Adam, what made you the most anxious about tackling your HSC exams, and how did you deal with the stress?
The things I found most worrying were the uncontrollable things, such as what the question would be, how the marker would mark my work etc. However, I realised quite early that there wasn’t much point stressing about things that I had no ability to affect. My PE teacher used to say: ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’
Unlike some students, I had little idea about what I wanted to do after finishing high school. So, I resolved to work as hard as I possibly could, making lists to track my progress and feel like I was achieving something each day.
During the study break before the HSC exam, I went to the library every day to study. Working as hard as I could helped me to gain more confidence in myself, gave me a great perspective and reminded me that I will always be competing against myself, not anyone else.
Having stress is inevitable: it means that you are taking responsibility for your future. The HSC is and will be only one of many challenging obstacles in your life. Overcoming this obstacle will help you to gain resilience that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
What is the best piece of advice that was given to you regarding the HSC?
‘Study smart, not hard.’ I saw some people bludgeoning away at tasks and reading textbooks that were in no way contributing to their final mark. Figure out what study methods work best for you
and save time, and pursue those with vociferous intensity, but don’t go to exorbitant lengths for things that will only make a minimal difference to your result.
Did you try any study methods that really didn’t work?
For a while I tried to do work every single day during the week.
After a while, I was so burnt out and jaded that it was impossible to get anything productive done on some days, and I felt as if I could never escape NESA’s clutches. I would even dream about my exams!
So, I decided that I would have either a Friday or a Saturday off. I would watch the football, play cricket or catch up with friends, and not think about school at all. This meant that I wasn’t focusing on exams the whole time, and was maintaining the other things that I found enjoyable.
Did you have a habit you repeated every single day while the HSC was going on?
When at home, I used to take my dog for a 5km run around the golf course. It was great for purging my mind of the academic haze of studying and gave me a goal to beat beyond the school environment. I also often used to visit the gym late at night (sometimes at 1 or 2am!) after a day of studying, because it gave me a break from work before I went to sleep. Many people did lots of different things beyond the world of school: it is important to have such a thing to help you not feel so lost when you’re studying for such a long period of time.
During the study break before the HSC, I woke up at 6:30am and studied from 7:30am to 6pm, and took food breaks every two to three hours. For most days, my goal was usually to complete and mark three past papers from different subjects, and to revise an entire syllabus module. I would plan my week during the weekend beforehand and sort out the past papers into folders so that I’d have an idea of what I needed to complete. Since I was always at the library, one of my rituals when I felt unmotivated was to walk between the bookshelves. Even now, walking between shelves still reminds me of how little I know and hence motivates me to continue learning. However, as intense as my routine may sound, I didn’t forget to spend time with my family and friends. After a long day of studying, nothing would top a game of chess with my Old Man!
Fionn and Adam (centre, holding copies of their book) with some of the top achievers that took part in the project.
What are your five tips for getting ready for the HSC, based on what you’ve learned from talking to the high-achieving students for this year’s Top Achievers project?
- PLAN. Studying without direction is like trying to find treasure without a map, you’ll waste a lot of time and effort and not make any money at the end of it! Set clear goals and work hard to achieve them. Even if you don’t finish everything for the day (most of our students said that they never actually achieved their full goals!), you have achieved something.
“Be realistic. Better to schedule less in a day and feel accomplished after having done extra, than to leave tasks incomplete and lose motivation.” – Jenny Wang, Legal Studies state ranker 2018
“In the school holidays, I tended to have the weekends off and study more intensively during the week. Throughout the HSC I found that I studied most optimally in the morning, so during the week I would study for 4 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon, leaving the rest of the day to relax and participate in social activities.” – Lucy Stevenson, PDHPE and EES state ranker
- BE AMBITIOUS. The defining factor from all of our top-achieving students was a desire to perform extremely well. The HSC rewards people who put the effort in. Set goals that you may not achieve because even if you don’t meet those heights you will have still done very well and have worked hard to achieve such a difficult goal. To borrow a couple of quotes, as my Year 9 Maths teacher used to say, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ The other quote is from Mary Poppins the Musical (one of my favourites) – “if you reach for the stars all you get are the stars... but if you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in!”
“Whilst it may seem inane to compare chasing ambitions to thriving in the HSC, the HSC really is a test of your limitations. By using a similar level of effort in your HSC as you would to achieve your ambitions, you will notice that not only will you thrive, but your confidence in achieving your ultimate goals will also rise remarkably.” – Varun Mahadevan, Music state ranker
- PRACTICE! You can do all the memorising and revising in the world, but if you don’t know how to sit an exam, the indifferent and faceless body of NESA won’t reward you. The unfortunate fact is that they have no way to gauge your worth except for what is on the paper. Use past papers, school resources and questions from the textbook to put your skills to the test, in a way as similar to the HSC as possible. This is very important in subjects such as the sciences and maths, but also relevant to the humanities, where the process of writing is the way that you communicate your knowledge to the marker. Start out by writing full responses and then do the same under timed conditions. However, I found that even planning how I could answer a question was great at saving time, testing my memory and initiating me in the process of the exam. So, test out your skills!
- PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE. The HSC is important, yes, and I won’t lie to you, there are plenty of times where it wasn’t really that fun either! But the best thing you can do is realise that it’s a part of life that everyone goes through, and that you will come out the other side as an adult with the whole world at your feet. There are plenty of ways to get where you want to go, so don’t think that your life is over with one bad result!
“You get out of the HSC what you want to get out of it, so don’t feel as if you had to push yourself harder than you want to. There’s no point punishing yourself to get somewhere you don’t even want to go. Take the time to zoom out, to question what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and put it all in perspective.” – Fionn Parker, HSC All Rounder
- SLEEP! This is so important, as all the top achieving students agree...
“Many people used to ask me how I was able to achieve as much as I could in a day. The key is that a well-rested mind is far more productive and able to learn a great deal more than one that is deprived of sleep.” – Jesse Wright, Physics start ranker 2018
“Never stay up late, it is much more productive to get enough sleep so you can stay alert for the next day rather than trying to overload your brain with information.” – Alexandra Christopoulos, Biology state ranker 2018
“Sleep is extremely important for a healthy, functioning body and an active mind. Getting enough sleeps every day boosts productivity and the amount of information you retain from studying.” – Zoe Zhang, first in Modern History 2018
“Make sure you sleep 7 to 9 hours. The dux of my school slept at 10pm and woke at 6am. You know people who study little because they just get things? It’s because they sleep and their brain is switched on.” – John Bivell
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