Centre for Continuing Education

Getting through your HSC - A practical guide

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Getting through your HSC – A practical guide

The HSC is a long journey – more than thirteen months, or about three hundred and ninety one days!

While you progress through this journey and also the conclusion of your schooling life, we know you’ll have a lot on your mind – exams, future study, careers – but remember, while keeping focused on these bigger goals and aspirations, it’s also important not to forget your own health and well-being.

Your HSC will open up many doors for your adult life. For some that may be further study or employment, for others it may lead to unexpected opportunities or paths. As you complete the final year of school, remember that no matter what your future path, completing the HSC is something to be proud of in itself.

We wish you the best of luck for your HSC and in future endeavours, and look forward to seeing many of you on our campus in the near future.

Staying motivated & keeping focused
A healthy HSC
The final exams
After the HSC
HSC Preparation courses

Staying motivated & keeping focused

After more than a year of your HSC, you may experience periods when you lose your motivation. You might feel a reluctance to engage in your subjects, or even study at all.

Losing motivation and having trouble staying focused are natural feelings, and will most likely happen to all HSC students at some point. It is important that you recognise these when they occur and identify the source or sources of your frustration to overcome them.

Most people are motivated by a combination of internal and external factors or short and long-term goals. External motivators are external factors that motivate us. Said another way, we don’t own those motivators and are unable to exert any control to change these factors. External motivators generally represent more short-term goals.

Internal motivators arise within us and we own them ourselves. We have control over internal motivators and create them ourselves at any time without having to rely on external factors or things over which we have no control. Internal motivators represent more medium or long-term goals.

Research shows that both types of motivators are important and used by learners, but internal motivators result in greater engagement and a more enhanced kind of learning.

University entry, your desired ATAR and future career, are all external motivators. Try to think of what your own internal motivators for the HSC are.

Write some motivators into a list and place in your study environment. Add more as you think of them, and use these to remind yourself of the bigger picture of your HSC.

Think of some of your own internal motivators and write them down:

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Some external motivators

  • High marks
  • Parent and teacher expectations
  • University entry
  • Doing better than others in your school

Some internal motivators

  • Interest in a particular subject
  • The wish to improve your knowledge
  • Desire to give yourself greater future opportunities
  • Seeking knowledge because knowledge is power


Anxiety is the most common enemy of motivation. A little anxiety can be a good thing because it will energise your study program, but when difficulties become overwhelming and self-doubt sets in, anxiety can act to decrease motivation and sometimes cause physical effects.

Be aware of anxiety. Focus your thoughts on those internal reasons for studying. A consistent balance between internal and external motivators will yield the best result.

If your anxiety or frustrations cause you a level of discomfort, it is important that you seek support. In addition to your family and friends, support can be found from Lifeline Australia. Lifeline provides 24-hour confidential telephone counselling to anyone within Australia. You can talk to them about any problem, big or small.

Call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.

Healthy study methods

Don’t eat your meals while studying. Allow yourself the time to concentrate on something else. Preparing your own meal, such as a sandwich, can be a simple way to relax your brain.

  1. If possible, eat meals with others, such as your family. This will give you time to talk about topics other than the HSC.
  2. Go to bed early the night before an exam, and wake up early the next day. Allow yourself the time to do your normal morning activities such as having a healthy breakfast.
  3. Remember, it’s quality not quantity that makes your study valuable. Set some obtainable goals before each session, and stop to rest once they have been reached.

If you find it difficult to make time for healthy eating, exercise, or social and personal activities, then schedule them in as part of your study plan.

A healthy HSC

The HSC can be both mentally and physically tough, and (especially at the final stage) it is important that you ensure your good health: it is just as important as your study.

Eating well

Good nutrition is even more important at the final stage of your HSC. You may think that Coke, chocolate, caffeine and foods high in sugar will help you through late night study because of the burst of energy they give, but these foods have a negative affect on overall concentration and memory.

Try to drink at least 1.5 litres of water daily – buy a bottle that holds just this much and fill it before each study session. The brain needs to be hydrated to be functioning at its best. Coffee and soft drinks will lead to dehydration, which can affect your concentration and cause fatigue and irritability.

Social & personal time

Although it may sometimes seem that the HSC is the most important thing in your life, you should not neglect the things that entertain you and bring enjoyment.

Time spent with friends and family is important to your mental well-being.

In addition to social time, try to spend some time by yourself doing something you like to do.


Not only is exercise good for your overall health and fitness, but it also boosts your mental well-being.

Exercise will help keep you calm during exams. You’ll feel more energised and refreshed, and that in turn will help you perform better in your studies.

During exams you may feel unable to take much time out from studying. Instead of giving up on exercise altogether, try taking small, regular breaks to refresh yourself and clear your mind. A 15-minute walk can be enough to revitalise the mind and unscramble your thoughts.

Sleep well

Your brain is powerful, but to work at optimum capacity it needs to have time to rest. Ensure you have adequate sleep in the weeks leading up to your final exams, especially the nights before an exam.

An extra hour of sleep can be more beneficial than an extra hour of study.


Here are some simple relaxation techniques to try before or after a study session or exam.


This technique uses visual imagery and body awareness to move a person into a deep state of relaxation. Imagine a peaceful place and then focus on different physical sensations, moving from the feet to the head. For example, you might focus on warmth and heaviness in the limbs, easy, natural breathing, or a calm heartbeat.


In breathing techniques, you place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a slow, deep breath, sucking in as much air as you can. As you’re doing this, your belly should push against your hand. Hold your breath and then slowly exhale.

