Tips & Tricks For Smashing Your HSC Trials



1. Intuitions first, content second

In the moment, the pressure of the exam will seem to vaporise the content you worked hard to regurgitate. Your intuition will prevail, and it is, in the end, all that remains. Remember, the notes of those who work hard count for nothing. The intuitions of those who work smart count for everything.

Read the course material (textbooks, worksheets, etc.) and build your intuitions from there, based on the syllabus, and how all the content fits in and connects with itself in a simple, causal way.

For example, recalling that ‘when b rises (the cause), the linear equation will shift upward (the effect)’ is a better strategy than plugging in a higher value for b, and then solving the equation for y. Obtaining an intuitive understanding for why this is counts as studying smarter rather than harder.

The content of every topic in every subject can be reduced to these principles of cause and effect.

For example, ‘cash rate rises à money in the interbank market becomes more expensive to borrow à supply of credit rises / demand falls àexcess supply à central bank sells bonds (borrows the excess supply) à less credit in the market à upward pressure on the interest rate’ is a much smarter way of thinking, for now it will be difficult to forget the chain of causality, than if you had blindly memorised a bundle of disconnected facts.

2. Practice answering past trial papers

Timing the exam to suit the actual exam conditions is just as crucial as practicing past papers in the first instance. Practicing an exam from beginning to end should surprise but not panic you, because it will expose how little ready you are. Getting familiar with the adrenaline is the best way to learn the content, and test the robustness of your intuitions. That way, your actual trial exam will really only be your 3rd, 4th, or even 5th.

3. Don’t read past trial papers

…until you’re ready. If you read past trial papers long before you are ready to actually practice them, you will have already begun thinking about how to answer them. So it is advisable that when you actually practice your school’s previous trial paper, it is the first time you have read it. You should practice at least three past trial papers for English, and at least one for every other subject. That is because English is difficult to master, even for gifted.

4. Consider your feedback carefully

Feedback from teachers is crucial. You should submit your practice trial papers to your teachers for comprehensive feedback. Think through your feedback carefully and build on your experience.

5. Exam answers

Exercise caution around exam answers when practicing papers. Checking answers immediately after attempting an answer is detrimental. By answering a question and then checking once the paper is completed, you will better appreciate the thrill (shock) of getting an answer right (wrong). Just as muscles grow through tear, so does learning.

6. Know your buzzwords

Buzzwords’ are the key differential between band 5 and band 6 responses. These are usually found in the documentation before and after the actual syllabus points. The Board of Studies’ syllabus booklets are littered with the buzzwords your teachers know and love. Every subject rewards disproportionately those who regurgitate key buzzwords. This is because teachers can’t be bothered reading through your essay. Instead, they quickly skim through and look for buzzwords. These words tingle their eyes and induce a buzzing sensation in their minds, so the more of them you include, the more marks you get. Since these buzzwords are tailored to the HSC, a student well-versed in buzzwords could easily outrank a professor in the subject he or she is enrolled in.

Listed below are a brief recollection of some buzzwords you might find helpful,

English buzzwords: particular words associated with modules, (e.g. ‘representations’), ‘idea’, ‘context’, names of techniques, ‘values’, ‘meaning’, ‘explores’, ‘composes’, ‘responds’, ‘form’, ‘connects’, ‘textual feature’, ‘information’, ‘text’, ‘feature’, ‘structure’, ‘demonstrates’, ‘portrays’, ‘shows’, ‘delineates’, ‘experience’, ‘mechanics of’, ‘underlying’, ‘underscores’, ‘underpins’, ‘expresses’, ‘audiences’, ‘personal’, ‘individual’, ‘life’, ‘endeavour’, ‘style’, ‘social’, ‘historical’, ‘synthesis’, ‘evoke’, ‘elicit’, ‘cultural’, ‘human nature’, ‘society’, ‘reality’.

Studies of Religion buzzwords: ‘principal belief’, ‘sacred text’, ‘values’, ‘doctrine’, including the names of sacred texts, values, and doctrines. Note: Studies of Religion requires extensive use of quotes rather than buzzwords.

Economics buzzwords: ‘government’, ‘individuals’, ‘businesses’, ‘impact’, ‘cause’, ‘effect’, ‘likely’, ‘domestic’, ‘global’, ‘economic environment’, ‘policy’.

