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First and foremost, it’s important to recognise that there is no single “correct” way of “doing” Year 12. There are so many possible approaches, perspectives, and techniques, and none is inherently better or worse than any other. Each student has a different personality, holds different strengths and weaknesses, and sets different goals – and so, it logically follows, they will have different methods when it comes to study. That’s normal. But one question comes up time and time again when it comes to Year 12: should you study ahead?

In this article, we’re going to look at – from our view – some of the potential advantages and disadvantages of doing just that. If you have any follow-up questions, or if you just want to chat with other students, we really recommend browsing and getting involved with our online student communities. Check them out for HSC, QCE and VCE – we’d love to see you around!

What does “studying ahead” involve?

Okay. Before we get into anything else, the first thing we should probably do is describe what we actually mean by “studying ahead”. In this context, we’re talking about learning – or teaching yourself – content before you reach it in your regular school classes. The general idea is to be “ahead” of your class, and to perhaps “finish” the content of the course a little quicker than your classmates. The reason I’ve used quotation marks here (“ahead”, “finish”) is that these terms tend to carry positive connotations. But being “ahead” of your classmates isn’t inherently better, and “finishing” the course content early isn’t necessarily advantageous, either.

That’s the general idea of studying ahead, though. You move at a quicker pace – or start earlier – than your classmates or those around you. It can come with both advantages and disadvantages, and even each of these might depend on your personal perspective. We have noted a few examples in the sections below, but be aware that this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Potential advantages of studying ahead

So – why might you consider studying ahead? In one sense, doing so provides flexibility. You’re not confined by what you’re looking at in class, and could theoretically try to learn any section of the syllabus at any time throughout the year (any from anywhere, given the recent push for online learning). You may personally feel that learning the content in a different order would be advantageous or more intuitive to you. You may also find that you are more naturally drawn to specific topics in each subject, and studying ahead provides an opportunity to consider those topics earlier in the year.

If you start getting through content before you reach it in class, you may find that classes become more like revision. We’ve put this in the advantages section on the assumption that you make the most of that fact – we’ll touch on a potential downfall of this soon, too. But studying ahead can mean that, instead of sitting in class feeling confused and having no idea what’s going on, you can be more actively engaged with content to which you have already been introduced. You can ask more detailed and in-depth questions, you can work on broadening your understanding of already-familiar topics and how they link with each other, and you can hone your skills rather than starting from scratch.

How to stay more engaged in Year 12 - ATAR Notes

What this might also mean is that you have a solid understanding of the course’s content before your classmates. The benefit of this is providing longer to focus on exam revision. The longer you have for exam-specific study, the longer you have to work on your weakest areas, the longer you have to practise your question-answering technique, and the longer you have to sit practice examinations under exam conditions. In one sense, this is the most relevant type of study, as you can mimic the environment you will face in the end examination. If you’re looking for other exam performance tips, you may enjoy this article.

With those advantages in mind, is it fair to say that studying ahead requires more work? Proponents of studying ahead would most likely say “well, no”. The way we see it, there are two options here:

  1. Simply starting your work earlier, in which case you don’t necessarily study more – just at a different time.

  2. Starting at the same time, but doing your work more quickly, providing greater flexibility in the back half of the year.

So if studying ahead can provide flexibility, more revision opportunities, and longer to focus on the exam – without necessarily doing more work – why wouldn’t you study ahead? Here are some potential downfalls to consider.

Potential downfalls of studying ahead

As we have seen above, studying ahead can mean that, when it comes time to learn a new concept in class, it’s actually not new to you at all. This can be advantageous, but it can also lead to complacency. In a perfect world, you would take the opportunity every time to work with your teacher to consolidate your understanding, to improve what your weaknesses, and to put yourself in the best possible position for examination success. But will that realistically be the case? It’s not too difficult to imagine a scenario where a student, having already put in the hard work to study ahead, then misuses their class time. Perhaps they decide to chat with their friends, ignore the work at hand (“I already know all this!”), or even catch up on sleep. In that scenario, you might wonder why they bothered studying ahead at all!

A similar concept is true when it comes to revision for internal assessments throughout the year. Studying ahead might mean that what you’re revising in your own time doesn’t line up with class content and lessons. For example, you might be teaching yourself Chapter 6, whilst the rest of the Class is focusing on Chapter 3. That seems fine on paper, but what then happens when your teacher sets an assessment task based on Chapter 3? In that scenario, studying ahead might actually be detrimental, given your focus will be split despite the assessment task specifically focusing on one area of content.

How to learn class content in Year 12 - ATAR Notes

Studying ahead, if not done in consultation with a teacher, also runs the risk of mislearning information. If you’re trying to teach yourself straight out of a textbook, it’s not inconceivable that mistakes will occur. And if you learn the wrong definition, or the wrong solving method, or just straight up the wrong information, it might be difficult to subsequently correct that. A lot more difficult, indeed, than learning the correct information the first time around in class!

And, on a basic level, studying ahead requires effort. I don’t think it would be too controversial to say that, in many ways, staying with the class is easier. You learn concepts in the classroom, complete the assigned homework, and study for assessment tasks relevant to what you’ve been learning. Now, that’s not to say that’s the better way of doing things – studying ahead also leads to benefits in, say, developing an independent approach to learning – but it does come with a sense of simplicity.

How to study ahead effectively

In this article so far, we have touched on some (certainly not all) potential advantages and downfalls of studying ahead, and we hope they have acted as a point of reference to start thinking about your options and strategy. But if you do decide that studying ahead is or will be the best option for you, how can you do that effectively? What strategies can you employ to ensure you avoid some of the potential downfalls listed above?

Our first area of recommendation is to open dialogue with your teacher. If you’re upfront about your goals and aspirations, there should be no issue. Teachers are there to help you, and it’s better for all involved to be on the same page about your situation and perspective. Try to make a time to chat with them, whether that be after class or at another mutually convenient time. It’s a lot better to work with your teachers!

Along a similar line, remember that the classroom remains important. It doesn’t make sense to study ahead and then waste your time in class. It also isn’t fair on other students who are trying to learn the content for the first time – or, indeed, those trying to develop their skills and understanding further. Studying ahead can lead to many benefits, but only if you continue to use your class time wisely.

For that reason, it might be worth thinking about not pushing yourself too hard – or, perhaps more accurately, not getting too far ahead. Generally, syllabuses are designed to fit the time period they’re assigned to, and if you “finish” the entire course by March, you might have a tough time keeping motivation for the rest of the year!

Overall, is studying ahead a good idea?

As you might have guessed, we’re sitting on the fence. Studying ahead can be advantageous, but it also comes with risks, and neither strategy is inherently more valuable. Many students who have studied ahead have gone on to achieve amazing high school results. The same, of course, is true for those who have not studied ahead. It’s important to recognise that goals are achievable irrespective of whether or not you choose to study ahead.

Indeed, studying ahead isn’t an “all-or-nothing” game! You might choose to study ahead for portions of the course, and not for others. Or perhaps you might test it out, and find it’s not for you. Flexibility is totally okay, and perhaps even preferable!

Let us know what you think!

Study strategy and techniques commonly arise on the ATAR Notes Forums as a point of discussion. Why not let us know what you think about the idea of studying ahead? Get involved at the link below, and best of luck with your studies for the rest of the year (and beyond!):

Studying ahead – is it a good idea? Let us know your thoughts!