Study Habits of a State Ranker

By Emily Tyrrell in HSC
24th of January 2019
study habits

Emily, our English lecturer, scored 1st in NSW for Advanced English, a 99.85 ATAR, and has lectured over 10,000 HSC students. In this guide she shares her study habits!

Once, mid lecture, a student shot their hand up in between slides. Having only just begun speaking, I was surprised that someone had a question so soon.

“So, how did you like…do it?”

Easy enough question to ask – difficult to answer. So I’m going to try and collect my thoughts in this guide.

I was always a keen English student – guilty of hiding in the back of Geography or Maths with a book. However, I was also very good at being obsessive, spending ridiculous and unnecessary assignments in junior school merely because I enjoyed what I was writing about. The HSC was a mix of honing and eradicating those habits.


Typically, I spent three hours a day studying. This would be:

  1. First hour homework. Any homework I didn’t get done in this time I just didn’t do. Lucky for me, my school was assignment based, and so work on top of formal assessment tasks wasn’t heavy.
  2. Second hour was study notes. This would be two times in a week for subjects like Legal Studies and History, and once a week for English
  3. Third hour would be a practice essay or exam based on the content that I had learnt the week before.

This was the way for each day except Fridays, when I would usually be participating in Debating, Public Speaking or Scouts. On the weekend, I would dedicate one day (ie. 6hrs of study) to anything that needed to be done (like an assignment, or further notes). The other day would be free for loved ones, or if I really needed to, pulling together an assignment. The sanctity of the spare Sunday was rarely voided, however, for fear of being bored of work the following week.

Study was balanced against part time work, Scouting, Volunteering and other extra-curricular activities. This meant whenever I did study, I had to be efficient. Whilst this meant learning to be strict on myself, this wasn’t the equivalent of being rigid. I didn’t enforce exact hours of study, or complete crazy all nighters just to be ahead of the class. In a strange way, sticking a routine was being kind to myself as a student – I allowed myself the balance, and time, that I needed to achieve my best work.


Of course, study picked up pre-trial and after Graduation. My game was to hand two practice essays to my teachers when they handed me one marked essay back (sorry guys). When I needed it my drive and love for my subjects kicked in. Too, was a sense that I, only me, was responsible for my learning. So, forcing myself to do papers even if my notes weren’t perfect, or writing under time all seemed worthwhile when that was how I’d be tested in the HSC.

Particularly for English, I found that having a niche was important. I was particularly good as putting a political spin on each of my texts, and so used it to my advantage when constructing a ‘personal voice’. Such made it much easier to understand the connections between my text, and thus, made English seem like a much smaller, manageable subject.

So, to that one student, I hope I’ve better articulated myself here than  in the answer I gave you  on the spot. Because though I blurted, ‘I just..did’ (to the amusement of the audience), and stumbled through a very brief and repressed memory of my Year 12 life, reflection allows me to glean the appreciation of schedule, efficiency and kindness. Know yourself as a student, what you’re good at, your weaknesses, what you can expect of yourself. See you at the next lecture series!

Follow up questions about English? Click here!