As a mathematics tutor on the Central Coast of New South Wales, I have helped many students prepare for their Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams in General 2, Mathematics, and Extension Mathematics. The curriculum at all levels is dense, so the couple of months between finishing the content and the exam date are a key time to study, review materials, and prepare for the exam. As part of my service to my students, I provide them with advice on studying and exam preparation. Here are some of the key tips and pieces of advice I often have for my Year 12 exam-takers nearing the end of Term 3:
- Start studying now! Don’t let time slip away.
Don’t fall into the trap of procrastination. Two months is not a lot of time, and it will be gone before you know it. You do not want to leave yourself unprepared or stressed out having to cram for the exam. Do your future-self a favour, and spread your study time out of the coming weeks. Take it seriously. Dedicate yourself to practice and study, even if it’s just for an hour or two a few times a week. This brings us to the next tip.
- Create a study plan. Put it in writing.
Research has shown that actually writing down your study goals helps you to commit to studying and accomplish more! Your goals should be written or typed, and needs to be specific. Include statements such as “I will study for 2 hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after work,” or “I will meet up with my friend Shane at the coffee shop on Saturday mornings for a study session.” Avoid vague statements as much as possible, such as “I will study more often.”
In addition to writing down your goals, create a study plan for yourself that you can stick to. Use a planner or calendar to dedicate time to studying, not just for your maths HSC, but all of your HSC topics. For tips on creating an effective study plan, see this article.
- Don’t overload yourself. Take breaks and spread out your study time.
You don’t want to burn yourself out. This is why the first two tips are so important, they ensure that you’re not forcing yourself to cram right before the exam date. That being said, make sure that when you do study, you’re not stressing yourself out or overloading yourself. If you’ve given yourself enough time to prepare, you can certainly limit yourself to studying just a few hours a day, a few times each week. You’ve got other tests to get ready for, so I believe that 2 hours of study, 3 times per week, or 1 hour of study, 5-6 times per week dedicated to maths is a good plan. This is very achievable, especially once classes end. I also recommend that you set a timer on your phone to schedule regular breaks, or just take a quick break between long problems. This will keep your mind fresh and reduce your stress. Try not to get distracted, though. If you think this might happen, set a timer for yourself to limit your break time to 5 or 10 minutes.
- Use past HSC exams to prepare. Take notes on problems and topics you’re not confident with.
Once trials are over and done with, you don’t have to worry about any other school’s or teacher’s assessments or tests other than the one developed by the friendly HSC test designers. If nothing else, these people are expert test makers, and they are very consistent. This is good news for you, because that means the test can actually feel quite familiar and predictable if you’ve spend a fair amount of time practising past papers. There’s no better way to make the test feel less stressful that to sit down and feel like you’ve done this a thousand times before (ok, maybe not a thousand)! You can get your hands on past papers quite easily, as they are available in book format from Pascal Press as well as free to download and print from the HSC website itself.
The most recent papers are most likely to resemble the test you’re about to sit, so start with the most recent and work backwards. Print one out, sit down, and work through part of it every day as part of your study plan. The test is supposed to take about 3 hours, so expect to finish it in 2-3 study sessions. As you work through the tests, pay attention to the wording used, and the part of the curriculum each problem represents (some problems may represent more than one part of the curriculum). Check your answers as you go. As you come across questions that you are unable to complete, get the wrong answer to, or don’t feel very confident with, take notes and make a list of topics to dedicate extra study time to, or to get extra help with from a teacher, tutor, or classmate.
- Get help. Don’t go it alone!
I know that few things are more stress-inducing than trying to teach yourself to figure out a problem, and just feeling stuck. You don’t have to go it alone, and really, you shouldn’t! Don’t hesitate to get help with problems or topics that you’re not confident with. You can ask a knowledgeable classmate, a teacher, or a tutor for help. Most likely, if this person is a good communicator, you’ll understand to topic or problem much better than if you tried to figure it out yourself, allowing you to then attempt similar problems with your new knowledge. If you don’t have access to someone who can help you one-on-one for whatever reason, then look into explainer videos online. Khan Academy is a great resource, and there are also plenty of videos on YouTube, of course. MathSpace is another great online resource. You just need to know what topic or part of the curriculum the question involves so you know what to search for.
In summary, you want to make studying as regular and stress-free as possible. Don’t wait till the last minute, dedicate at least a few hours, several times every week to studying in the months leading up to the exam, be sure to include past HSC papers as part of your study, and get help when you need it. Follow this plan for success on your HSC mathematics exam. If you want more generic study tips that apply not just to your maths studies, but also to your other HSC exams, a quick search online for study tips will reveal a plethora of information.
If you’re in the Central Coast area and are interested in getting one-on-one professional tutoring, whether it’s to further improve your potential marks or reduce your study-related stress, contact me for availability and booking.