HSC Exams - Featured Image

Feeling all sorts of worried for your HSC exams and just aren’t sure about how to go about studying with only 30 days ’til your first exam?

If you’re feeling completely screwed, we’re here to help! Now take a deep breath, because we’ll run you through how you can study effectively in the lead up to your exams.

Let’s get started!

How much can you get done in 30 days?
Step #1: Set Yourself a Goal
Step #2: Write Your 30 Day Subject To Do List
Step #3: Create a Study Plan
Step #4: Use the Rule of 3 When Studying
Step #5: Make Yourself Accountable

How much can you get done in 30 days?

So, you’ve got 30 days until your HSC, but what does this actually mean?

Assuming you do 3 hours of study each day, every day — this means you’ve got 90 hours of study time.

30 days @ 3 hours per day = 90 hours of total study time.

And if you’re taking 10 units (the minimum) and 5 subjects, this means you’ve got 18 hours per subject to study:

90 hours of study / 5 subjects = 18 hours per subject…

HSC Exams - 30 Days Breakdown

18 hours to do everything for your subject

    • Revise the content for the entire HSC course
    • Write/enhance your study notes for ALL of the HSC course
    • Write practice essays/long responses and get the marked for feedback
    • Complete HSC practice papers (2-3 hours long x 3 = 6-9 hours eaten up! That’s 50% of your available study time!)

But before you start thinking this is too much to do, let’s put this all into perspective.

  • Most Universities and Tertiary Institutions offer ‘Alternate Entry’ schemes: This means that if you don’t make it with your ATAR, there are still ways to get into your course.
  • Some Universities offer provisional admission: This means that you’re not enrolled in the Degree (see the Uni lingo here!), but if you pass all the necessary courses, you will be admitted into the Degree!
  • There are over 5 offer rounds: If you don’t get an Offer for your dream course in the January Main Offer 2017, you might get in during the February rounds!
  • If there’s a will, there’s a way: Universities and Tertiary Institutions are designed to help you get an education — if you’re willing to put in the hard yards after the HSC to get into your dream course, your dream uni will help you!

But that being said, here’s some more perspective…

Your HSC exams are worth 50% of your overall HSC.

A month out from the big exams, it’s better to feel what the panic is like now, and to work on your strengths and weaknesses during training, than panic when the going gets tough.

So before you lose all hope, where to from here? 

Get yourself organised!

We’ve even made a handy little visual to help you easily sort life out!

Pro-tip: you can download a high res version of the graphic by right clicking and saving the image!

HSC Exams - How to Study with 30 Days

Step #1: Set Yourself a Goal

If you don’t know what marks you need to score in your HSC, how can you work out how much study you need to do?

That’s why setting a goal for what marks you want to achieve in each of your subjects in your HSC is key — it will completely determine the amount of work you will need to do over the next 30 days AND it will also help you stay motivated and overcome the urge to procrastinate!

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

The most effective way to set your goal HSC 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 — check it out!

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!

Action Point:
  • Use a Reverse ATAR calculate to determine your goal marks for each subject
  • Write these goal marks down for each of your subjects — if you’re not already getting these marks, you need to work towards getting these marks in your HSC

Write down your personal goals as well!

So this isn’t about what mark you need in a subject, or what ATAR you need. It’s about taking a moment to ask yourself,

“What do I want to do in my life? What’s something I’d love to do?”

It’s almost a mini-bucket list of things you want to do when all the craziness that is HSC is finished. Writing stuff down in your own handwriting makes your goals personal.

These goals don’t need to have anything to do with school. They should be to do with life — that thing that school seems to take away from you. The thing is that when you write this stuff down, you can start working towards it!

Looking forward to something gave me something to look forward to besides just finishing the HSC and this is going to be super important to help you stay sane, and to stay motivated during the next 30 days and beyond!

Action Point:
  • Take 3 minutes and write down 3 things you want to do in your life when the HSC is over

Step #2: Write Your 30 Day Subject To Do List

So you’ve got 30 days, and 18 hours per subject to study. Where do you start? What do you do?

The first step is to work out what are all the things you need to be doing for each of your subjects to enable you to have the best shot of scoring your goal mark.

To help you create your 30 Day HSC Study Plan we’ve put together a free downloadable 30 Day HSC Study Planner here which you can download.

