Monthly Archives: March 2011

Time management for a HSC student

Effective time management is an important life skill to have. It is definitely one of the major determinants of whether you will be successful at whatever you are doing in life. Time management skills are especially important for a student in years 10, 11 and 12. As you may have noticed, the jump in difficulty in being a high school student is significant when you enter year 11 (suddenly you have 12 units of subjects to worry about and receive homework/exams from, instead of just the 3 main ones – English Science and Maths). Also keep in mind the HSC subjects individually are suddenly harder than what you’d expect coming from year 10. As a result of this non-linear jump in difficulty, many students have not been able to properly adapt to their new situation.

How many times have you left an assessment task to the last minute because you didn’t pace yourself correctly, or you submitted low quality work / received low marks due to being overwhelmed by exams and assessments?  Have a read of the following insights and think about what you can do to improve your time management skills – this will surely be one extracurricular skill to have that will translate to higher marks!

Urgent vs. important

Firstly understand the difference between a task that’s urgent, and a task that’s important. One thing that separates successful people from the rest is that successful people spend most of their time doing important things, rather than urgent things. For example, on any given day you may have one or several friends on facebook to reply to, send birthday reminders, or reply to people saying ‘hi’ on msn – these are all urgent, non-important tasks. Stop doing these things!

Important tasks are things that count. For example, studying for your school assessments / exams – it’s a certainty that you’ll need to do that assessment or exam so why ignore it until the last minute? Starting that assessment task now rather than later – you’ll eventually need to do it so why not start sooner rather than later? Do you really need to stop everything and get distracted by ‘urgent, non-important’ things like if your friends are inviting you to join their multiplayer online game, or your dog needs a walk, etc? Obviously we’re not saying ‘lock yourself in your room and study for 18 hours a day’ – you need to strike a clear balance between study and recreation (see next point).

Set clear boundaries: work while it’s work time and rest while it’s rest time

It’s important to find a good balance between work and rest. Set a clear time of the day after which you’re ‘off the clock’. This time should be dedicated to leisure. Avoid things that remind you of work – e.g. you could have all school-related stuff in your study room, and keep your bedroom free of any school-related material, or keep your school-related material in your room and spend your leisure time in your lounge. Resting and working in the same room could be stressful as you can be interrupted by emails, msn messages from friends who stress you out, or simply glancing at unfinished assignments left on your desk. Just like work, rest is best done without distraction in order to fully regain energy for the next day.

Also never plan to do important tasks in your ‘spare time’ – there’s no such thing as spare time and if you have this habit, you’ll certainly leave many tasks undone and neglected. You’re either working or resting, both activities are important to maintaining a healthy and sustainable work ethic.

The 80:20 rule

Also known as the ‘Pareto Principle’ or the ‘law of the vital few’: when applied to the field of time management, this ‘rule’ states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. While there’s no mathematical significance of the 80:20 split, this rule alludes to the non-linear return of time invested – i.e. if you only put in 50% of your effort, you will get close to 0% of the results. But if you put in 100% of effort, you will get 100% of the results. That’s why it’s important to invest as much effort as you can, maintain a sustainable healthy work ethic throughout the year, and not be distracted by non-important tasks.

Keep a todo list and follow through with your plans

All effective time-managers keep a todo list. Split your tasks into 3 categories and put a number / letter next to them to remind you of which they belong to:

  1. To be done within the day
  2. To be done within the week
  3. To be done within the year

Your student diary can fulfil this task. In our modern age, you can also consider using your iphone to synchronise with google docs so that you have access to your todo list everywhere (while at school, or on the train etc).

Watch your sleep

The human body works most efficiently when you maintain a constant sleep schedule. Sleeping at around the same time every night (not too late) will ensure you’re energetic and motivated during the day. It’s impossible to follow through with any time management plan / todo list if you’re lethargic all day. As a general rule, aim to reserve 8 hours of sleep each night – and you can’t sleep bank (i.e. sleep 6 hours for 3 nights, then 10 hours over the weekend) – it doesn’t work and will leave you fatigued and unmotivated during the day.

