In our recent lecture series (recordings uploaded here), we ran a special “How to Get Top Marks” session. There were heaps of questions, and we only had time to get through so many, so we thought we’d think about a few more in this article!

We’d love to see you live at our next lecture series. Keep up to date by checking back on our lectures page periodically. 🥳


How do you answer command terms effectively?

‘Command terms’ (or ‘action words’) make up the crux of a lot of assessment or exam questions. For example, in “Define the social model of health”, define is the command term - it’s telling you what you need to do. Other command terms include words like explain, discuss, justify, outline, and so on - and they each come with different requirements and expectations.

To answer each question effectively and give the assessors what they’re looking for, you first need to have a really clear understanding of what each term means in your subject. Some states/subjects have a glossary of terms (see here for HSC students, for example), but you can otherwise chat with your teacher to make your own glossary. This can be a really smart investment of time, because it gives each of your subsequent exam responses more structure.

"... you first need to have a really clear understanding of what each term means in your subject."

Typically, ‘higher order’ words like explain or contrast will be used for questions that have more marks, so those can be a good place to start if you’re unsure about the differences between different command terms.

If you’re still unsure about how to answer each command term, why not set up your own practice questions? Take a given topic from your syllabus that you’re comfortable with, and then work with others or your teacher to come up with your own practice questions, using each command term. See what, as the marker, you’d be looking for in a response to that question.


How many hours should you study?

This is a timeless classic, and gets asked every single year. Unfortunately - and this probably isn’t what you want to read - there’s no great answer to it. The reason for this is that there are so many factors at play. For example, consider this scenario:

  • Student A: studies for 10 hours, but is a bit distracted on their phone and chatting with friends, and is only super productive for two hours of those ten.

  • Student B: studies for five hours, but all five hours are productive and focused.

On the face of it, you could say that Student A has studied more - but have they really? And even if they have, does it really matter? Student B has managed to get through more productive, focused, and efficient study - and probably then has longer to relax or do their own thing when they’re not studying.

How long you study for doesn’t mean nothing, but it doesn’t mean everything, and it’s all centred on context. As with a lot of things, the quality of study is really important, and this should be your first focus. Once you’ve found a way to study effectively (note: you can’t do this all the time, so be kind on yourself), you can then turn your attention to increasing study quantity if you feel it necessary.


Do you have any tips on not getting burnt out in Year 12?

This is another really common question, and speaks volumes about how taxing Year 12 can really be if you don’t take care of yourself.

As Bella put it through the lecture, “resting does not equal wasting time!” Taking your time to relax and recuperate is really more of an investment, allowing you to later focus on study effectively when you’re trying to do so. Never ‘switching off’ in some ways means that you’re also really never ‘switched on’; allowing yourself to take proper breaks can benefit study in the long-run, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

If you’re so inclined, building some structure around your week can help with this. For example, perhaps Friday night after the school week is a dedicated rest time. Segmenting the week like this means that when Friday night rolls around, you’re not thinking, “hmm, should I be studying right now?” You’ve given yourself permission to take a proper break, without thinking explicitly about what you could or should be doing for school.


How do I make sure that I’m using my time effectively? Sometimes I spend hours just fixing up sentences…

When studying, it can be really easy to get caught up in details that ultimately aren’t that important. Or perhaps you’re familiar with the sensation of ‘studying’ for two hours, only to find that you’ve created a gorgeous, intricate heading, and not much else.

The main idea here is to be clear on what you want to get out of any given study session. Sitting down to study thinking, “okay, I want to finish the Chapter 2 questions” gives a lot more direction than thinking, “okay, I want to study for Biology”. The goal is a lot more measurable, and gives more incentive to actually get something done.

"The main idea here is to be clear on what you want to get out of any given study session."

If you’re trying to study and find yourself burning heaps of time on formatting or other details that don’t really directly contribute to your learning, it might also be the case that you’re just not confident with the topic at hand. It’s natural that, if you don’t even know where to start with a topic, you delay starting for as long as possible. After all, it’s a lot easier to procrastinate by re-writing your past notes!

You need to be honest with yourself if that’s the case. Identifying a gap in your knowledge is actually really useful, assuming you do something about it. Make a note of it, move on to something else you can work on, and then ask for help from your teacher or friends as soon as you can to fill that knowledge gap. You might find that once you’ve wrapped your head around the topic, subsequent study will be a lot more efficient.


Is having a tutor worth it?

There are lots of different types of tutoring, and different things work for different students. Having a quality tutor can really help you approach content in a different way, improve your study techniques, or get more exposure to different types of questions.

If you’re keen to give tutoring a go, something like TuteSmart, which is flexible and student-centred, might be a good way to go. It’s not compulsory - you don’t need a tutor in order to get really high marks - but tutoring does help a lot of students.


Would you have any tips for how to avoid silly mistakes in exams?

The first thing to do here is to try to understand why you’re making those mistakes. Is it due to time pressure? Are you just not taking enough care when reading the questions? Are you being careless with your working out? Or, are they perhaps not “silly mistakes”, and more just an area you need to brush up on?

Once you’ve identified the root cause (keeping an error log can be really useful for this), it will be a lot easier to remedy. For example, if you find that a lot of your lost marks in tests or assessments comes from rushing through questions, you might benefit from more practice in test conditions. Be strict on yourself with the amount of time you have to answer questions, and push yourself to be efficient in your responses. As we all know, having a good grasp of the content and being able to apply that knowledge in exam-based situations are two completely different things!

ATAR Notes runs free lectures four times per year, and we’d love to see you at the next series! Click here for more information.