You’re in Year 12.
You made it. You’re at the top of the school hierarchy.
However, when the fun subsides and the realisation kicks in, Year 12 can seem a lot more daunting that it initially did.
That’s when the questions start: How many hours should I be studying? What ATAR should I aim for? How can I stop procrastination? But how can I finish Fallout 4 and my HSC?
Having been there and done that, this article is the 10-Step Guide to Creating a Kickass Study Plan that can help turbo-charge your final year!3
Step 1: Set your Year 12 goals
“It is not enough to take steps which may some day lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Jon Hamm, Cathy Freeman, Neil Armstrong. What do you think they all had in common? They all set themselves a goal. Jon Hamm wanted to make it in Hollywood by the time he was 30, Cathy Freeman wanted to win gold at the Olympic Games and Neil Armstrong wanted to be the first man on the Moon.
Establishing a goal for Year 12 and the HSC is the foundation to a kickass Year 12 year.
Goal setting not only allows you to visualise your ideal future, but motivates you to transform your vision into a reality.
To help you create your 10-Step HSC Study Plan here’s a study timetable just for you!
What’s your ATAR Goal?
To figure out an ATAR goal, it’s a good idea to have a think about what you want to do in the future. Nowadays, there are a lot of different post-school options you can take:
- Tertiary education (e.g. university, TAFE, college)
- Straight into the workforce
- Apprenticeship (e.g. trades)
By Year 12, you might have some idea about what you might want to do in the future. If you have no idea, start by asking yourself what don’t you want to do.
When I was in Year 12, there was one thing of which I was absolutely certain: I would never have mathematics as the focus my career. This easily discounted a lot of careers for me: actuarial studies, accounting, mathematics, physics, chemistry… By asking myself what I didn’t want to do, I managed to narrow down what I wouldn’t mind doing: law, psychology, education, medicine, art history, literature, communications…
After figuring out most of the things I wouldn’t mind doing, I looked to the ATARs they required:
Back Up Course(s)
|Bachelor of Arts/Law at University of Sydney – 99.5||Bachelor of Arts/Law at Macquarie University – 96.00|
|Bachelor of Psychology at University of New South Wales – 98||Bachelor of Psychology at Macquarie University – 96.15|
|B. Communication/Arts (International Studies) – 85.25||Bachelor of Arts (International Communication) – 75|
I gathered that for any one of my chosen areas, that I would need anywhere from 86 to 99.5 as my ATAR. Although I was a high-80s/mid-90s+ student, 99.5 was still a little bit outside the purview of my capabilities (we’ll get to how you can figure this out in a second!), it was vital to consider two different ATARs:
- My realistic ATAR: 96.5
- My desired ATAR: 99.5
Your ATAR Goal is highly personal. For some of you, your ultimate goal in the HSC may be simply to receive an ATAR at the end of it all. For others, it might be a 99.95. Only you know what your goal will be.
- From highest to lowest, list the five different degrees/courses that you want to take, and what ATAR is required by them.
- Include a ‘backup’ course – what you would take if you didn’t get your first option – and what ATAR is required by that too.
- Figure out what your desired ATAR range is using the highest required ATAR and the lowest required ATAR.
Give yourself realistic expectations
Although you are setting yourself visionary goals, your goals need to be realistic. If you set your benchmark too high, without the will or the way to achieve that benchmark, you’re only really setting yourself up for disappointment. If you’re averaging 60 in all of your subjects, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to come out with a 99.95.
That’s where the Reverse ATAR Calculator can help.
A Reverse ATAR Calculator enables you to input your dream ATAR and it backward calculates the marks you need to aim for an achieve to make your dream ATAR a reality.
Of course, it’s never going to be 100% correct, but what it does is that it gives you is a clear goal mark for each of your subjects of what you need to achieve in Year 12!
At the end of Year 11, my calculated ATAR was 98.00, which wasn’t so bad considering that my backup for both Law and Psych were 96ish.
However, with closer inspection, my performance in both Latin Continuers and Latin Extension lacked a lot in comparison to most of my other marks.
How much would I need to improve by in order to get my dream 99.5? That’s when the Reverse ATAR Calculator kicked in!
Using the calculator, in order to get 99.5, I would need to pull my sock up in almost all areas by 2 or 3 marks, (except for Latin Continuers and Latin Extension… where I’d need to improve by at least 20ish marks…).
Was 99.5 impossible? Not if I worked hard!
By setting my goal, I knew what I could realistically expect to receive, and then what I could achieve if I spent the next year boosting my marks.