About the Author

Terry Wu is a maths tutor at Dux College. Having achieved an almost perfect ATAR himself in 2009 and HSC state ranks, he is an expert at time management and study skills. He is a passionate advocate of the ability for students to do well in the HSC through ‘acquired skills’ such as effective time management, effective study skills and learning exam technique.

HSC Physics – Tips for Success

Doing well in HSC Physics requires a good mix of different skills. You’ll mainly need to be great at understanding physical concepts, understanding their impacts on society / environmental issues, being able to form cohesive arguments to support your answers, and command some basic maths skill. There’s already a tonne of articles on the blog or forum posts dealing the more conventional study tips, so we thought we might cover some often missed points on the subject. So doing well in HSC physics involves:

Always refer back to the syllabus

All HSC physics exams, whether internal or external, will have to test students within the bounds of the syllabus. Syllabus dot-points are worded in a way that makes them look like exam questions (or the exam questions you get are simply paraphrasing certain syllabus dot-points). If you prepare brief notes covering every dot-point before each exam, you’ll guarantee yourself the knowledge needed to score a decent mark at the least. It is therefore a great idea to make yourself syllabus dot-point summary notes for this subject. Unlike English or Maths, the HSC sciences syllabi are extremely prescriptive, which means everything that can and will be examined are written in black and white on the syllabus for all to see. Know all your dot-points and you won’t go wrong.

One caveat to this approach however are sometimes school teachers may insert ‘creative questions’ that may exceed the bounds of the syllabus because it was covered specifically in class. Can’t blame your physics teacher if this happens (firstly because it’s hard to prove as the syllabus is open to interpretation and secondly the teacher has the last word anyway so even if you’re right, you still won’t get the marks). The best thing to do is to always pay attention in class in addition to knowing the syllabus back to front.

Don’t forget the prac exam

It’s easy to forget the practical / first-hand-investigation requirements of the syllabus. For most students, your internal assessment consists of: term 4 assessment, half yearlies, trials paper exam and prac exam (not necessarily in this order – the prac exam could be the first thing or the last thing you do in the year). The prac exam will be worth around 15-25% of your entire internal assessment mark, so it’s something worth studying for. The best way to prepare for this is to ask students in years above what their prac exam was. Because prac exams require equipment, (and unless you go to a private school with unlimited faculty budgets) chances are each year will be the same prac exam. So if you’ve got friends that graduated in recent years, ask them (if not, ask friends of friends – knowledge is power!) You can also deduce that some pracs won’t be the subject of your exam as they require dangerous activities (projectile motion – they don’t want 20 students in a class throwing projectiles around for 90 minutes) or costly breakable equipment (cathode ray tubes).

Once you know what experiment you’ll be doing for your prac exam (probably the pendulum experiment) you’ll need to familiarise yourself with every aspect of the experiment so that the day will go smoothly when it comes to actually doing the prac. You’ll also have written response questions as part of your prac exam, so prepare answers to the following questions:

  1. Were there any safety issues you needed to manage / be aware of?
  2. What about sources of error? How would you account for differences between actual and theoretical values?
  3. Identify the dependent and independent variables. Identify the control and test variables
  4. Think about any graphs you may need to draw. If it involves a line of best fit over collected data, would it make sense to pass through the origin or any particular data point?

Power of the thought experiment

One of the most important factors to any part of HSC Physics is your ability to conduct thought experiments. Thought experiments are when you play a scenario out in your imagination to test the validity or absurdity of a concept you want to test. This technique is useful in many parts of the course. For example, suppose you forgot details of the effects of re-entry (Space module). You could derive everything again on the spot just by thinking it through step by step:

  • The shuttle begins in space, and as it enters the atmosphere, friction with air particles slow it down. The friction heats up the air particles to a plasma (and we should know ionised gas blocks radio waves) so this leads to the loss of radio communications during re-entry (called ionisation blackout). The extreme heat of re-entry requires deflection (shuttle needs heat shields). Also the rate of deceleration depends on the angle of re-entry, so there must be an optimum angle.

Another useful application of this is where you forget how to use a formula because of some minor confusion. All you need to do is to apply a hypothetical situation to how you think the formula works – if it leads to an absurd result, you’ll know it’s incorrect and that you should apply the formula differently.

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