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When should I be studying?

At the beginning of January, we held the first lecture series for NSW run by ATAR Notes. Students really responded to our mission and gave us awesome feedback about what their biggest HSC questions are. One of the most frequently asked: When should I be studying?

Of course, for everyone this is different because the way you study best won’t be the way that your best friend studies best. It will probably involve a bit of trial and error to work out what works best for you. Different times of the year will throw different challenges your way. The assignment block requires a different approach to work than what the period that leads up to trials does. Sometimes you spend your study time learning the content, other times you are just revising.

How do you cram in as much study as possible into your day?

There are a few ways that you can optimise your study time in the little cracks between big daily events.

The school library:

Most schools leave their libraries available for students from before school starts until about an hour after school finishes. You might find that this quiet time is perfect for catching up on your English prescribed text, for completing last minute homework or for using the library’s computers for research. You might not actually be “studying” in your time at the library but rather preparing to study. Use your recess or lunch to print the resources you need or to borrow the books you will want to study from in the afternoon.

The local library:

Most local libraries are very receptive to HSC students. Often, larger libraries will have long hours that cater for students. If your home is a little crazy and noisy, or you just need that academic environment to get you going, don’t shy away from the local library.

The shower, the bathroom, the toilet…

In the period before exams I was stressing that I wouldn’t be familiar enough with how I wanted my English essays to look like. So, I printed them, slid them in a plastic sleeve and pinned them to the outside of the shower wall, facing in. I wrote the most important Legal Studies legislation on the bathroom mirror with whiteboard marker so that when I was brushing my teeth, I was familiarising myself with legislation. I had a timeline of Germany from the Weimar period until Nazism on the back of the toilet door, so that when I was…y’know…I was taking mental pictures of the timeline.

Or…the reverse.

Instead of studying during these little snippets of time, you could in fact be using these small breaks as your down time. Scroll your Instagram, listen to some music, message your friends, so that when you are in a place and time that is perfect for study: you are refreshed and ready to go!

What type of studier are you?

On a daily basis, you will probably fall into one of the following three categories. Each comes with pros and cons.  You may find yourself being a night owl in your cramming days, and then being an early worm by the time exams have set in.

The Enthusiastic Early Worm:


This student makes the most of the time available. They may be observed setting their alarms for the dark hours of the morning, 4am onwards. They show discipline in their sleeping structure and make the most of the dewy hours to optimise study results. They may seem crazy to their peers.


  1. You start the school day with a head start. You’ve been in the study mode since the early hours, so your mindset is ready.

  2. You will be super fresh and ready to start the day rather than still waking up during roll call.

  3. Many people claim to understand things clearer in the morning. You tend not to carry social baggage at this time of the day and instead only carry what is present: your studies.

  4. You won’t be missing out on social opportunities this early in the morning.

  5. There truly is some miracle science at work when you cannot understand a concept for the life of you before bed, then you wake up, give it another crack, and it all makes perfect sense.

  6. If you work part time after school, you can go to work knowing that you’ve done some study for today already and whatever is due tomorrow, you will do when you wake up with plenty of time to spare!


  1. Just as you need to be disciplined in the time you wake up, you need to be disciplined in going to sleep. You can’t go to sleep at midnight and set your alarm at 4am and call that a sustainable routine.

  2. You will probably be waking up in darkness. In Winter this is super hard because it is colder and it doesn’t get light until later.

  3. By the end of the school day, you may feel tired or burned out because you have been studying since the morning, when your peers only started in Period One.

The Smart Sequential Studier:


This is your classic studier. This person may be seen both waking up and going to sleep at reasonable times. This is the person who eats breakfast, goes to school, does what they need to do, comes home, studies some more, stops for dinner, then may or may not continue until bedtime depending on their work load. Everything is fairly in order for this person. It’s nice.


  1. There is no unusual wake up time.

  2. This is the most flexible type of study schedule for anyone who has after school commitments that may take an hour or two out of the study schedule.

  3. It’s in order, it’s sequential, it’s neat, and there are people who love all of those adjectives.

  4. You jump straight out of school and hit the books again, like one big run-on train of thought.

  5. If you need to contact a peer or teacher for some assistance when you’re studying, they are likely to be in reach at this time.


  1. The big chunk of after school studying can be very, very exhausting. Particularly on the days when you are snowed down with extra work.

The Nerdy Night Owl:


This is the person who will send you messages at a ridiculous hour in the night asking for help with homework when you were asleep like a normal person. This person may catch up on sleep during the afternoon and then wake up for a night of study. Or, this person might be a super trooper and just study right on through.


  1. For some people, the night time is a wind down time where they can channel their studying properly. The chaos of the day is over, and now is study time.

  2. In many households, no one else is awake so this is complete and total quiet.

  3. Having a nap after school can be very rejuvenating for the mind and it works well as a de-stresser, particularly if you throw some R&R time in there and watch the latest Suits episode.

  4. If you work part time after school, you will be needing some late night study to fit everything in!


  1. If you’re in need of help from a peer or teacher when you’re studying: your requests are falling on sleepy ears.

  2. Although having a nap can be great for rebooting the mind, it also presents issues if it means you struggle to sleep at night. Having a solid night of sleep every night is of paramount importance in the HSC.

I have tried to categorise something that is completely organic and natural, and perhaps shouldn’t be categorised. This is for the reason that if you are once a Nerdy Night Owl, you might flip into the complete reverse when it is exam time.  You need to find what works best for you! It may take trial and error or you could slip right into place first go.

On weekends, you could be any combination of the above. I do suggest – that you use at least half of one weekend day to NOT study. AT LEAST!  Never ever feel guilty for taking some well earned rest time. You can’t afford to lose yourself in the chaos of the HSC. Use this time to play Xbox, to meet with friends, to play soccer or to lay and eat doritos.

One last thing! When you are approaching exam period, don’t act like it is a surprise. You know it is coming so get prepared. Your half yearlies are a bit of a trial and error thing in terms of how you organize your study time in the lead up. By trials, you’ll be more prepared and you will understand just how far in advance you need to start studying (hint: ASAP!). Every moment from here until the final exams can be used to your advantage.

When is the best time to study? Now! 🙂