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

  • Name of the subject
  • Your HSC Goal Mark

Screenshot 2016-05-05 14.47.02

Then draw 3 lines down the page to break the piece of paper into quarters/fourths.

At the top of each column write the following:

  • Week 4: What do you need to be working on this week, 4 weeks out from your HSC?
  • Week 3: What do you need to do next week to prepare for your HSC?
  • Week 2: What is everything you need to do in the 2nd last week before your HSC?
  • Week 1: What is everything you need to be doing in the final week before your HSC?

HSC Exams - Study Planner Example

As a guide, you should think about breaking up your study for each week into the following themes:

Week 4: Finalise Your Study Notes

Your focus here needs to be on getting your study notes organised and finalised. Put your finishing touches on your study notes.

What if you don’t have any study notes?

Ideally, you want to write your own study notes as the act of writing them will help you build a strong understanding of the material. However if you have absolutely no notes, or are so far behind you won’t be able to catch up, find some notes from a friend/around the internet, and then spend this week customising them to make them your own!

This way you’ll still get some of the benefits from a memory perspective instead of creating them from scratch!

Week 3: Learn ALL the Content

This week you want to spend building a really strong foundation of knowledge — you want to make sure you know your stuff!!

We’ll cover more on how you can do this effectively below, but this will essentially involve:

    • Writing out key ideas/points from your notes
    • Teaching friends and family
    • Using flash cards
    • Quizzing yourself
    • And more!

Check out how you can learn lots of material and content fast with three simple steps in our article here!

Week 2: Work on Past Papers and Practice Essays

This week is about starting to work on past papers and practice essays!

You might be tempted to skip Week 2 and go straight into doing past papers and practice essays, but if you don’t have a strong foundation of knowledge, you’ll actually be writing down incorrect information and locking this into your memory. So don’t skip Week 3!

This week focus on getting all your practice essays (as as many as possible) written for the subject, and polishing as many of your responses/essays/model answers.

Week 1: More Past Papers and Practice Essays — Final Preparation!

You are now in the final stretch!

The goal this week is work on past HSC exam papers in timed conditions!

We’ve also helped you out for this week by putting together the following 7 Days Before HSC Exams study guides you can use!

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 4 weeks 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.

HSC Exams - Study Planner Example

Once you’ve done this, you’ve now got your 30 Day HSC Plan for 1 subject! 


Now you need to rinse and repeat for each of your subjects!

Once you’ve written your study to-do list for each subject, stick it up on your wall where you can see it.

The idea behind this is that it’s a clear visual of all that you need to do and you want it to be IN YOUR FACE so you don’t forget and get lazy or distracted. It’s there to keep you accountable! 

Every time you complete something, cross it out with a red marker! This way you get clear way to track your progress towards preparing for your next HSC assessment/exam!

Action Point:
  • Download our 30 Day HSC Study Planner and write down for your subject your to do list of actions you need to do to give yourself the best chance of scoring your goal mark in this subject
  • Rinse and repeat for all subjects
  • Follow our 4 Week Guide of what to focus on in each week!
  • Stick it up on your wall where you can see it
  • As you complete each action, cross it off with a huge red marker
  • Send us a picture of your 30 Day Study Plan on your wall for feedback!

Step #3: Create A Study Plan

You have 30 Days until the HSC, but part of that is dedicated to your school holidays. Even though there’s the saying ‘work hard, play hard’, 30 days out, you need to work hard.

Now that you know what you need to do for each subject, you’ve got to work out what subject to study when!

Most of the time, the typical structure is that you start studying for your first exam/assessment first.

What happens when you study in chronological order of your HSC exams

You start studying for your first exam first, and get lots of study done for it. But then you run out of time to do as much study for your 2nd, 3rd, 4th (etc) assessments and exams. And because they are all on consecutive days, what ends up happening is you spend late nights cramming massively to try and get study done for your 2nd, 3rd and 4th exams.

The result?

Your marks look like this:

Exam Results Over Exam Block - HSC Exams

So what’s the solution?

Start studying for your last exam first, your 2nd last exam 2nd, your 3rd last exam 3rd etc.


