How to allocate studying time between HSC subjects


We all want to achieve the highest ATAR we can (I mean, Pinnacle's slogan is "achieving your potential"!), and how you spread your time across your different HSC subjects can greatly affect this! Here are a few tips you can consider!


1. Spend more time on subjects you are worse at

It's much better to try to improve on subjects you're worse at, than the subjects you're already better at (even though you may find studying for these subjects less painful).

This is because the scaled marks for all HSC subjects increase at a diminishing rate (i.e. your marks increase slower when they're very high compared to if they're lower down), thus you are able to gain more marks by improving on subjects you're weaker at than ones you are excelling in.

Have a look at the table below and the explanation below it!


2. If you're struggling in all subjects, spend more time on subjects that scale worse

Although higher scaling subjects usually require more time to master, if you're struggling in many of your subjects, it's better to spend your time on lower scaling subjects. This is because the rate at which scaled marks drop in lower scaling subjects is much higher than better scaled subjects (i.e. the power of scaling might save you from disaster!). For example, let's take HSC Maths Extension 2 (the highest scaling subject in the HSC) and HSC Music 1 (a subject that scales lower).

(Although the workload required may be very different, I'll use these 2 subjects just to show you how big a difference scaling can make)


2014 Scaled Marks (percentages):

Subject100th percentile75th percentile50th percentile25th percentile
Mathematics Extension 2100%91.8%87.8%82.2%
Music 194.4%58.8%41.8%25.4%

As you can see, the rate at which the marks drop by each percentile is much greater for HSC Music 1 than HSC Maths Extension 2 due to its lower scaling. Hence, it's much better to do worse in HSC Mathematics Extension 2 than HSC Music 1 (relatively). Thus, the point is, if you're struggling in many subjects, it may be a good idea to spend more time on ones which are poorly scaled.

Remember though, the point we're making above is that you're better off trying to go from poor to average in a poor scaling subject, than one that scales better in relative terms. That is not to say you don't need to worry about those good scaling subjects!


3. If you're doing very well in all subjects, spend more time on subjects that scale well

If you're in this position, you probably shouldn't bother changing too much of your study plans. However, if you still want to improve, there are some things you can try. It may be better for you to study more on subjects that scale better.

This is because not only do they usually requires more time (e.g. although HSC Mathematics Extension 2 is the highest scaling subjects, it also requires a lot of work), but there's also a greater chance for you to attain a higher mark in them as well!

For example, with HSC Maths Extension 2 and HSC Music 1 in 2014, to achieve around 88% scaled, you only needed to be in the top 50% of Maths Extension 2 students while you needed to be in the top 1% of Music 1 students. Hence, there is more room for higher marks in strongly scaled subjects compared to poorly scaled subjects… or greater possibilities to achieve a very exceptional mark!

Take a look again at the example before, in both HSC Maths Extension 2 and HSC Music 1, the highest unscaled mark for both subjects was 100% in 2014, however, after scaling, HSC Music 1's highest mark dropped to 94.4% while HSC Maths Extension 2's remained at 100%. Hence, it can be impossible for you to achieve 100% in poorly scaled subjects.


If you think you're not allocating your time between your subjects correctly and may be able to improve your results by changing this, give one of these tips a try! Although the amount of effort you put in altogether is also very important, the way you spread your time out across subjects can be just as vital; study harder and smarter at the same time!


Jack Zheng | N° 11