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So You're Doing the HSC

By Middlerun

Every year thousands of Australian students undertake the Higher School Certificate, or HSC. It is a time of vast increases in the amount of work they have to do, and a time of big decisions. In other words, it's shithouse. Having recently done the HSC, I decided to write this handy guide to surviving it. Of course I can't offer advice about all the subjects because I only did six, but whatever.


If you are doing the HSC, you have presumably done the School Certificate and may therefore have a vague idea what studying is all about. The bad news, however, is that you will have to spend quite a bit more than the standard half an hour of glancing through school books before each exam, like you did for the School Certificate.

In year 11, you will want to ease yourself into study. One minute of glancing across the day's notes (or sketches in the margins of your books, if you didn't take notes) per subject per night should be enough at first. Towards the preliminary exams you may want to up this to five minutes per subject per night, and before each exam spend the night cramming.

Everything changes in year 12, however. Well, not straight away. For the first semester or so you will probably do virtually no nightly study, and then cram for the half-yearlies. Then for the next couple of months or so, you will do about the same. Possibly in the last term you may start doing about ten minutes of study and revision per subject per night. But probably less, if at all. At some stage school will finish, and then a few days later, when you have recovered from the drunken night after school ends (and the formal, if you have it then), you will want to get into some more serious study. About 10-15 hours per day should suffice initially, leaving time for meals, sleep, showers, etc. However, you will want to wean yourself off sleep and things like showering (and replace your meals with snacks and coffee) as quickly as possible. You should realistically aim for about 22 hours of study per day for at least the few weeks leading up to the exams.

The Sleep Conundrum

As exam time draws near, you will need to avoid sleep as much as possible. Caffeine is your friend here, but you may find it necessary to use something a bit harder and possibly illegal. If you know any truck drivers, they can probably recommend a good drug to keep you up and studying all night.

Of course, you can't do this every night, probably. To avoid permanent insanity it is a good idea to allocate one night a week in which to sleep. Saturday is good for this. On this night you may want to take advantage of your window of relief and get as drunk as you reasonably can. Even on this night, however, you should not sleep for more than about six hours.


Another issue to consider is what food to eat, and when/how to eat it, to maximise study time. Ideally you will eat while studying, although this can be hard if you also need to write, turn pages, etc. You may want to drink mealshakes instead of food for at least some of your meals, and if you have one of those hats that holds beer cans and straws it may come in handy here. Alternatively, you could have your parents extend their "HSC-parent" duties to spoon-feeding you while you study. This feels silly at first, but can allow you to fit in quite a bit of extra study time.

On the topic of what to eat, I am not a dietician to I can't really advise you on this. Maybe cake?

Rewarding Yourself

One good way to stay on target study-wise is to reward yourself for doing a certain number of consecutive hours (or days) of studying and avoiding the temptation to fall asleep. For example, you may want to set a goal to study for 48 consecutive hours, and have a Mars bar if you reach this goal. Other possible rewards include TV, beer and wanton violence.


I won't lie to you. Doing the HSC is the worst time of your life. But this is especially true if you make the mistake of doing Advanced English. I strongly urge you to avoid this horrendous subject like the plague. However, this isn't to say that Standard English will be much better. But it can't possibly be as bad.

I could write entire books about what is wrong with Advanced English, but I will try to condense if to a few paragraphs here. The main idea of Advanced English is force-feeding students ideas that they are not ready for, in an artificial, pre-packaged form in which they can express no creativity or free thought. Like most HSC subjects (but taken to the EXTREME), it is a subject built on stuffing so much information into your brain that you are left feeling burnt-out, depressed, uneducated and very, very angry (well, I was anyway). When I say "ideas that they are not ready for", what I mean is that the subject jumps straight into detailed critical analysis of texts (which only 1% of the students will ever use), without covering any concepts that such analysis is based on. Basically everyone is thrown in the deep end. In fact, a good analogy is being taught to swim by being thrown into a well. You have to stay afloat or die, and if you find the walls to support you, you have to stay there and not dare to swim or risk drowning. And it's very dark and you can't figure out what the fuck's going on. An extension to the analogy (for Advanced English) is that there are people standing around the rim of the well throwing rocks at you and laughing. That's seriously what it's like.