- Using a Reverse ATAR calculator input both your realistic ATAR and your dream ATAR and your subjects and work out the goal marks you need to achieve (both for your realistic and dream ATAR’s)
- Using the normal ATAR calculator spit in your current Year 11 marks and figure out what you current ATAR would be
- For each subject, write down how many marks you need to improve by to get from your realistic ATAR to your desired ATAR.
Step 2: Figure out how many hours you need to study
You know that kid who says they studied 6 hours last night? Either they exaggerated, or they’re wasting their time.
Over the last 8 years we’ve conducted research with thousand’s of students who scored an ATAR of over 98 to discover how they kicked ass at school.
What did we discover?
Students who score an ATAR of over 98 on average study 2-3 hours per night.
What’s more? This 2-3 hours of study was not just independent study.
In fact, these hours included homework, assessment preparation and study. Realistically, homework should only take a maximum of 90 minutes per evening, allowing for some time to do independent study (i.e. note writing, revision, specific study for the HSC).
Why do 98+ ATAR students only need to study for 2-3 hours per evening?
- They maximise their attention in class: Although messing around in class with your friends might be fun, it means that you have to effectively relearn content when you get home. By maximising your time in class, you are doing a majority of your work.
- They constantly revised content: Constant exposure to content allows for better retention of materials over an extended period of time. It also reduces the amount of pressure experienced before exams through adequate preparation, and creates self-discipline.
- Homework was about dealing with the difficult questions: Where class has been about learning information, homework is about application. After all, examinations aren’t about testing your knowledge, it’s about how you used that knowledge.
- Based on your ATAR goal and the marks you need to achieve identify how much study you believe you need to do each night.
- Write it down on a piece of paper.
Step 3: Get ahead at school – State Rankers #1 Study Tip
Although school is for learning, it is common knowledge amongst State Rankers that getting ahead is a technique which helps to forge top students. When an individual teaches a concept to someone (including themselves), they have the highest rate of information retention.
State Rankers #1 Study Tip for the HSC = Work 1 week ahead of school
Most people think that teachers are the only way you can learn content, however you may be pleasantly surprised to realise that most of your textbooks provide theoretical explanations behind concepts to be covered in the HSC.
Once you’ve tried to teach yourself a concept, class time can be spend consolidating that information, and smoothing out any kinks in your understanding.
- Identify the syllabus dot points for each subject that you’re likely to cover next week at school
- Spend 30 minutes each day going ahead and covering these syllabus dot points for your subjects
- Write down three questions you need answered by the teacher during class to clarify the concept.
Step 4: Set yourself study times on your calendar
One of the most difficult things that you will experience during the HSC is self-discipline; sitting down by yourself and studying because you said so.
As stated above, consistent study is one of the many keys to success, and setting yourself non-negotiable study times is key. By blocking in non-negotiable study time that you absolutely must do, you are developing self-discipline by giving yourself a routine and habitual behaviour.
Get a calendar out for your week and map out your study periods
Based on the amount of study time you identified in Step 2 that you need to do each day, on each day of the week write down your non-negotiable study session that you are going to do (we like to call it a ‘study training session’).
Work your existing habits – so if you know you come home from school and fall asleep, don’t try to schedule a study habit then. You’ll just fall asleep.
To help you organise your study time here’s a sample study timetable you can use!
Here’s an example of what your timetable might look like:
You don’t need to study for 3 hours straight
In fact, your study blocks should be short and sharp.
What you can do is set yourself two intervals of 25 minutes, with a 5 minute break in between. This is called the Pomodoro Technique, and it contains 4 basic steps:
- Decide on the task to be done (we will cover this in Step 7)
- Set your timer for 25 minutes
- Focus on that task for the next 25 minutes
- Take a short break for 5 minutes
Then you simply start the cycle again!
Here’s an online Pomodoro Timer you can use for your study sessions!
I’m a night owl, so I like to work late into the night, or early into the morning. This is when nobody disturbs me too. So how have I blocked out my non-negotiable study time?
It’s in my calendar, every morning, every weekday. I usually do about 90 minutes of compulsory study every single day. I’m using Sunrise Calendar App (Mac) by the way.
Don’t stick to specific subjects on specific days
If you try and specify subjects on certain days, it’s likely that you’ll quickly find that your schedule for homework and assessments gets in the way of actually sticking to your schedule!
It’s instead more important to first get into a regular habit of studying each day – regardless of what subject you’re actually studying. This way you can be flexible to homework and assessment needs but know that you’ve got a solid study habit. We’ll cover what you actually do in these study period in Step 7!
- Identify a time in your evening where you will not have extra-curricular activities (e.g. soccer), and you won’t be disturbed by your family or friends (e.g. after dinner)
- Block out an hour every day in your calendar (e.g. smart phone, Google calendar) which is then your dedicated study time.
