From Failing Half Yearlies to Achieving a 90+ ATAR

By Gerald Huang in HSC
12th of April 2018
half yearlies


Gerald is one of our HSC forum moderators. To see the original thread and ask Gerald any question you have, click here. 🙂

It’s okay to be angry, sad, and upset at your marks – you’re only human after all. It’s fine to be demotivated from time to time – sometimes that mental break will re-energise you for the rest of the year. It’s fine to feel awful – sometimes that can be the driver for improvement. I’ll be sharing how I went from 50% in half yearlies to a 90 in the HSC. I hope you find some comfort that it’s certainly not over, and I hope it helps you to become more motivated for the rest of the year. 🙂


Half yearlies: key marks/ranks

English (Advanced): 55% (rank: 112/144)
Mathematics: 53% (rank: 71/164)
Mathematics (Extension 1): 47% (rank: 54/72)
Software Design and Development: 71% (rank: 4/14)
Biology: 70% (rank: 51/79)
Business Std: 71% (rank: 15/52)

School rank (2016): 61


Coming into half yearlies, I was never the most confident. I was considered to be dropped from Mathematics (Extension 1) after my first Year 11 results. Shockingly, I scored 15%, having scored 6/40 in the exam. I ended up with a rank of 80/88; coming into Year 12, I was averaging 40-50%, and so I was never in the best head space for Year 12.

Coming into Year 12, my marks were pulling up and in my half yearly exams, I managed 47% – that was a slight sign of concern for my teacher. So, I used this mark to force myself to start working to improve these marks. Instead of beating yourself up because you failed an exam, use this time to reflect on your preparation and your study strategies. What went well? What could you have done to prepare better? Is the method you’re using now working?


HSC marks: final mark/performance band

English (Advanced): 86 (B5)
Mathematics: 94 (B6)
Mathematics (Extension 1): 45 (90) (E4)
Software Design and Development: 88 (B5)
Biology: 84 (B5)
Business Std: 87 (B5)

Final ATAR: 91.50


How did I improve these marks?

Week 1: Identifying common mistakes

So, it’s that time where you’ve only just got your results back – feel free to have a cry, a break, or just a “by yourself” time. You’ve done well to get thus far, and everyone’s rooting for you as you go through the trial and HSC period. Have a moment to reflect on your test paper (as bad as it looks), and see if you can pick up any common areas where you’re losing the most amount of marks? Is it a certain topic? Is it not enough substance? Does your answer not make sense? Or, is it just a silly mistake?

Create a journal or diary and record any past ‘exam errors’. Keep it updated as you get assignments, tests, and exams back so that by the HSC period, you’ll have a record of “past silly mistakes”. This helped me with minimising common errors that could have costed me a mark or two. You can choose to do it any way you want – be creative with it, but make it legible because, at the end of the day, it’s to help you minimise common mistakes.


Week 2: Seek help where needed

There’s this whole stigma where if you ask for help, you’re weak – that’s completely wrong, and I want to stress this to everyone. Asking for help doesn’t show that you’re weak – keeping quiet about your problems will only lead to more work, stress, and anxiety. If you’re unsure about something, ask your teacher. If you don’t feel comfortable in front of the whole class, you can ask for some one-to-one time with your teacher during the break, after school or before school.

half yearlies

My Maths teacher saw that I had potential to doing well – so we sat down regularly after school and worked through any problem I had, and it helped me improve. Teachers may be scary or intimidating, but they want to help and would do anything to help. You just have to let them know. If you don’t like your teacher’s explanations, there are other resources – communities like this are formed because people ask and respond.


Week 3: Reflect on your own study methods

Perhaps, it’s not that the content is hard – it’s just the way you were studying was all wrong. I noticed this 3 weeks after getting my half yearly exams back, and that was only done by reflecting on the methods I used alongside my performance. Use this time to perhaps consider a new studying strategy. Maybe it’s just not clicking for you because you’re bored of the studying you’re doing. Make it fun! Studying doesn’t have to be dreadful if you make it so.

Maybe instead of memorising quotes, turn it into a screenplay and perform it in front of the mirror. Turn the quotes you need to memorise into a song. For me, this was a lot more effective than sitting down one afternoon and trying to memorise it – who wants to do that?

Are you struggling with a particular concept? Watch YouTube videos on that particular concept. Sometimes, having a professional teaching you the content will give you that click you needed. If you’re after some binge-watchable series on Calculus, 3Blue1Brown’s animation is a great resource to use.


Week 4: Rinse and repeat after each exam

Keep reflecting and improving on your study methods for the rest of the year – make sure you’re happy with the work you’re putting in right now. Don’t worry about the “will I get xx ATAR” – because chances are: you’ll end up surprising yourself in the end. Just keep doing what you need, seek help, and keep up with the class – you’ll be okay in the end 🙂


So don’t worry! You’ve still got time

The point is, no matter what your marks are right now, you’ve got ample time to improve. Remember that it’s okay to be mad, angry and frustrated, but also use this time to channel your emotions and use it to reflect on your studying methods. Don’t stress about your marks at this moment; there’s still so much left for you to redeem yourself. Just take a step back, and start working from here – you’ve got this! We’re all behind you 100% of the way. 🙂


Another resource you may like to read:
How does scaling work?


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    Wow! Great article. I don't understand how you're doing some tough subjects and you managed to get an ATAR of 90+ and I'm here doing subjects I can handle like Standard English, CAFS, SOR 2, IDT and Senior Science and still failed my half yearly. I guess it's a motivational problem or laziness. Maybe both? Thank you, again.

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