Welcome prelim students! You’ve finally reached the last two years of your schooling career. However, these two years can be critical – in approximately 20 months time, you will be sitting your HSC. This sounds like a long time but believe me, time will fly. You only have three terms in Year 11 and then HSC year starts. So what should you be doing during your prelim years?

Expected the Unexpected

The transition period between Year 10 to Year 11 can be shocking, especially when you get your first assessment back. You’re going through the content a lot faster so don’t expect a 90% plus in your first assessment. No one starts off prelim year at a Band 6 quality. The whole point of prelim year is to make mistakes and experiment which study technique suits you the best so you can approach Year 12 knowing how you can maximise your study time.

Of course, it’s normal to be disappointed with your marks. These marks don’t determine your HSC so you should use this as a springboard for improvement. You hear so many stories from Year 12 students about their progress during prelim year, starting from an average mark to achieving Band 6’s in their HSC. Also, don’t use these marks as a way to determine if you’re made for the subject- don’t drop from the subject if you failed one assessment task; you’ll never get anywhere if you have that attitude. Instead, see how you go in your next few assessments and then make the decision towards the end of your prelim year.

Learn to Prioritise

At this moment, you should be getting accustomed to your subjects- figure out what subjects would be the most time consuming, the most content heavy and most importantly, the subject that will most likely be your weakness. This can help you prioritise which subjects you should prioritise. For example, a 3 Unit subject would most likely be the most time-consuming subject since you need to worry about your 2 Unit subject and that extra unit of work. On the other hand, any Humanities subject may require you to spend more time making study notes due to the content-heavy nature of the subject. On top of that, your English subjects also need an equal amount of attention because all students do at least some level of English. And when you get to Year 12, depending on what subject you take, you will need to balance your Major Work(s) on top of all these subjects.

This can get easily overwhelming. The best way to overcome this is to print out a study schedule and stick to it. Sticking to it is the hardest thing- you need to really discipline yourself and follow the schedule to make sure you’re on top of things. Here is my study schedule at the moment:

Study planner - prelim

Since math is the most time-consuming and my weakest subject, that is the first thing I do when I come back from school. Afterwards, I complete my homework from other subjects- they don’t take me as long as math so I spend approximately an hour completing it. I also need to do a component of my Major Works so I spend at least two hours per night, except Tuesdays because during the sport sessions, I have Major Work sessions at school. Notice how I allocate a section of my weekend doing study notes. You don’t want to be making your study notes one week before your exams- by this time, you should be completing past papers or writing essay plans. Allocating at least two hours of study notes can be beneficial for your exams, especially in Year 12 when you can’t afford to waste time making study notes when you could be studying something else. 

Syllabus, Ye Ole Friend

Say hi to your new best friend, the NESA Syllabus. This syllabus will be your Bible for the next two years. It’s is important to know your syllabus back to front so you know what you will be assessed on. The syllabus also tells you what HSC markers will be looking for when you sit the HSC. Take note of any verbs such as ‘assess,’ ‘evaluate’ or ‘describe.’ These verbs tell you how to respond to the question- not responding to the question properly can lead to you losing easy marks, and in an exam where you’re being compared to thousands of students, you need as many marks as you can get.

As my English teacher describes it, the HSC is like a game. Know the rules and you can use it to your advantage.

The Art of Study Notes

That’s right, I said ‘art.’ As I said previously, Year 11 is all about experimenting which study methods suit you, and study notes are part of it. As tedious as it sounds, getting into the habit of making study notes is important because when exams roll around, you don’t want to waste your time frantically typing up study notes when you could be using that time for past papers. It also keeps your summaries in one place so you don’t have to keep flicking through your class notes and worksheets to find a topic. Use the syllabus to help you form your study notes- NESA is very generous in telling you what they will be assessing in your HSC so use it wisely.

