Okay, we’re there. It’s not weeks away anymore, it’s days away. Wait – it’s a weekend away. Before you move to Antarctica to live a happy and simple (if cold) life away from the world of exam booklets and Hamlet and energy drinks and all the other delights of the HSC, listen to me. It’s so worth it. There are a few days until you start, and believe me, once the first exam is out of the way, it’s like dominos. If you’re still googling ‘cheap flights to anywhere Sunday 13 October’, or ‘how to earn $150k without an ATAR’, here are my 9 last-minute study tips:

1. Exam conditions are the only conditions

You’re only going to get better under exam conditions if you live under them. I don’t mean all the time, I mean this close to the HSC – a couple of days away – what are you doing messing with your Hamlet notes? If you have a problem with Hamlet, write a Hamlet essay in forty minutes. Why not write more than one? And write them under the exact conditions that you’ll be writing under in the HSC exam. So no snacking, no texting, no nothing.  You want to strengthen the way your brain works under pressure, and the only way to do this is practice. Texting your friend Jess to tell her that ‘Hamlet is death’ is not going to get you any ATAR points. Squeeze in as many exams as you can between now and each paper, and you will be cool, calm and collected for your final exam.

2. Give your phone away

Relax, it’s not forever. And your boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, or whoever is loving your constant presence on your phone the most, can get over it. If they really respect your desire to do well, they won’t care. All you have to do is tell everybody you won’t have a phone until the day you finish the HSC. I gave my phone to my Mum and told her not to give it back to me under any conditions until I walked out of my final HSC exam. We all know that checking your phone lowers your IQ, splinters your concentration and screws with your attention span in the long and short term. You’re almost definitely not going to have to deprive yourself again, so just do it! It’s worth it, I promise.

3. Deactivate, deactivate, deactivate!

You know what I’m saying. Same goes: tell people that you’re disappearing off the face of the earth until November 6th, or whenever you finish, and they won’t worry. You’ll be ready to party after the HSC – but for now, tick them off: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. Who wants to hear status updates and pictures about Belonging, anyway? Nobody!

4. Talking to yourself isn’t crazy, is it?

If you can’t keep quotes in your head, or if running through your ideas on paper seems a little hollow, you can run through them orally. If you record quotes and listen to them, or just speak them over and over, it really helps. This of course depends on what kind of learning you are. I once heard of a girl who performed scenes of Hamlet to herself to remember it, and she got an ATAR of 99.92. So… I guess maybe it was a good idea!

5. Smart running and walking

Know when to step outside: going for a run or walk (or whatever your sport/relaxation of choice is; mine’s yoga) when you are getting nowhere with your study will hit you with adrenaline and get you energised for the hours of study ahead. It also serves to clarify your mind, and you can reach insights that you might not have reached in those quiet moments. Particularly useful for the HSC is swimming, because it’s so quiet underwater. All that knowledge you have is a great thing to listen to!

6. Keep it Simple

Don’t re-work your essay now. Don’t change your themes. Don’t pick a new creative. Just go with what you have and build on it. Foundations laid over six or eight months are so much stronger than a weekend of cramming. The science of what you remember is just not enough to support the value of cramming if you get thrown by a hard question. It’s not worth it: don’t overcomplicate the HSC for yourself!

7. Live out your nightmares

I was doing this with two of our students last night, and this is what I did before the HSC. Note: this is particularly useful if you are terrified of Module B. Write out the questions you least would like to answer – or if you have some that you have already seen, do those – and practice answering them. The only way to feel confident is to conquer your fears. If you go in there terrified of getting that painful question on ‘honesty’, or about them asking about a particular element of the text, make sure you’ve already answered it. 

8. Internet

Well, this was my downfall. Luckily ASOS didn’t exist yet when I did my HSC, but online shopping still did. Ebay was my drug of choice,  and the only way to get around it for me was to go to my Grandparents’ farm and eat home cooked meals and pretend the internet didn’t exist. They didn’t have the internet. Unfortunately, even they have it now, so I’m guessing it would be pretty hard to get somewhere without the internet to punch out those practice exams. Moral of the story: Hide from the internet! Just for the duration of the HSC How to do it? If you have a mac, download this: http://selfcontrolapp.com/ If you’re windows: http://parker.kuivi.la/projects/selfrestraint Note: Many excellent authors use these programs, and Zadie Smith even thanked Self Control in the acknowledgements for her 2012 book, NW. 

9. Pomodoro

This is amazing. If you have lapses in concentration at the 45 minute mark, or you like to break up your study, this is for you. The Pomodoro technique is pretty basic, and is broken up into 25 minute blocks. There are five basic steps to implementing the technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done
  2. Set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x
  4. Take a short break (3-5 minutes)
  5. Every four “pomodori” take a longer break (15–30 minutes)

For an online one, click here: http://tomatoi.st/ibzn You can download it for your phone, too. But if you have (unlikely, but maybe) followed all my advice, you will be phoneless and internet-free! So just use a stop-watch. Happy studying everybody! Most of all, keep calm, and don’t try to re-invent the wheel. You know what you have to do!