An Australian teen who got into Princeton through her HSC shares her 12 favourite study tips

SuppliedClaudia Frykberg

If one year ago, when I was living in the all-consuming HSC bubble, someone had asked me the secret of how to achieve a good ATAR, I’m not sure I would have been able to answer.

The one thing I do know is that there is no one formula that suits everyone. In fact, I think there is a real downside to mimicking what somebody else is doing.

I tried this – a lot – and found that the best way to study is the way that suits you.

For example, some people write very long summaries. I tried this until I realised writing the summaries was taking away time from learning and memorising what was in them.

Others love studying late at night. My brain went to mush after 9.30pm.

I know a lot of people wondered why I chose to juggle the HSC and US application system at the same time, but beyond my knowing I wanted to study in the US, in lots of ways studying for your SAT or writing a personal essay was a relieving mental shift away from the HSC style of syllabus. It required a slightly different mindset which enabled me to mix things up.

In any case, with the benefit of hindsight, here are a few tips that worked for me during my HSC year:

    1. Study in various locations

    If your home study space is getting a little depressing, go to the library and find a spot near a window.

    If you can, try to get at least one friend to come with you — not for a distraction, but so that you have someone to go for a walk with or share lunch with when your brain is shutting down.

    2. Listen to interesting but related material

    For language students, listen to podcasts or watch foreign movies or Google the speeches of that country’s leader. I loved the SBS podcasts, went to the French film festival and spent a lot of time listening to Angela Merkel.

    3. Don’t lose focus if your exams are spread out

    Even if your final exam is a week after everything else, keep that subject in your study diary throughout so that it remains in your peripheral vision.

    Luckily most of my exams were close together, but I had friends who were savvy enough to keep Economics in their study plan even though it was in the last week.

    4. Push yourself, within reason

    Learn when you have hit your own personal wall. Try not to feel guilty for not studying. This is especially hard but I found I studied most effectively after taking a break.

    5. Train your brain to unwind

    Find a mind-based activity that shuts down your study brain. For me it was sudoku. This sounds crazy but there was something peaceful about simply inserting numbers around a grid.

    6. Get a whiteboard

    For subjects like physics I found it helped standing up and writing problems on the board. Get a family member to sit in and try to teach them a concept. By voicing what you know, it somehow sticks.

    7. Exercise

    Endorphins really do work. I was lucky in that I was a swimmer and while that 4.30am alarm was not fun, going to school after swimming meant I was energised and awake.

    On HSC exam mornings we would go down and jump into the ocean and have breakfast by the water. This not only woke up my brain but made me realise there is a world beyond the HSC.

    8. Don’t compare yourself to others

    This is really hard when the system is all about rankings, but in the end it all evens out and your future won’t be affected by anyone else’s marks.

    9. Have an exam day game plan

    Think about how you are going to approach exam days. The pre and post exam banter works for some people, but I preferred to arrive just before an exam and leave straight after.

    10. Have HSC-free time

    Meet your friends for breakfast and talk about everything but the HSC. Ban it from the conversation and talk about things that make you happy.

    11. Appreciate your teachers

    This may sound obvious but I really do think that they get as nervous as we do.

    Once all the classes are over they become more like friends — and great sources of kindness and encouragement.

    12. Start dreaming

    Imagine your life after the HSC. Google university campuses or holiday destinations — picture yourself on “the other side”.

Claudia Frykberg completed her HSC in 2017 at Ascham School in Sydney with an ATAR of 99.6. She studied Maths and Maths Extension 1, English Advanced and English Extension 1, Physics, French and German, and received tutoring and mentoring from Crimson Education. She is currently a pre-med student at Princeton University.

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