This way you study for your last exam first, so that when you get to it during the exam/assessment week, you’re not looking at it for the first time and needing to cram like crazy. You’ve already covered it and feel confident with it, so all you need to do is some last minute revision.

It also means that in the immediate 3-4 days before your first exam, you are studying for your first exam — so it’s most fresh in your mind.

Overall the result is that it enables you to study more effectively for your exams and assessments when you have them on consecutive days, and in turn allows you to score higher marks across ALL your exams!

How can you apply this?

Get your exam schedule out and get out a calendar.

We’ve put together a 4 week calendar for preparing for HSC exams/assessments on consecutive days which you can download (if you haven’t already).

Exam Period Plan - HSC Exams

Now, looking at your LAST EXAM, schedule in study for this exam first and write it down on your calendar/study plan.

And then for your 2nd last exam, second and so on.

Generally, only schedule to study for 1-2 subjects max per day (2 subjects during holidays, and 1 subject when school returns). Why? This way you’re allocating sufficient time for each subject to go deep and get into a good state of study ‘flow’!

Now that you’ve got your daily study schedule IN REVERSE, stick it up on the wall where you can see it — you’ll be using this combined with your subject to do list to study and prepare for your HSC exams.

Each day look at your calendar schedule and identify which subject(s) you’re going to be working on.

Sit down, and based on the subject on your calendar, look at your subject to do list, and pick the next item on the list and get down to work!

This way, you’re not spending 1.5 hours procrastinating just trying to work out what to study!

How do I structure my time during school holidays?

Let’s be honest, school holidays often = massive procrastination…

Now that you know:

a) What you need to be doing (your 30 day to do list)

b) What subjects you need to be studying each day

You now need to work out, when are you actually going to study on each day.

And there’s a simple answer to this…

From our years of research with 98+ ATAR scorers, we’ve discovered an incredible simple trick you can use.


What does this mean?

  • Even though it’s school holidays, pretend that you are still at school
  • Wake up at the same time you would during school
  • Start studying when the school bell would normally go
  • Take a break when recess is
  • Take a lunch break when lunch normally is
  • Finish studying when the final school bell for the day would normally ring

Why does this work?

It ensures you end up doing at least 6 hours of study per day during the school holidays.

While this might sound like a lot, you’ve been doing this each and every day you go to school!

You’ve also built the habit already, so rather than needed to build a new habit, you can simple use an existing one to be super productive and get lots done!

Action Point:
  • Study in Reverse – map out what subjects you still study each day in REVERSE to your HSC exam schedule
  • Stick your Study Plan on your wall so you know what subject you are doing each day
  • Recreate your school day during the school holidays and pretend you are still at school!

Step #4: Use the Rule of 3 When Studying

In doing an exam you want to:

  • Be familiar with the types of questions they could throw at you — so you want to get good at pattern recognition
  • Be able to respond to these questions quickly and adapt all your knowledge, and model essays or responses, paragraphs and notes to the specific question
  • Have all your formulae, themes, quotes, examples and more memorised

With only 18 hours of time available for each subject, you’ve got a tight window of time to revise all the content for each subject AND do your practice HSC exams and essays!

But what’s the most efficient way of doing all of this? The cone of learning explains how we can make the most of the time we have.

Cone of Learning

If, after two weeks, we remember only 10% of what READ, but 90% of what we DO, it’d make sense doing, right? Right — this means we are going to do!

How do you apply this over the next 4 weeks?

Week 4:

Just get those notes up to scratch!

If you’ve already got them ready, you can start learning the content, and see Week 3 below for how to apply Rule of 3 for this.

Week 3:

Get out your study notes, and in an exercise book re-write all the key points 3 times.

What do I mean when I say re-write?

I’m not talking about re-writing every word. Just about putting pen to paper.

So you could do the following:

  • Rewrite key definitions
  • Write out key points
  • Draw pictures
  • Draw flow charts
  • Draw diagrams
  • Write out model responses/answers

The idea however is that you put pen to paper and you go through your entire course at least 3 times!

In fact, the more creative you are with what and how you write, the more likely you will be to remember it.

So draw awesome diagrams, flow charts, and pictures as much as possible. In fact make 1 of your re-writes a big wall diagram like the one below!

It will take a bit of time, but it will be more fun and it will help you remember the material so much more powerfully!