Step 5: Set pre-determined break times
Your mind works best when it has regular breaks. When your concentration begins to wane, that’s when your study becomes ineffective and you start wasting time. That’s why it’s important to take breaks.
Breaks should be about relaxing your mind. This might be checking Facebook, finding something to eat, doing fifty star jumps, or watching that YouTube video your mate told you about, so long as you are strict about when you start your break and when you end your break.
Plan your breaks in advance
Let’s be honest. If you don’t have a set plan for your breaks you’ll take a break when you feel like it (which is probably 3 minutes after you start studying) and then you’ll come back from break….never.
So you need to have pre-planned breaks, so you can push yourself to study for a period of time, and then know you’ve got a window of recovery before studying hard again.
During study blocks
Factor in study breaks, and stick to them.
Having a break is absolutely vital for the success of the Pomodoro Technique: when you work for hours on end, you end up burning out all of your energy and crashing at the end of it.
With the Pomodoro Technique, recommended break times are approximately 5 minutes, so your evening will effectively be 25-minutes study, 5 minutes break in alternation.
Once you’ve built this habit you can start extending your Pomodoro periods for longer! I prefer slightly longer periods of study, so my timing is usually 50 minutes work with a 10 minute break.
- Along with your study blocks, put study breaks into your calendar too.
- If you haven’t finished a task, jot down what’s in your mind really quickly, then take your allocated break time.
Step 6: Remove all distractions
We live in a highly distracting world.
When you have distractions, your attention is divided and you begin to lose focus upon your task. That’s why you need to remove everything which can be a distraction to you.
Turn your phone on airplane mode, or better still, turn your phone off completely. Text messages can be highly distracting as they are intermittent, and phone calls can always be unexpectedly long.
If you need to be contacted by parents/guardians or friends, tell them to send you a text message, and you will contact them back during your break.
Still struggling with phone distractions? Put it in another room, or give it to your parents until you’ve finished studying!
It’s highly likely that nowadays, you use your computer or laptop to some point in your studies; whether it’s typing notes or doing research, you need access to the internet, which, by default, means access to distracting websites.
Both SelfControl and Cold Turkey cannot easily be circumvented, so once it’s set, you’re blocked until the timer is up! I use SelfControl on a regular basis so that I can focus without the temptation to check that one last notification.
Hungry, or just bored? If you’re anything like me, I would sometimes rather stand at the fridge door for twenty minutes than study. Chances are, unless you’re actually feeling peckish, or your stomach is rumbling, you’re probably just bored.
Before you launch into studying, have yourself a light but healthy meal so that you won’t be hungry when you’re studying.
During study, nibble on brain-foods like nuts or dried fruit. Try to stay away from the sugar-filled lollies and chocolate that will just make you crash after 30 minutes anyway!
Music vs. No Music
Music works for some people, and for others it’s a distractor.
I can’t listen to any music whilst studying; there needs to be dead silence as my imagination runs wild with any kind of music. For me, it’s a distractor.
Based on our research with students who’ve scored an ATAR over 98, most students fell into two distinct groups – those who studied with music and those who didn’t. Interestingly, prior to exams, almost every student STOPPED studying with music.
Why? Can you listen to music in the exams? Nope. So you need to re-create exam conditions, and so that’s why prior to exams you should avoid listening to music while studying.
Pros of Studying with Music
- It blocks out background noise and helps you focus
- High beats per minute music can get you into a zone and increase your intensity
- Makes studying less boring
Cons of Studying with Music
- Lyrical music can be distracting as your brain subconsciously takes in the lyrics being sung
- Music with great beats can involve you starting to dance and move, breaking your focus on study
- When a song that comes on that you dislike you change the track, breaking your focus on study
If you do want to listen to music, you are better off listening to slower music with no lyrics – classical, slow jazz or ambient café music are better suggestions.
There is substantial proof to suggest that classical music can help you to study. Classical music, when chosen properly, relaxes your mind, but also heightens your emotional state so that you are more receptive to information.
However, sometimes music can also help you to retain information by correlation; listening to Le nozze di Figaro by Mozart whilst studying that particular section in English may help you to recall information about that topic or area.
- Turn your phone on airplane mode as soon as you finish reading this article!
- Install SelfControl/Cold Turkey on your computer to minimise time wasting web browsing
- Experiment studying with music and without music. Give your attention for that study session a rating out of 10 (0 being completely focused, 10 being completely distracted). This will help you to discern whether music will work for you or not.
Step 7: Choose a study location.
Where is the best place to study? Library or home? School or park?
Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference based on a few factors. We’ve broken down the pros and cons for studying at home or at a library in this article.
For me, I liked to study at home, although my favourite place to study was also the kitchen bench. However, this was not at all good for my mother whom wanted to make dinner there every evening, so sometimes you’ll have to compromise!
