How do you top NSW in the HSC?
The HSC requires extensive and consistent preparation throughout the year. In 2021, 76,399 students studied one or more HSC courses, and of this number 68,710 students are on track to completing their HSC this year.
These numbers can be intimidating for some as it illustrates the scale at which these formal assessments are conducted, and the sheer number of students that one will be compared with in the calculation of the ATAR.
With these numbers in mind, one may ask how exactly one achieves the prized title of a ‘state ranker’ – that is, a distinguished position in the state in an HSC course. Indeed, placing in NSW in an HSC course is no easy task, requiring a great deal of focus, discipline, effortful application, and grit. For many that achieve a position in the state, however, it is common to hear that ‘they never really had such a goal in mind’ or that it was just the inexplicable and miraculous workings of some mystical fate that allowed them to achieve such a title. Beneath the humility and superstition, I was curious to determine whether there were any underlying rituals, patterns or approaches undertaken by these students that ultimately led them to achieving such astounding marks that placed them at the top of their cohort.
Having state ranked myself, placing 6th and 9th in NSW for English Advanced and Business Studies (Accelerated) respectively, it can be difficult to assess what exactly the formula was that I used that enabled me to achieve what I did. Although in some ways, it really is much easier to explain my results as being beyond my control, in the hands of destiny – after speaking with numerous other state rankers, I’ve finally pinpointed and the ingredients that lead to such results
Of course, the angle of approach will differ substantially depending upon the subject in question, each of which have their own nuances and subtle disparities, which in turn require different methods of study. Yet, irrespective of this, I’ve been able to identify some of the key qualities and rituals used by state rankers, compiling them into an easy-to-read list that will hopefully be of use to anyone out there wanting to achieve the same result.
1. Knowing more is better than knowing less: One of the key differences I’ve realised that separates the ‘good’ students from the ‘really good’ students boils down to the density of knowledge. Whilst good students who perform exceptionally well in assessments and exams demonstrate enough knowledge to obtain around the same level as a ‘really good’ students, I’ve realised that the density (or level of nuance and subtlety) within one’s knowledge of a particular subject area is what ultimately determines who gets 19/20 versus 20/20. Students that are undertaking additional research (that might even fall outside of the scope and sequence of the rubric or module) are able to enrich their knowledge about the subject, which in turn shines through in responses or the complexity of one’s argument.
2. Refinement: The second thing I’ve noted when speaking and teaching state rankers is their ongoing pursuit of refinement and iteration of one’s knowledge. This basically means that students are aware that there is always room for improvement and will actively seek out assistance, advice or honest feedback from teachers, friends, and others on their work. This means that the student is constantly fixing and thus improving their responses.
3. Helping others: Another thing I’ve realised is that a common denominator amongst many state-rankers was their ability to explain complex ideas in a digestible and understandable manner for their peers. In addition to this, I’ve realised that many state-rankers explain, discuss and converse about what they are learning to people around them, giving them the opportunity to consolidate their knowledge whilst also allowing them to see whether there exist any gaps that need to be addressed, based upon the eloquence and clarity of their verbal expression. Although the HSC is a written examination, there are many ways in which one can enrich and strengthen their understanding of ideas and topics, one of the most effective being verbal modes of study.
4. Finding inspiration: The final point worthy of noting is that students who excel often remark how much of their success can be attributed to another person (a teacher, tutor, recent graduate, DUX etc.). This drew my attention to the importance of having some form of inspiration throughout the year that serves as a reference point for your own learning. Taking responsibility for one’s academic development, future and career goals can sometimes be a daunting thing, especially for those who remain unsure about what they might even find truly fulfilling in life – whether this is in the corporate sector, in the arts, fashion, medicine, law etc.! Finding someone that you look up to, whether it’s because of the way they write in essays, the astounding marks they achieved, their debating skills, their sportsmanship, the way they carry themselves, or even because of the career that they’re in, can be extremely helpful. Of course searching for this model and inspirational source can be a challenge in and of itself – but it is, nevertheless, a highly rewarding one.