Tag: HSC Coaching

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.

Can I Score a High Atar With Low Scaling Subjects?

Can I Score a High Atar With Low Scaling Subjects?

A commonly pondered question by many students is whether their subject choices made at the end of year 10 would preclude them from getting a ‘high ATAR’. Now, what does ‘high ATAR’ mean to you? What constitutes a high ATAR to one person will differ to the next as it is a subjective question relative to one’s ability and expectation, amongst other things. For argument sake, let us suppose that a ‘high ATAR’ is anything above 99 (understandably this may be more appropriately deemed a ‘very high ATAR’ to some). Now therefore the question becomes ‘can I still get 99+ with relatively low scaling subjects?”

The short answer is: yes, of course you can!*

*The long answer:

You may already have at least a vague idea of how the HSC scaling process works, so you may be able to understand that there is theoretically some trade-off between how well a subject scales, and how difficult it is (if there was such a thing as an objective measure of subject difficulty). What this implies is that if your HSC portfolio is mostly low scaling subjects, your level of achievement within each subject would have to be comparatively higher than if your portfolio consisted of mostly higher scaling subjects. What this may mean generally is that 10 units worth of 90s (HSC aligned marks) in low scaling subjects may result in the same ATAR as 10 units worth of 80s in higher scaling subjects.

Let’s look at some hard numbers to support our thesis. Each year, the UAC publishes a set of scaling statistics in Table A3, as part of each year’s annual Scaling Report. The latest years of table A3’s are available on the UAC website, or at: http://www.duxcollege.com.au/hsc-scaling-statistics-i-34.html. Table A3 compares all available HSC subjects in terms of several statistics, the important ones being: the scaled mean and the mean HSC mark. The scaled mean represents the average scaled mark achieved among the entire candidature of the subject, while the HSC mark mean represents the same for HSC mark. On this note, the Table A3 statistics are what’s used as inputs in ATAR calculators you will find around the web.

Now let’s look at some examples

Example 1

Suppose one student did Chemistry and another student did Senior science. If the Chemistry student scored in the 90th percentile in the 2010 HSC, their HSC mark would be 90 and his scaled marks would be 84.4. The Senior science student would need to achieve a HSC mark of 97 (estimate based on interpolation) and come close to being 1st in the state in order to earn the same number of scaled marks! (Remember, your ATAR is directly calculated off the total of your scaled marks across your 10 best units – it is scaled marks that gets you into the Uni course you want!)

Courses Number Type of Mark Mean SD Max Mark P99 P90 P75 P50 P25
General Mathematics 30992 HSC 35.8 5.9 50.0 47.0 43.5 40.0 36.0 32.0
Scaled 21.1 10.0 45.4 41.0 35.0 29.1 20.8 12.9
Mathematics Extension 2 3469 HSC 41.8 5.4 50.0 48.5 47.0 46.0 43.0 39.0
Scaled 43.8 4.5 50.0 49.2 47.9 46.6 44.8 42.3

Example 2

Lets look at another set of contrasting subjects, to reinforce the point being made. Suppose one student does General Mathematics and another student does Maths Extension 2 (unfair comparison yes, but relevant in illustrating the point at hand). If the Maths Extension 2 student scored in the 90th percentile, their HSC mark would be 94 scaled mark would be 95.8. For the general mathematics student, even if he/she topped the state, only 90.8 scaled marks would be awarded.

Courses Number Type of Mark Mean SD Max Mark P99 P90 P75 P50 P25
Chemistry 10330 HSC 37.4 6.5 49.0 47.0 45.0 42.0 38.0 34.0
Scaled 31.7 9.2 50.0 45.9 42.2 38.8 33.5 26.1
Social Science 4901 HSC 38.0 5.1 49.5 47.5 44.0 41.5 38.5 35.0
Scaled 19.5 9.9 43.8 40.3 32.8 27.1 19.3 11.5

In 2010 there were 3469 Maths Extension 2 students, and 30,992 general maths students – almost ten times more students than Maths Extension 2! What the scaling system does is that you are rewarded less for coming first out of 30,992 students compared to coming in the 90th percentile among 3469 students (equal to around 347th).


While the results of these examples do sound amazing, it is acceptable from a statistical / technical analysis – the system rewards students who embark on more difficult subjects like Maths Extension 2 and Chemistry. From a technical standpoint, the system is ‘fair’. For those of you aiming for a ‘high ATAR’, this means you will need to score very high percentiles across all your lower scaling subjects in order to score a 99+ ATAR. This is difficult but not impossible and certainly not unheard of. As a general guide, for all your low scaling subjects (subjects with scaled means of 25 and below) you should aim to score a HSC mark of 95 or better, in order to not jeopardise your chances of achieving the magical 99+ ATAR.

A slight digression from topic: the significance of a 99 ATAR is the fact that Law and Medicine (though based on UMAT and interview results as well, the fact that median ATAR of UNSW and USYD medicine students are 99+ means ATAR is at least a significant indicator of chances of success in gaining admission to these courses)

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