When you get to Year 12, you might think the smartest thing to do is quit everything so you can purely focus on your studies. But guess what? You don’t have to quit everything to do well in the HSC and have a study-life balance! 

Now, you’re probably wondering how is that possible? 

Gian is proof that it is possible — she not only took 14 units but she also worked up to ten hours a week for a travel agency, was the editor in chief of the student newspaper and continued with ballet plus pilates and yoga to keep her sane. With all that going on, she managed to ace her HSC with a 98+ ATAR! 

Gian gives us some great insights into how she managed it all — so, let’s take a closer look! 

Tip #1: Do What is Right For You
Tip #2: Make the Best Use of Class Time
Tip #3: Do Active Revision
Tip #4: Organisation is Key
Tip #5: Remain Flexible
Tip #6: Keep Doing the Things You Love
Tip #7: Realise That It’s Okay to Cut Back

Tip #1: Do What is Right For You

Gian took Chemistry, Biology, Advanced Maths, English Advanced and English Extension One, Modern History and History Extension and also two units of Religion. All of that adds up to 14 units which definitely is a lot!

While Gian was advised by multiple people not to do 14 units, she trusted her gut and did what she thought was best for her. She definitely knew what worked for her because she ended up with a 98+ ATAR. 

“I think that if you have a genuine passion for a subject, you should do it. Like some people won’t take Drama because they think it won’t scale well,” Gian told us.

I wanted to take the amount of subjects I did, because I love them all and I thought they were all really, really interesting so I just thought if I have the time and if it’s feasible in the timetable, why would I not learn because I like them,” she added.

So whether you decide to take 10 units or 14 units or anything in between, you’ve got to figure out what is right for you.

Don’t forget that it’s also important to do subjects that you’re passionate about and interested in — not just because they scale well! It will be so much easier to study something that you love learning about. 

Tip #2: Make the Best Use of Class Time

So that Gian could balance all her commitments with her schoolwork and study, she really focussed during class time. That meant, not zoning out in the middle of class and instead actively listening, being present and taking notes. 

We’ve all been there before, it’s the last period and you’re tired so you can’t really be bothered to pay attention and just end up zoning out. 

Well, that’s lost time that you’ll have to make up outside of the classroom. So, Gian soaked up everything she could during class which meant she had more time to revise at home and do her extracurriculars. 

Tip #3: Do Active Revision

Gian told us that she was shocked to find out how her friends were studying — six hours a night but mostly passive study methods. 

“They were just going through notes and reading and highlighting all of the things that teachers tell you not to do because you don’t get the info in your head,” Gian said. 

I found I could get the same content understood if I was paying attention and taking active notes in class and then doing active revision when I got home,” she explained. 

The Benefits of Using Flashcards

For Gian, she used flashcards to help her revise! “I found that using flashcards, which did turn out to be my notes, I could just go over what I did and what I didn’t know and I didn’t need to waste time reading a page that I’d memorised a year ago,” she told us. 

Gian would also carry her palm cards around in her blazer to make the most of every spare moment. 

“I always have a chunk of my palm cards, especially if you’re sitting down, if there’s an assembly, and you don’t have much else to do, just flipping through them whenever you just have a free moment and you’re not doing anything,” she said.

“It was just like constantly kind of thinking about it that made sure I didn’t forget the basic details,” Gian added. 

Now, that’s a great tip because that spare time when you would usually pull out your phone turns into productive learning. So, the content stays fresh in your mind! 

Gian had a big box where all her palm cards for each subject were kept and depending on what subject she had most recently or how she felt, she would choose one bunch to study at a time.

“It was just what I felt like I wasn’t sure of — I didn’t have any rhyme or reason to which ones that I picked, I just found that even the act of having them there so that if I had a moment I could study, is just a bit of a reassurance,” she said. 

“If I had a double of History Extension in the afternoon, I might pick that up the next morning, because I knew that I wouldn’t have a lesson for another week,” Gian told us. 

Tip #4: Organisation is Key

There’s no doubt that Gian had to be very organised in order to balance her HSC with work, extracurriculars and social life! 