Muscle relaxation

This technique involves slowly tensing and then releasing each muscle group individually, starting with the muscles in the toes and finishing with those in the head.

The final exams

The final HSC examinations can be long and complex papers. Many courses include a number of electives and modules from which different candidates and schools make choices. You need to be aware of the electives and modules you have studied and know what questions apply to you.

You are given a short time (usually about ten minutes) before the exam begins to read the examination paper and to think about your answers. There is no single best way to spend this time – it will depend on the exam and your own methods – but this time is invaluable, so don’t waste it.

At the very least, use this time to take some deep breaths, get comfortable at your desk, familiarise yourself with the structure of the paper, and the sections you are required to complete.

What’s the question?

Remember, exam questions may vary from those you’ve used as part of your study. Exam questions are not only designed to reflect the main terms of the syllabus for each subject and elective, but also to test a candidates ability to perceive and decode the key points in the question itself.

That said, an exam question is not designed to trick or defeat you. If you do not immediately see how the question fits into your course of study, think briefly about the syllabus guidelines and consider what part the question may be testing.

If you are still having trouble deciding what the question is asking, consider all the key words and ask yourself if you understand the meaning of each. You will be familiar with words such as evaluate, explore, compare, contrast, but make sure you don’t neglect to think of these words in their most basic form.

Questioning the question

  • Read the exam question once and briefly consider the main issues and your immediate response. Do you have an immediate response that involves a basic argument and idea?
  • Re-read the question and mark the key words and ideas – don’t do this in your head, use a pen or highlighter.
  • Re-think your original response against the points you have just highlighted and quickly draft some notes.
  • Take a breath.

Before the exam

People use the time just before entering an exam in many different ways. You may want to review notes, talk with friends or just spend some time alone.

Here are some tips for pre-exam preparations:

  • Arrive early to the exam – about 20 to 30 mins if possible. This will give you enough time to settle and familiarise yourself with the environment.
  • Ensure you have eaten properly and taken adequate water before arriving. Take a light snack with you for before the exam.
  • Take a short walk – this will get you breathing and your heart beating at an even pace. Oxygen increases your mind’s attentiveness.
  • Prepare and check all your tools (pens, pencils, calculators, etc.) 20 mins before the exam, and then leave them alone.

After the HSC

Completing the HSC is an achievement for which you should be proud. Not only is it testament to the hard and focused work of your last year of schooling, but also represents the summit of 13 years of learning and development.

It is a time for you to celebrate your intellectual growth and maturity, and look forward to the many opportunities that follow.

Many students will head in one of two directions after completing their HSC: further study, or employment.

The University of Sydney


Which degree should I choose?

University is about you – choose the course that interests you and which will bring you intellectual fulfilment and personal enjoyment.

Think of which HSC subjects or topics really motivated you. If you really enjoyed Chemistry or Biology, perhaps you should look at further studies in science. If you enjoyed English and History, perhaps an Arts degree will best suit you.

While larger goals such as your career or future salary can be important in choosing your degree, there’s no substitute for the motivation and natural aptitude you will get from doing something you enjoy – and no matter what you do, if you do it well, you will get where you want.

Who should I talk to about which degree to choose?

If possible, the best people to talk to about a degree in which you are interested is a current student. Many universities have forums for prospective students to connect with students, or online testimonials.

Open days are also a great place to meet current students and staff from specific faculties.

If you are seeking advice on which degree may be most suitable for your career aspirations, there are also a number of online resources to assist you.

What if I don’t get into the degree I want?

It is true not everyone will gain acceptance to the degree of their first choice. This may be disappointing, but this is not the final card in pursuing future studies in your area of choice.

Many areas can be studied through a number of degrees, and it is often possible to articulate from one degree to another after a year of studying.

Remember, degrees usually take three or four years to complete and many students will redefine their direction a number of times.

Mature Age Entry

For those who do not enter university directly after high school, there are a number of pathways to gain entry down the track.

If your ATAR was not sufficient for entry most universities offer a Mature Age Entry Scheme for those over 21 years of age.


TAFE (and a number of other private colleges) offer a wide range of vocational qualifications – study focused towards hands-on skills for specific industries.

These courses are structured towards industries that require a high level of specialised technical skills, such as hospitality, property services, community services, light manufacturing, and local government.

Many qualifications completed at this level, such as Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas, can also articulate into university study.


For those who do not wish to continue on to tertiary study, you will most probably be seeking full or part-time employment.


You may consider entering employment in a particular trade as an apprentice.

Apprenticeships offer paid work whilst gaining on-the-job experience and skills in a particular trade. In general, apprenticeships do not require any previous qualifications or experience and usually result in a nationally recognised qualification up to an Advanced Diploma.

Once completed this qualification can lead to continued employment, self employment, or further training and education.

Useful links

HSC Preparation courses

The Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Sydney offers an extensive HSC Preparation program in some of the most popular and competitive subjects and topics. Plus we offer a range of complementary study skills courses for HSC students to help maximise their HSC results. Taught by experienced and practising senior HSC teachers with hands on knowledge of the HSC syllabus, assessment guidelines and examination procedures, these courses are designed to give students the invaluable knowledge and skills necessary to make their HSC studies effective and successful, and boost HSC results.

Content taught is highly relevant and designed to be transferrable to any individual HSC elective or module, as well as being specific to essential syllabus and assessment requirements. Individual courses can be grouped into a progressive three part program scheduled within each holiday period, allowing students to pace themselves throughout the year, prepare for HSC key dates and check in with our experienced teachers along the way.

We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for the Country.