Here’s an example a student has done for Modern History — it’s an entire wall!

HSC Exams - History Wall

Week 2 & 1:

First off, you want to be doing AT LEAST 3 past papers per subject. The more the better.

So to get started, find yourself three past HSC exam papers. We’ve managed to put a bunch of them together for you here:

How do you practice the Rule of 3?
  • Step 1 – Open Book: Using the time given for the paper, complete the first past paper with all your tools — model answers, scaffolds, formula sheets.
  • Step 2 – Semi-Open Book: Less 5% of the given time for your paper, and only look at your notes when you cannot remember anything.
  • Step 3 – Closed Book: Complete the past paper but less 10% of the given time from the paper, and use no tools or notes.

It’s seriously as simple as that!

Why practice in timed conditions?

Timing is everything. It’s critical that all your practice responses occur under timed conditions. Why though?

  • You’ll be familiar with the types of questions they could throw at you as you’ll develop pattern recognition
  • You’ll be able to respond to these questions quickly and adapt all your knowledge to the specific question
  • You’ll have all your formulae, themes, quotes, examples and more memorised
  • You’ll have time to spare to check your answers!

Does that look familiar? It’s all of what we want to do in an HSC exam!

Give yourself 10% less time

For English Paper 2, you have to complete 3 sections in 2 hours. This means you have 40 minutes for each section.

Take 10% from each question. Essentially:

    • 10% of 40 minutes is 4 minutes
    • 40 minutes – 4 minutes = 36 minutes
    • Complete the practice exams in 36 minutes

If you get comfortable completing your responses in 36 minutes in practice, when you get into the HSC exam you’re going to feel like you’ve got all the time in the world!

Step #5: Make Yourself Accountable

I am my own worst enemy when it comes to making me responsible for me. That is why it’s so important to make yourself accountable for getting things done, especially as you get ready to sit your HSC exams. How do we do this?

Download website blockers or complete your work by hand

To this day, I still use website blacklisters so that I ‘ban’ myself from using them until I’ve done my work. Here are some awesome apps to remove that temptation:

Here are the best websites to blacklist:

  • facebook.com
  • instagram.com
  • pinterest.com
  • twitter.com
  • tumblr.com
  • youtube.com
  • netflix.com
  • buzzfeed.com
  • imgur.com
  • reddit.com

Are there any other websites you frequent? Put it on the blacklist and remove the temptation entirely.

Of course, whilst you can’t access them on your computer, what’s stopping you checking your phone? Turn off your phone, or leave it with a parent until you’re done.

My recent favourite is an app recommended to me by an Art of Smart tutor: the ‘Forest’ App. The idea is that you set an amount of time that you cannot touch your phone; the more you do not touch your phone, the more your tree grows. Touch your phone prematurely and you kill your tree.


Alternatively, you can be old-school and print off everything and work on paper. Not only will it help your handwriting, but you’ll be able to write more and quicker because you’ve gotten more practice!

Sacrifice something you love as you prep for your HSC exams

I don’t mean your dog or a family member to the gods!

Got a favourite TV show? Ban yourself from watching it until you’ve done your study that day. If you’re using Netflix, get a family member to change the password to your account.

Got soccer training? Ban yourself from attending unless you’ve done your work. This means that if you haven’t done your work, not only you’re letting yourself down, but your whole team — all because you didn’t study.

Or you can do as one of my friends did — sacrifice your independence and study in front of your parents. She did this because she couldn’t trust herself not to procrastinate, but studying in front of her parents, she felt the pressure to have to study, simply because they were in the same room. After all, if you know you can’t trust yourself to study alone, don’t.

All of this is making yourself responsible for your actions. After all, nobody is going to come chasing you when you leave school!

Reward Yourself

This is the most important part — reward yourself when things have gone to plan! Go to soccer training, watch Game of Thrones, eat that ice cream. After all, you’ve earned it!

Looking for some extra help with studying for your HSC exams?

We pride ourselves on our inspirational 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 or the Hills!

We’ve supported over 8,000 students over the last 11 years, and on average our students score mark improvements of over 20%!

To find out more and get started with an inspirational tutor and mentor, get in touch today or give us a ring on 1300 267 888!

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 refurbishing 80 year old typewriters.

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.