Gian made a timetable on Excel where she scheduled everything she had going on for the week and set that as her desktop on her laptop and her phone (she made the timetable very aesthetically pleasing).

“Once I’d figured everything out, I put all of my periods in and I treated after school time the same as school periods,” she said.

Gian had six periods at school and then she had four periods after school.

“I would schedule in times that would be study or free time and as much as that wasn’t always set in stone, just having the idea of what I should be doing would get me back on track sometimes or would make a mental note that I had to switch things around,” she explained.

Gian also added her non-negotiables into the timetable — so for her that was ballet, yoga and pilates. 

“All of my activities had a colour and I’d never skip out on those so those were just like set in stone,” she said. 

Gian told us creating that weekly timetable was “super important” to stay focussed and on top of all her work. 

“I think it just kept me in the mindset, even if I would be just scrolling through the internet, and I clicked back to my desktop, I see what I’m supposed to be doing and I’m like okay, let’s do that for a little bit,” Gian told us. 

Tip #5: Remain Flexible

Of course, as you approach Trials and HSC exams, you’ve got to be a little bit more flexible with your commitments and extracurriculars. However, you still don’t have to drop it all — you might just have to dial it back a little bit. 

Before Trials, Gian sometimes missed an extracurricular activity if it was the day before an assessment. “It was really only if I had an assessment the day after something and I just wanted to focus,” Gian said.

“It was more for a peace and calm of mind rather than oh, I need to rush and study. It was more just knowing myself and knowing if I needed to be a little bit more calm and just take some time out,” she added. 

Gian always kept her extracurricular activities she had on a weekend. “I have ballet on Saturday mornings, that always stuck there, even if I had an assessment on Monday,” she said. 

So, it’s really about remaining flexible and adjusting your priorities depending on what’s going on to create that study-life balance. 

Tip #6: Keep Doing the Things You Love

Throughout high school Gian had a lot of different commitments and this didn’t change when she got to Year 12 — she continued to maintain those commitments, which helped to cultivate her study-life balance.  

“It was really important to me because I felt that it actually gave me an advantage in the things that I was doing as well, like I do debating as an extracurricular, and that helps so much with English speeches and viva voces and Religion,” she explained.

“I didn’t want to give up on any of the things that I loved for the skills that they had given me,” she told us.

Gian also played chess and strategic games which helped her relax and zone out. “I treated everything as having its own unique value apart from just something that I do for a resume,” she said. 

So, continue to do the things that make you happy — whether it’s sport, music or any other kind of activity, keep doing life because you need a study-life balance.

Tip #7: Realise That It’s Okay to Cut Back

While Gian thrived on being busy and keeping up with all her commitments while doing the HSC, she knows that it’s not the way for everyone.

“I think that as much as it’s important to keep up, it’s also important to know yourself and know what’s going to work best for you — I did a lot because that’s what worked best for me” she said. 

“But honestly, if you don’t think that you can do all of your extracurriculars, don’t be afraid to cut back because it’s not disappointing anyone, everyone just wants you to succeed in your own thing,” she added. 

In saying that Gian mentioned when she had to cut back on something, “no one ever thought less” of her. 

Her advice for this: “Just taking the time to know what your own personal limits are and not being afraid to take a step back is important and then you just have to temper that with remembering your passions and keeping up the things that you love.”

And that’s it!

Those are tips that we’ve learnt from Gian and how she secured a 98+ ATAR while doing 14 units and balancing work, study, extracurricular and a social life.

Gian is proof that with good organisational skills, making the most of class time, actively revising and doing what you love — you can manage it all and ace the HSC!

Looking for some extra help with your study-life balance?

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

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Tanna Nankivell is a Senior Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and is currently in Germany completing a year of study for her double degree in Communications (Journalism) and Bachelor of Arts (International Studies). She has had articles published on Central News – the UTS Journalism Lab and wrote a feature piece for Time Out Sydney during her internship. Tanna has a love for travel and the great outdoors, you’ll either find her on the snowfields or in the ocean, teaching aqua aerobics or creating short films.