If you are more akin to studying in libraries, we’ve ranked all of Sydney’s libraries based on how good they are to study in – you can read our article here about choosing a library to study based on a rating out of 10.
Step 8: Write to-do lists
How do you know what you’re doing to do when you don’t know what to do? Write down to-do lists!
Often, Year 12 can seem like one monolithic hammer ready to swing down upon you. In reality, the HSC is made up of smaller assessments, tests and exams which you encounter consistently on your way to the finish. What you need to do is break them all up into more manageable tasks to tick off as you go through the year.
To-do lists aren’t just a list of things that you need to do though. They help you to keep grounded not only by showing you the whole picture in smaller pieces (like a puzzle!), but they also show you how much you can achieve.
Use to-do lists to plan what you do in your ‘study blocks’
Instead of planning on your study plan the subjects you’re going to study each day, we recommended in Step 4 to simply first identify blocks of time to study.
This is where writing a to-do list each day is key as it will now enable you to identify each day how to best use that study time to complete homework, prepare for assessments and get your study done!
Make it daily
Start off every day by writing out everything that you need to do under different headings (e.g. Personal, English Advanced, Design & Technology, Clarinet).
If you’ve got one large task that you need to write, break it up into smaller tasks. For example:
Advanced English: Plan essay on Discovery for ‘Away’ (text).
That’s a very big ask, and if you’re about to sit down for a study session, where would you start? From that, you can break it up into several different smaller tasks:
- Reread over Syllabus definition of ‘Discovery’
- Brainstorm 3 Discovery themes
- Construct Point/Evidence/Analysis table for each theme and ‘Away’
- Write practice overarching thesis statement + thesis statements for each theme
- Write framework of each paragraph using P/E/A table.
Not only do you have a plan of attack for your larger task, but you can keep track of where you’re up to.
I use my iPhone for pretty much everything and so I use Wunderlist to keep it all together (also because it links into my calendar app).
The best part is that it goes ‘DING’ every time you finish something. Little victories!
- Sit down each day before you start studying and write down your to do list
- Break any large tasks into smaller tasks
- Identify the Top 3 tasks you need to do in your study period
Step 9: Schedule FUN into every day
Everyone needs something to look forward to in order to keep sane during Year 12.
This will be different for everyone; maybe it’s going to the cricket nets with some mates, or going to see a film in the evening with your sister. Whatever it is, just make sure that it doesn’t easy: you have to work for it!
Halo: Reach came out just before my HSC Trials and being a gigantic Halo fan, nothing was going to get between me and Halo: Reach. However, with my ultimate goal of a 99.5 in mind, playing Halo: Reach during the school term became a pipe dream. Then I came up with an ingenious plan: use it as motivation.
Use the 25:10 Principle
I gave myself the 25:10 principle – for every 25 minutes of study, I would reward myself with 10 minutes of Halo: Reach at the end of my day’s study. Living in a generation where there’s no such thing as playing video games for only 10 minutes, I forced myself into studying so that I could have at least 40 minutes of gameplay. How long did I need to study for? At least two hours.
By doing this, I not only stayed sane, but also scheduled in time to do whatever I wanted, so long as I worked for it.
You can do the same thing too. If you go out with friends in the afternoon, make a pact with yourself that you have to do at least an hour of study for going out. Like your study block, put your recreation/fun and your study session it into the calendar. This way, you are confirming that a study session is in order, but you also promise yourself some time to enjoy life as it is.
Step 10: Stick to it!
There’s the myth that it takes 21 days to build a habit, however in reality, it can take more or less time depending on who you are as a person.
At the beginning of this post, we went through setting yourself a goal. 98+ ATAR students are goal-oriented; they keep this goal in mind with whatever they do. By developing a good pattern and work ethos around your studying, you are building a study habit. So long as you are consistently practicing it every day, you will be building a study habit which can last you well into your further studies.
The study ‘compound effect’
If you make an improvement of just 5% every single week, it all adds up. Consistent study leads to a compound effect in your understanding: if every single week, you aim to add 5% more on top of what you already know, you will be impressed by how much you will eventually know by the time you get to the HSC.
Don’t believe me? I even made a graph to prove it.
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Elizabeth Goh isn’t a fan of writing about herself in third person, even if she loves writing. Elizabeth decided she didn’t get enough English, History or Legal Studies at Abbotsleigh School for her own HSC in 2010 so she came back to help others survive it with Art of Smart Education. She’s since done a mish-mash of things with her life which includes studying a Bachelor of Arts (Politics and International Relations) with a Bachelor of Laws at Macquarie University, working for NSW Parliament, and admitting that she actually has four Taylor Swift songs on her main playlist.