Splendid Isolation- Not so splendid after all

I mentioned how my English teacher describes the HSC as a game. That doesn’t mean that you should treat your peers like it’s the Hunger Games. One of the best ways to study is to form study groups. You guys are on the same boat so might as well help each other out. Of course, study groups won’t work well if you show up with nothing planned. Prepare something like critiquing each other’s English speeches or going through a past paper together and discuss the answers. This can strengthen your bond with your cohort and allow you to increase your average. My friend organised a Chemistry study group during Term 4 and they managed to raise their average mark from 30% during prelims to 70% in their first HSC task.

That being said, you need to plan your study group. Only creating a study group with your friends may not be the most efficient way to study since there is a higher chance you may get distracted. Create a class group chat so you can discuss about anything class related. In my Modern History group chat, we tend to ask each other about homework and any sources we’ve found that could help with our class tasks and assessments. This also makes it easier if you want to propose a study group. Set a date and time and make sure you have something planned- perhaps a discussion on a certain topic or going through some past papers together. This makes sure everyone in your class is on a similar level when all of you enter the exam room and can really impact your ATAR significantly.

Teachers, Your New Best Friend

Not only do you have to make sure you work well with your cohort, you should also establish a relationship with your teacher. As strange as this sounds, it’s important for your teacher to know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Of course, they won’t have time to really get to know you in class because they have to give an equal amount of attention during class. However, striking up a conversation after class or just bumping into them out of class can really help them know you better. First impressions matter, so let them know what kind of person you are, academically-wise and personality-wise.

I found this really beneficial during Year 11- I wasn’t performing as well in physics despite me knowing the syllabus well and constantly completing past papers. Although my rank didn’t reflect my study habits, my physics teacher knew how much I enjoyed physics and how well I knew the subject through my numerous conversations with him about physics and maths. Because of this, he knew that my exam technique isn’t the best so he can help me with more exam-style questions through my constant emails. On top of this, he kept me motivated to keep pushing on in physics because he knew I wanted to go do engineering in the future.

Even if you don’t like your teacher, try and ask them questions when you need help. If you really display your dislike towards a teacher, they will know and they may be biased against you, even though they’re not supposed to do that; however, teachers are humans too, so it would be natural for them to dislike students. You don’t want that. Try and engage with them. If they’re not the best at explaining concepts, try another teacher!

Practice, Practice, Practice

Exams are rolling around the corner, so what do you do? Two words: past papers. These past papers basically tell you how the questions are going to be set out when you sit your exam. This is something I would highly recommend when preparing for math exams. Sure, chapter reviews are good but textbooks tend to ask more foundation-based questions- questions that are usually worth at least one mark in the HSC. Exposing yourself to more exam-style, application questions can really help you familiarise yourself with the exams. That way, you would know how to attempt questions worth more than one mark- these questions at the back of the exam really set you apart from the rest of the crowd so it’s important to know how to approach these questions.

As for Humanities or English, go digging for essay questions. Considering how the 2019 HSC Class is following the new syllabus, I would suggest finding overlaps between the old and new syllabus and then find questions that relate to the topic. For example, the new core study in Modern History is ‘Power and Authority in the Modern World 1919-1946’- there is already an overlap between the old and new syllabus because the second syllabus dot point looks at the Nazi Regime to 1939- you could easily use the old Weimar Germany essay questions to help you practice essay writing. I would do the same with English and find overlapping modules or prescribed texts. For example, Module A’s Textual Conversations is basically similar to our Module A’s Intertextual Connections/ Perspectives- there is already an overlap with the texts since one of the options is Shakespeare’s King Richard III and Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard.

So here are a few tips on dealing with your prelim years. The transition from Year 10 to Year 11 may be shocking to others- you go through content faster and you’re constantly reminded over the fact that once the 2018 Class have graduated, it’s your turn to do the HSC. What I’m trying to say is that your last two years of high school will fly, so make it count!

Need some study motivation? Check out her Instagram @studywithlivia!