Monthly Archives: April 2010

HSC tip: how to split your study time

Most HSC students are doing 10-12 units for their HSC – that means 5-6 among which you must divide your time. The question is: what is the best way to split up your time between your subjects to maximise your end result?

The answer depends on whether you understand how scaling works. Most students will decide to split their time roughly evenly across their subjects, and for the most part, this works well. The problem, is, this is not the absolute best solution if your goal is to maximise your ATAR.

Remember that your ATAR is a rank which is determined solely by the scaled marks you score at the end of your HSC. The amount of scaled marks you score depends on two things:

  • Your percentile rank within each subject
  • The subject’s scaling

Well you can’t control the second point (since you’ve already chosen your subjects by now) but you can affect the first point. If you look at the statistics published in Table A3 by the UAC scaling report each year, you’ll get to see what scaled marks are scored for each percentile rank. One thing you’ll notice is that the scaled marks increase at a heavily diminishing rate as percentile rank increases. In other words, all HSC subjects experience diminishing returns on your effort. Put even more simpler, the harder you try at a subject you’re already very good at, the less additional rewards you will get.

For example, you may get 49/50 for scoring in the 99th percentile in Maths Extension 2, and 48/50 for scoring in the 75th percentile. This means if you beat 99% of your peers in this subject, you get 49/50 scaled marks per unit (or 98/100 for 2 units), and you’ll get 48/50 scaled marks per unit for beating 75% of your peers. But improving yourself from the 75th percentile to the 99th percentile is a very hard thing to do!

But on the other end of the scale, you will notice that improving your rank from the 25th percentile to the 50th percentile will result in a huge jump in scaled mark. For example, in 2009, the 25th percentile for Physics was 21/50 scaled marks per unit, but the 50th percentile will give you 28/50 marks per unit – a huge jump! Certainly, the jump from the 25th to the 50th percentile is much easier than jumping from the 75th to the 99th percentile!

Now, if you understand all of the above, consider once again the question of how to split your study time. Of course, if you’re already very good at some subjects, spend less time on those subjects, and more time on the subjects you’re struggling with. This rings especially true for subjects that already give very high scaling – e.g. the Extension subjects. You’ll find that these subjects give higher rate of diminishing returns on your study effort than lower-scaling subjects. So basically, if you’re already very good at a subject, spend less time on it, and more time on your weaker subjects.

This all may sound like common sense, but it is actually backed by solid statistics – if you know how HSC subject scaling affects you, you can work it to your advantage! The way the ATAR system has always worked is that it gives the highest ATARs to all-rounders. So make sure you don’t neglect any of your subjects!

Dux College is a Sydney-based HSC coaching centre specialising in HSC Maths, Extension 1, Extension 2, Physics and Chemistry tutoring. Our Maths, Physics and Chemistry tuition programs are intensive and results driven, aimed at giving our students the skills to achieve Band 6, and their highest potential UAI.

Accelerating a HSC subject

The term ‘accelerating’ refers to doing a HSC subject one year earlier than usual. This usually means completing one or several HSC subjects during year 11. Some schools allow some of their top students to choose a subject to accelerate in – this is certainly a common practice in the higher-ranked selective schools.

The decision of whether to accelerate in a HSC subject is often made early, often near the end of year 9. This is because the student must complete the required Preliminary component of the course during his/her year 10 (as an elective). The school must approve this, and generally only the top students in each school that offers accelerated learning will be approved to accelerate in a HSC subject.

Certain HSC subjects are more commonly accelerated than other subjects; subjects such as Mathematics (2 unit), Physics Chemistry, Economics, Biology etc are examples.

Students who accelerate in a HSC subject are often of above-average ability; after all, they were determined by their school teachers to be capable of learning the course content at an accelerated pace. In terms of achievement, accelerated students often occupy between a fifth and a third of the top 20 ranks in NSW for their subjects, even though they represent a much lower fraction of the total candidature.

Accelerated students also enjoy a number of advantages, such as having a lighter workload during their year 12, or having more completed units that can potentially contribute towards their ATAR (diversifying their risk). However, accelerated students also face a number of unique challenges stemming from being required to complete an entire HSC subject on year ahead of schedule. In this article, we’ll go through some of the benefits and challenges that come with accelerating in a subject.

Benefits of accelerating

Earlier exposure to HSC

Accelerated students are exposed to the HSC assessment regime at school (internal assessments) as well as the final HSC exam one year earlier than their peers. This is probably the biggest benefit of accelerating a HSC subject. Accelerated students therefore have more experience at doing HSC-style exams and HSC-style internal assessments than their peers by the time they reach year 12.

Additionally, because students only accelerate in one subject in most cases, the risk of that one subject having a big adverse effect is relatively low. The accelerated subject is essentially a ‘trial run’ for the student to learn the ropes early, before the main event that is year 12.

Lighter workload during year 12

Accelerated students, having completed at least 2 units by the time they reach year 12, would have lightened their workload by the same amount. That is, students can choose to do as little as 8 units in year 12, allowing for more time to focus on fewer subjects. This is obviously advantageous!

Another possibility is students can choose to take on more units than they otherwise would be able to take. This diversifies the risk of doing badly in any individual subject across more subjects – since the ATAR is calculated from your top 10 units, if you’ve completed 14 or 16 units after your HSC, you have less chance that a particular subject you did badly in would be within your top 10 units.

Subjects with Extension levels

Say you accelerate in a subject with Extension levels, such as Maths or English. For Mathematics (2 unit) in particular (probably the most commonly accelerated HSC subject), the content learned in that course is completely relevant to Extension 1 and 2, which builds upon the concepts covered in 2 unit. The majority of 2 unit accelerants go onto doing Extension 2 in year 12 – these students would have had a total of 3 years to grasp relevant maths concepts, starting from year 10.

Challenges of accelerating

Accelerants are faced with the unique situation of doing an actual HSC exam in year 11. This can be daunting, as accelerants would have one year less practice and exposure to the whole process: the style of exams and internal assessments, as compared to their peers. This lack of experience usually translates to relatively lower ability in exam skills, such as structuring answers properly for full or partial marks. and effective time management during exams.

A more hurried schedule in the subject means accelerants notice less patterns / links / connections between aspects of the subject – a factor that is important to success in every subject.

Accelerants may also find that their year 11 schedule will be usually busy at times, since their school would likely implement assessment schedules without much consideration for accelerants. There may be assessment periods that coincide with the year 12 assessment period, and during exam periods, accelerants may find they have 2 exams on the same day.

However, these are mere challenges to be overcome, as the benefits outweigh the cost. Year 9 students: if offered at your school, you should consider taking an accelerated HSC subject.

Mathematics (2 unit)

We offer a tailored Accelerated Mathematics (2 unit) tutoring course which is specifically designed to help year 11s doing their HSC for Mathematics (2 unit) in the same year. We believe accelerated students have slightly different needs to normal year 12 students.

For more information on our Accelerated Mathematics (2 unit) tutoring course, click Mathematics (2 unit)

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