Unclutter Your Mind!

Towards the end of the year, it can feel like you have so much stuff to do, it can be overwhelming. The worst thing you can do is keep all that anxiety in your head.

Dump it all out of your brain and into a todo list.

You’ll be less likely to forget stuff, and it gives you some focus on what to tackle next. You’ll be surprised, once you have all the things you need to do in front of you, it can be eye-opening. I’ve found that in the past I’m not actually stressed out because I have too much to do, it was just one particular item that was getting me stressed. Once I identified it, I was able to prioritise it and take appropriate action.

There are so many options for to-do lists. You may prefer to go with something simple and just write down a list on a sheet of paper. Maybe you prefer to nerd out and get a serious task management app (MeisterTask is pretty awesome!). I guarantee you there is something to suit your needs, just don’t try and keep everything in your head.

Uncluttered workspace


Before you get down to business, you need to make sure the environment you’re going to be working in is fostering your productivity not hindering it. Try and get all your notes organised before you begin, the worst thing you can do is have a mountain of paper on your desk. The desk becomes uncomfortable to work on, and you can’t find any of the sheets you need!

I recommend getting your self a set of 4 folders for HSC Physics:

  • Three of the folder will be used for the core modules, i.e. one for Space, one for Motors and Generators, and one for Ideas to Implementations.
  • The last folder will be for your option topic.

The front few pages of each folder should have the relevant section of the syllabus.

When you’re looking for a particular set of notes, you won’t have to trawl through heaps and heaps of paper, just look through the relevant folder!

What do you want to achieve?

Now that your workspace is sorted, ask yourself what you want to achieve. Let’s get real for a minute – studying is really boring. Don’t get me wrong, I found the physics really interesting, but the actual studying part, going through the syllabus, and memorising things, I’ll be honest, it was mind numbingly boring.

If I didn’t have any motivation for studying I wouldn’t have, it’s just too boring! I’d rather have played Tennis, or video games.

The reason I was able to stay focused was because I had goals I really wanted to achieve! Goals that were meaningful to ME, not my parents and teachers. I was doing it for me.

Do you have a dream career path or a particular ATAR you’re aiming for? Whatever your goal is, make sure you have one, and that it means something to you!

You can find more about how to set goals here:

If you have a particular ATAR you’re aiming for you can find out how to use a reverse atar calculator here

Identify areas for improvement

Now, it’s time to go through each dot point and rate your understanding on a scale of 0 to 5:

0 = If I was asked this in an exam, I’d get 0.
1 = I might scrape a pity mark for mentioning the right word.
2 = I understand the gist of the dot-point, but am unsure of some parts.
3 = I know the answer, but can’t explain it to you.
4 = I can explain the answer, but I don’t know if I can write it down.
5 = If I was asked this in an exam, I would DEFINITELY get full marks.

Highlight any dot points which received a score less than or equal to 3.

We will attend to the dot-point which scored 4 and 5 later, for now, let’s prioritise the more urgent ones!


Before you just rush in head first, it’s worth considering why you found a particular dot point unclear. If you can identify why it was confusing the last time, you’re unlikely to run into the same pitfalls.

Was it due to tiredness when studying that part? Did you get confused in class? Is the textbook you used unclear?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, perhaps you need to consider using another source!

You’ll want to scrutinize your past exams in a similar fashion. There is a lot you can learn from errors you have made in the past. Do you frequently make mistakes with calculations? Are these mistakes in a particular topic, like projectile motion or special relativity. You need to examine where the mistakes are coming from and how you can prevent them.

How much time do you really have?

It’s really easy to overestimate how much time you have until the exam.

The HSC Physics exam is on the 31st of October in 2016. Here’s a handy dandy countdown timer for you.


That may seem like it’s quite a while away. It’s not. Trust me.

You don’t have one subject to study for, you probably have around 5 – if not more!

Whatever time you think you have, you can go ahead and divide it by at least 5. Now let’s be realistic, you have to eat and sleep, you’re not a 100% efficient studying machine, you’re a human!

Counting the weeks until your exam is a sure-fire way to mislead yourself, you’ll want to count in days and hours.

While school’s still on, you really only have a few hours each night to study. For most people, it’s probably around 2 hours. Let’s consider a scenario. You’re doing 5 subjects and have 50 days till the Physics exam.

50 days / 5 = 10 days
10 days * 2 hours = 20 hours

As you can see that’s not a lot of time.

“But school will finish and I’ll have more time to study!”

What I’d say is that the monkey brain we have evolved from is easily distracted. So don’t count on that extra time. This conservative estimate can be surprisingly accurate!

The good news is, there is one loophole you can exploit! This calculation doesn’t account for the time you have during school! The school term is coming to a close, and so is the teaching period. Before this occurs – in these final weeks – you’ll want to approach your teachers and clarify all the doubts you identified in your syllabus audit and in your error log.

If you’d like more details on precisely how you examine your errors, or if you’re unsure of what to ask your teacher, this article has got you covered.

The past paper misconception

One of the easiest way to get feedback on how prepared you are for the exam is to start doing past papers. That being said, don’t just try and smash through the papers year by year, they’re 3 hours long! Also, we have a finite amount, which means you don’t want to ‘waste’ them right now, but when you’re ready.

You don’t want to be doing an entire paper in one sitting. It’s too hard to stay focused for that long.

In the actual exam there’s pressure and consequences that can give you focus you never thought you had. That sort of pressure is very hard to replicate at home.

A fantastic approach is to complete the papers by module.

Studying by module is a clever way to exploit the limited time you have. There’s no reason you have to wait until you’ve finished studying all the modules. As soon as you’re done revising Space you can do all the space questions from a paper!

This way you can complete a module within 45 minutes. It’s a far more approachable way to complete past papers.

To help you out with that, we’ve compiled a master list of practice papers (with ANSWERS!!!) to help you get prepared

The plan of attack

Here’s a possible approach that would allow you to finish 7 past papers in 6 weeks, that’s 21 hours worth of exams!

Week 1 (Setting up):

  • Create todo list,
  • Set up workspace,
  • Identify goals,
  • Calculate time remaining.

Week 2 (What do I need to work on?):

  • Syllabus audit,
  • Clarify doubts with teachers,
  • Update todo list.

Week 3 (Mastering a Module):

  • 20 minutes studying troubling dot points from Module 1 each night,
  • Clarify doubts with teachers/coaches,
  • Complete 1 paper a night (Just one module of course! This should take 40-45 minutes tops. DO NOT do 3 hours of physics papers a night, this is unfeasible unless you’re a robot.)

Week 4 (Mastering a Module):

  • Same process as week 3, but for Module 2!

Week 5 (Mastering a Module):

  • Same process as week 3, but for Module 3!

Week 6 (Mastering a Module):

  • Same process as week 3, but for Module 4!

And there you have it! Tweak and rework and make your own in any way you feel!

Good Luck!

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Vamsi Srinivasan is looking to uncover the next hidden truth of the universe. He was so fascinated by the beauty of Physics and Mathematics during his HSC that he went on to study Physics at University. He is now in his second year of a dual degree in Physics/Computer Science. He loves physics and maths so much, he wanted to share his passion and has been an Art of Smart coach for the past 2 years. He’s helped coach students in physics as well as all ranges of HSC Maths from General to Extension 2. In his spare time you can find him watching Tennis or Formula 1 or perhaps listening to his favourite podcast ‘Hello Internet’.