Legal Studies buzzwords: all types of sources (legislation including the year, titles of news articles, reports, court cases, etc.); ‘ramifications’, ‘issue’, ‘because’ and most important of all, words that demonstrate your *judgement*, i.e. ‘thus’, ‘therefore’, ‘however’, ‘to the extent’, ‘ineffective’, ‘effective’, ‘moderately effective’, ‘highly effective’, ‘highly ineffective’, etc.

History buzzwords: dates, names (of primary sources, secondary sources, issues, individuals, groups, events and concepts), including the terminology associated with these issues, individuals, groups, etc. (e.g. dolchstosslegende, blut and boden, Abteilung, etc.); ‘to the extent’, ‘to the degree that’, ‘by contrast’, ‘however’ (i.e. you must not use totalising or black-and-white judgements, but qualify your statements).

Science-subjects: the names of scientific phenomena, principles, mechanisms, etc.

As long as you combine these buzzwords with plenty of quotes in a logical and simple (note: not simplified) manner, you are on your way to lasting HSC success. It is a good idea to underline the sentences which contain your buzzwords. This is a strategy employed by the shrewdest of candidates, and it works a treat.

7. Accuracy v precision

Answer your trial papers with both accuracy (being correct) and precision (being succinct). It should not even take eight pages, much less twenty, to show you’re accurate. But brevity, being precise, does not guarantee accuracy on its own. Expressing the correct ideas in the briefest manner tops the pinnacle of HSC excellence.

8. Know your HSC verbs

There is nothing worse than dissecting the minutiae of whatever topic you so choose, then to find yourself sabotaging the whole endeavour with a misunderstanding of the verb in question. Use the words contained in the definition of whatever verb you are assigned. For example, if you are asked to explain, use the words cause and effect in your response; likewise, if you are asked to discuss, use the words difference, contrast, etc.

9. Don’t forget about your introduction and conclusion

The most common criticism markers like to level against students is that introductions contradict the theses presented, and that conclusions do not summarise the key points raised. Begin your conclusion with ‘in conclusion’ or ‘to conclude’. Students may lose up to five marks for poor introductions and conclusions—precious points you can’t afford to squander.

10. HSC Exam Workbooks

The HSC Exam Workbooks are a truly invaluable resource. Read answers concerning topics/options that actually differ from those you are studying in a particular subject (this is a particularly good strategy for English), provided you study first those concerning your own topics. This way, you can understand the writing styles and techniques common to all band 6 responses. Keep in mind that teachers often mark responses from different topics after one another. The HSC Exam Workbooks are as close as you will get to a real cheat sheet. In it you will find many responses that clearly embody both accuracy and precision. Study and emulate the tactics embedded in these responses.

11. Read the question carefully

It is very easy to neglect, in a bout of excitement, the short answer and extended response sections after flying through the multiple choice questions. It is important to recoup and focus carefully on these later questions, given they count for many more marks.

12. Maximise daylight study

Studying in natural light is much more accommodative to learning than studying at night. Maintain a sleep pattern consistent with the trial exam. A proper night’s sleep the day before ensures your decision-making processes are functioning optimally, maximising your strategy and its derivative benefits.

13. Revise content taught early in year 12

It is easy to lose marks when dealing with the first topic(s). A very brief revision of the content taught early on goes a long way. Many neglect to keep in mind the weighting given to particular sections.

14. Avoid burnout

Don’t be a perfectionist. Many students stare into the abyss of information at their disposal and feel compelled to master some bottomless syllabus of their imagination. Recognise that the road to the HSC requires a lot less work than is really required when it comes down to content. It is naïve to think that the Board of Studies is set out on some conspiracy to burn you out. There does not exist any inherent requirement in the syllabus that you learn an infinite expanse of information. Near enough is good enough. Focus instead on building your skillset (i.e. intuitions, buzzwords, analytic style, accuracy, precision).

15. Perspective

The trial exam is everybody’s last chance to re-arrange the assessment ranks to their liking. It is also, however, not the end of the world. It is no use catastrophising or allowing the process to overwhelm you. Beyond the trial exams, there lies still a great opportunity to improve your standing, one that cannot be overestimated.


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