Over the past decade, HSC coaching has become an integral part of the culture of HSC preparation. A significant portion of all HSC students, whether they are from public, selective and private schools, attend some sort of HSC coaching outside of their normal school hours. The motivations of these students range from wanting to maximise their ATARs, maintaining their already high internal assessment ranks, or to catch up with the rest of the class.
HSC coaching is an interesting phenomenon, in that it is a symptom of the extremely competitive HSC environment, where students compete for limited places in highly sought after University courses. The fact that an ever-increasing portion of students who score a high ATAR have received some sort of HSC coaching during their senior study makes HSC coaching a self-fulfilling requirement of success to many. What this means is more and more students are finding that they need to attend some sort of HSC coaching service (whether it be private or class tuition) just so they can keep the playing field level with their peers at school. Of course, there are always students who manage to score a high ATAR without any outside assistance, but those remain of the minority.
However, just because HSC coaching is self-fulfilling, this does not discredit the many tangible benefits it brings to young HSC students. Of course, students gain a direct benefit with extra study and exposure to coursework, however there are often additional, less direct benefits of coaching that are often overlooked.
HSC Coaching Provides a Structured Course Schedule
This is one area that many schools, particularly public schools in disadvantaged areas, suffer from (sometimes even selective schools!). Schools often cram the teaching of several difficult topics in a short amount of time after the school’s HSC trial exams are finished. For example, in Maths Extension 2, later topics like Mechanics and Harder 3 Unit are given a fraction of the attention they require, because the faculty could not teach the early part of the course fast enough. Students from such schools have the mindset of “damage minimisation” for the topics that were neglected at school – they are left in the exam struggling to piece together the information from vague memory, because the class teacher had rushed through it so fast to fit it all in the last few weeks before the HSC exams.
Another example is science subjects like HSC Physics and Chemistry – the majority of schools decide to have their internal HSC trials after teaching 3 of the core modules, leaving the last Option topic to be taught in the weeks after the trials. However, in these final few weeks before the HSC exams, teachers also need to allocate time to review the entire course, and students probably have other subjects to worry about before time runs out. The net effect is that the Option topic is often rushed and poorly covered by schools.
An organised HSC coaching / tutoring company will be able to teach the course content in advance of the pace at schools, avoiding the need to rush through and neglect the final topics / modules of a subject in the last few weeks before the HSC exams. You may be wondering, if HSC coaching companies can teach at a faster pace, why don’t schools do this in the first place? The answer is because the students who attend HSC coaching are generally of higher calibre, and can cope with the faster pace, whereas schools need to teach at a pace suitable for the entire class, which may contain lower calibre students, or students who simply don’t care.
HSC Coaching Exposes Students to Healthy Competition
Many students who attend a class tuition type of HSC coaching find that they can mingle with peers outside of their school. The more advanced students often feel unchallenged by their peers at school, and find that high assessment ranks within the school are not difficult to achieve. The benefit of meeting peers outside of school is that students who attend HSC coaching tend to care more about their HSC success and share the goal of ATAR maximisation. By mingling and associating with like minded and higher calibre peers outside of school, HSC coaching can prevent a student from settling in his or her comfort zone from being unchallenged at school.
HSC Coaching Forces Students to Work More in their Critical Final Years of High School
HSC students, still young and relatively inexperienced, often lack the self-discipline to maintain a healthy work ethic necessary for success. While they should have been taught good values, like the importance of setting goals and working hard to achieve them, they still need external forces to keep them on the path to future success.
A quality HSC coaching service will impose a balanced workload on students, and provide a framework for students to set their own goals and work hard throughout the year in achieving them.
For example, the weekly requirement to leave the house and attend classes outside of school to study keeps students’ minds focused on the goal at hand – it is a constant reminder of what their goals are for year 11 and 12, and what they are working towards (entry into a sought-after University course). Being constantly challenged by moving through coursework at a faster pace keeps students focused, and on the ball. When their first exams come, it would seem like revision to tutored students, allowing them to achieve above and beyond the class standard. Early success builds self esteem, sets a precedent of high achievement for the student early in the year, and allows him or her to gather momentum for continued success.
So those are some of the indirect benefits of HSC coaching. What students and parents need to realise is that the overall benefit of HSC coaching is not simply limited to extra study, but also the indirect benefits discussed above.
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:
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.