One of the "texts" (you have to use all these stupid words that nobody else does. Did you know "texts" are written by "composers"?) I was forced to study was a contender for the world's best tranquilliser - the novel Cloudstreet. It was so boring I had to hire Steve Urkel to read it to me while I played video games to avoid dying of boredom. (A friend of mine got it as an audio book... I guess that's what I should have done.) Anyway, for Cloudstreet we took a break from applying the microscopic amounts of independent thought we were allowed to apply to the other "texts", and simply had to memorise other people's interpretations (or "readings" as they were called). It would probably be just as easy to do well in the Cloudstreet part of the exam if you didn't actually read the book. The other "texts", Hamlet, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, and the satirical series Frontline, weren't too bad in themselves (apart from Hamlet, which was pretty boring), but they were like a pint of Guinness compared to the dreadful Cloudstreet.

I hate Cloudstreet.


If you can already figure out how many seven-centimetre frames are in a 21-centimetre strip of film, you don't need to do General Maths. (I swear to God that was an actual exam question that I saw in a past General Maths exam paper.) The other maths course is simply called Mathematics, presumably because it goes without saying that that is the one you do, unless you are the kind of person who has a hard time figuring out how light switches work, or how to open unlocked doors.

You will be learning calculus and things of that nature, but don't fret - take comfort in the fact that you aren't doing Extension 1, in which you would be doing even harder things. Unless you ARE doing Extension 1, in which case, don't worry, you could be doing Extension 2, where they do all manner of crazy weird shit. And if you are doing Extension 2? Uh... don't worry, you could... have smallpox. When I say "crazy weird shit", I mean hard maths stuff, unless you are like a friend of mine and are the ONLY person in the year who does Extension 2 and therefore has one-on-one lessons with the teacher, in which case, who knows what bizarre things you might have to do.

Moving on...


Learning a language is like a key to a whole new world of opportunities, and a new perspective on life. On the other hand, learning a language is like an onion. The more layers you peel, the more it stinks. Did you know, in German there are 16 different combinations of cases and genders for the word "the"? And you have to remember which of the six or so different words goes with each of these? And it's the same story with "a" except there's no plural so there's only 12. But still! Why do two of the most common words have to be so troublesome? This problem relates to the bizarre use of different genders for different nouns. It serves no purpose and should have been abolished during the German spelling reform.

I think it is a conspiracy. My theory is that it is an unfortunate relic from the dark days of Nazi Germany. Hitler's private linguists came up with all these ridiculous genders and cases and so on, to prevent other people from learning German and keeping the Aryan race pure. Of course, this is clearly ridiculous, but shut up. I urge the German people (and Austrians and German-speaking Swiss too, I guess) to overhaul the language to eliminate the genders for nouns. "The" should only be one word, guys!


Apart from making sherbet on the last day, encouraging others to snort baking soda and eat spoonfuls of citric acid from the lab (which, on inspection of the label, contained small amounts of lead), terrorising the teacher and stealing thermometers, test tubes, magnesium ribbon, chemicals and indicator paper, there is little fun to be had in chemistry. There is however a huge amount to be remembered, and much of it is very very boring. Try to avoid the shipwrecks and salvage elective, although you probably won't get a choice. You probably won't give a shit how old artefacts are restored after being recovered from shipwrecks, so I don't know why people have to learn it.


The HSC is a confusing time, for many reasons. One reason is that the various courses are set out very differently. English has three large, separate areas. Maths has many, many different concepts which all build on and blend into each other. However, physics and chemistry, and probably biology too, are all structured the same way. The upshot is that the study techniques you develop for one will probably work fine for the others. You know what this means - for a smooth, easy ride through the HSC, do all science subjects!

Physics is cool. You get to stuff around with induction coils and risk electric shocks. Of course, you needn't do physics just for the electric shocks - a paperclip and a power point will suffice for this - but get to do other cool stuff like...

I'll edit this when I think of something.

Stress Relief

The HSC is stressful, particularly when you, like New York City, never sleep. Fortunately, there are many things you can do at school to have a laugh and reduce stress...

Desk pyramid
We plotted this for months. While we were measuring the ceiling to see if it would work, the teacher came in and was quite baffled.

Paper towel mummy
I'm not sure what the story is here.

Punching through a window
Sometimes it's the only way to blow off some steam.

Cube of jelly
Our chemistry teacher was heartbroken when we set his prized model of a NaCl crystal in jelly. We later used expanding rigid foam.


The HSC is like a box of chocolates. More specifically, it is like being force-fed a several boxes of chocolate from a bad batch that was contaminated with burnt hair and Stop 'n' Grow, for two years. Sucks to be you!