So you’ve just gotten your Trial marks back and they were some pretty bad HSC marks.

On top of that, the HSC is less than two months away and you’re worrying about the content you still need to cover, the study you need study to do, expectations to meet, your ATAR and your uni course…

I know exactly how you feel. The best of us have been there before, and I’m here to tell you that there is an alternative way to view your bad HSC marks and use them as leverage for your springboard into the HSC.

Before I show you how to bounce back after getting bad HSC marks, I really want to emphasise something.

Bad HSC marks are more useful than good HSC marks
Step 1: Be angry/sad/upset!
Step 2: Take a bunch of deep breaths and find your determination
Step 3: Do an audit
Step 4: Make a plan
Step 5: Be mindful while you are studying
What is a HSC Study Plan?
Step 1: Work out your goal marks for your HSC Exams
Step 2: Write your to-do list of actions for a subject
Step 3: Repeat with all your subjects
Step 4: Put it up on your wall where you can see it

Bad HSC marks are more useful than good HSC marks

Don’t believe me? Let’s just have a look at the benefits of bad HSC marks vs good HSC marks.

Good MarksBad Marks
- Remind you that you already know the content- Identify areas in which you are weak or need to work on
- Helps you to direct your study plans
- Motivate you to work harder

While good marks are useful for affirming what you already know, bad HSC marks are even more useful because they help you to identify the areas of the content which you would be best served spending time on.

If you use your marks to plan your study in the lead up to the HSC, you will be able to maximise your improvement by targeting your weaknesses.

Okay, so how do I do it?

Great question! There are five very simple steps!

Step 1: Be angry/sad/upset!

Yes. You may have already reached this stage. Maybe you’re going through it right now after receiving your bad HSC marks.

In either case, remember that this is a normal reaction. Not only that, you need to have at least 10 seconds of your natural and reflexive emotional reaction to this setback.

If you don’t have any sort of reaction following your bad HSC marks, you will find it very difficult to move on to the next few steps.

Give yourself a chance to let it out – this is where your friends and family and wider support network are going to come in handy. Seek out someone to help you, someone you feel safe with, and vent your anger and frustration.

You can scream into your pillow, get some hugs from mum/dad/friend/sibling/dog/cat, have a bit of chocolate (alright, a lot of chocolate) and ice cream until you feel like you’re not so angry or sad anymore.

Remember, if you’re feeling low for an unusually long period of time (i.e. longer than 2 weeks), or feel like you need someone to give you a bit of extra support, be sure to have a chat to someone at Lifeline Australia (13 11 14) or headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation.

Step 2: Take a bunch of deep breaths and find your determination

This step is usually achieved with your support crew, and usually happens just after Step 1.

Find the determination to work harder and to do better than in that last test to improve those bad HSC marks.

If you’ve ever played any kind of sport, you’ll find that this is the exact same feeling as after you’ve set a PB and you’re already looking to pushing yourself even harder for the next one.

Not only this, but keep in mind the end game – why are you so determined?

Or, if you haven’t quite found your determination yet, where can you find it?

Many students forget this, but there is life after the HSC.

You are capable of so much and of leaving such a huge footprint on the world, but not everyone’s footprint is going to be exactly the same. 

Keep in mind what your goal is for after high school, and remind yourself that the HSC is merely a stepping stone to getting there.

Step 3: Do an audit

Now that your mind (and heart…and nasal passages) is clear, you can look at how you performed in your trials with a clinical hat on.

Ask yourself these specific questions about your trial paper, rather than despairing on your bad HSC marks, and don’t forget to record your answers so that you can use them as a template for your study plan in the run up to the HSC.

Questions to self-reflect on may include:
  • How many questions did you get full marks for? Which ones were they?
  • Where did you lose the majority of your marks? In which section?
  • Why did you lose these marks? Have a look at the comments from the marker, or ask for more.
  • Did you leave your study and preparation too late?
  • Did you know your content but you weren’t confident about how to express your answers?
  • Did you skip too many questions?
  • Did you spend too much time on one question? What about on one section of the paper?
  • Did you read the question too quickly? Or not at all?
  • Did all of your knowledge fall out of your head when you walked into the exam room? Maybe writing time started?
  • Did you circle the wrong bubbles in the Multiple Choice section? (I have definitely done this one before)

Step 4: Make a plan

Here’s where you can use your trial results and your answers to those questions in place of a needs assessment to make your study plan in the run up to the HSC.

Make sure you know exactly how many days until the HSC starts and map out exactly what you will be doing one each of those days so you have a clear idea of how you’re going to achieve your goal ATAR!

Step 5: Be mindful while you are studying

Remember that this is the steepest part of the learning curve – this is the part just before the graph shoots up into the ceiling.

You are about to make the greatest improvement of your whole HSC year.

At the same time, this means that you will need to work as hard as possible so that you don’t slide back down that learning curve.

This means that you need to take really good care of your body and your mind while you are studying in these next few months before the HSC.

Write Stuff Down

The way that I deal with this is by writing everything down.

For me, writing tasks into a planner or a calendar, or writing things to remember down onto a post it note or a palm card is like emptying my brain of all those nagging little notes.

This frees up the space for my mind to work so that I can study effectively.

