A monthly goal can be “Finish a quarter of the major work.”
- Whilst the big goal may seem overwhelming, breaking it into little goals/ daily & weekly to-do lists makes it all achievable. Take it in baby-steps.
9. Study SMARTER, Not Harder
- People often think that to get a great mark, you have to study for hours on end, and have no social life but this is definitely not the case. What is important is HOW and WHEN you study, not how much.
- By being organised, doing your homework, planning ahead, setting time aside, and figuring out what is the best method of note-taking for you, you’re already more effective than someone who blindly re-writes the textbook.
- Some great methods to retain information include: teaching someone the content, using diagrams, acronyms, pictures, stories etc, whatever helps you understand the content.
- Every night, revise what you have learnt that day, and transfer this information into your notes. Every week, revise that past week’s information and at the end of that topic, do a more thorough review.
- Understand the CONCEPTS. Make sure you’re at the stage where you can TEACH this to someone who has no idea. You should study so that when you’re in an exam, you can transfer knowledge to any question. This is why you should avoid memorising an essay blindly, as the examiners can ask you anything and you are marked on your understanding, not your ability to re-write.
10. Balancing Social Life + Being Healthy.
- The HSC does not mean you have to give anything up. It just means you have to balance all aspects of your life better. There is no reason for you to give up what you enjoy. If you implement the organisation methods, create yourself a routine, study smarter then there is no reason you can’t enjoy time with your friends and family.
- Having time to do what you enjoy and relax you is so important. Take a day or afternoon or morning off each week to get your mind off school/uni and focus 1000% on you.
- Create a support system of people you can speak to when you get stressed and overwhelmed. If you’re not coping, reach out to someone whom you can talk to.
- Getting fresh air, eating well and getting enough sleep is SO important. Make sure you’re nourishing yourself with fresh food and enough exercise. Even 15 minutes of fresh air makes a massive difference.
- If you’re constantly struggling to stay awake in class, make changes in your day. Establish a bed-time and avoid wasting too much time on social media.
- Aim for balance in all aspects of your life and take a deep breath.
> How To Take Notes / General Study Tips
> How to Stay Motivated
> How to Balance Life & Plan
> How to Stop Procrastinating
> Full Study Tips Page
I hope this helps & I wish you all the very best in your studies!