When I’m studying, I focus only on what I’m doing – if anything else pops up, I write it down onto a post it note and forget about it until I finish.

Study in Public

I have one other little strategy: normally I study with my door open because I like to hear other people moving around the house.

When I’m feeling like there’s too much input into my already crowded brain, I close the door. It’s a very small detail, but it helps a lot and it gives me the time I need to gather my thoughts.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone for their tips which might be useful for you. There’s no shame in reaching out – it will only help you achieve your absolute best in the best possible frame of mind.

Now it’s time to place for success! 

What is a HSC Study Plan?

An HSC Study Plan maps out all the things you need to do to prepare for your HSC Trials for every subject, with time frames you need to complete these by.

How can you create your HSC Study Plan?

We’ve put 4 simple steps together for you to follow here as well as an HSC Planner.

Step 1: Work out your goal marks for your HSC Exams

You need to have a goal for what marks you want to achieve from your HSC Exams as this will completely determine the amount of work you will need to do over the next period of weeks or months.

It will also help you stay motivated and overcome the urge to procrastinate!

But how can you do this that doesn’t involve picking a random number out of the air?

The most effective way to set your goal HSC Trials marks is to use a Reverse ATAR Calculator.

We’ve written here in depth, step by step about how you can use a Reverse ATAR Calculator to set your goals marks.

What is a Reverse ATAR Calculator?

A Reverse ATAR Calculator enables you to insert your goal ATAR and the subjects you are studying.

It then backwards calculates what HSC Marks you need to score to achieve your goal ATAR!

What this then enables you to do is to develop a clear picture of what you actually need to do to get your goal ATAR (rather than just hoping and guessing) as it gives you the specific marks you need.

Write these goal marks down for each of your subjects.

These goals marks are now what you are working towards over the next set of days to achieve.

Read this article here for more on how to use a Reverse ATAR calculator to work out your goal HSC Trial marks.

Step 2: Write your to-do list of actions for a subject

This to-do list should include outcomes for either 14 or 30 days.

Pick one of your subjects and on a piece of paper (or our HSC Trials Study Planner) write the following down at the top:

  • Name of the subject
  • Your HSC Trials Goal Mark

Screenshot 2016-05-05 14.47.02

Then draw 2 lines down the page to break the piece of paper into thirds.

At the top of each column write the following:

  • 30 Days or Month #1 or September
  • 14 Days or Month #2 or October

It will now look like this over a 90 day period. 

Screenshot 2016-05-05 14.48.09

Now take 10 minutes for each column to write a to-do list for everything you need to for that particular subject over the next 30 or 14-days to give you the best shot of scoring your goal mark that you’ve written at the top of the page!

Here’s an example of what this should look like (again with the 90 days – you can just change it to 30 and 14 days!)

Once you’ve done this, you’ve now got your an HSC Plan for 1 subject! 


Step 3: Repeat with all your subjects

The next step is to rinse and repeat on Step 2 for ALL of your subjects.

Download your free HSC Planner below and get started now! Click Here for your 30 Day Planner.

Step 4: Put it up on your wall where you can see it

This is critical. Don’t leave your HSC Planner as a document on your computer – you won’t look at it regularly enough.

You want this to be something that’s in your face, every day, so you cannot ignore it! You want this to be a powerful call to action and reminder each day of the work you need to do.

So, hang it up on your wall, your door, your window, your fridge. Just somewhere where you will easily see if EVERY day!

Each day and month as you complete a task/action on your list, put a big fat red line through it – this way you will also get a really simple and clear visualisation (based on the amount of red lines) of your progress towards studying for your HSC Exams.

And it will feel awesome each time you cross out another task on your planner!


Creating your HSC Study Plan is super simple. And it will be a game changer for the quality and effectiveness of your study for your HSC Exams, and the marks you end up scoring!

So, what are you waiting for? 

It’s time to learn from your bad HSC marks!

Looking for extra help with your HSC studies?

We pride ourselves on our inspirational HSC coaches and mentors!

We offer tutoring and mentoring for Years K-12 in a variety of subjects, with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or at our state of the art campus in Hornsby!

To find out more and get started with an inspirational tutor and mentor get in touch today!

Give us a ring on 1300 267 888, email us at [email protected] or check us out on Facebook!

Gia-Yen Luong has been an Art of Smart coach for 3 years, coaching a range of subjects including HSC English, Legal Studies, Biology, Chemistry and General Maths. She is in her final year of a mega double degree in Law/Science (Neuroscience). She graduated high school with an ATAR of 99.9 and spends most of her time trying to convince people that it’s wholly possible to get such a mark while still having a normal life during YR 12. She enjoys reading, podcasts and truly believes that she was born to be a blogger.

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 writing about writing.

Rowan Kunz is the founder of Art of Smart Education, an award-winning provider of 1 on 1 tutoring and mentoring. Rowan has spent the last 8 years conducting research with thousands of Australia’s top students who scored ATAR’s of over 98 and is the author of Secrets of HSC Success Revealed. Rowan has 10 years experience in tutoring and delivers workshops across Australia on excelling academically at school. Rowan’s videos on YouTube have been watched more than 1,000,000+ times.