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Embarking on the journey toward achieving a remarkable ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) is akin to mastering a complex puzzle; it requires a fusion of dedication, strategic planning, and unwavering determination. In this post, I’ll share exactly how I achieved a high ATAR of 99.90 (top 0.1%) and give you some actionable steps to succeed in Year 12 and beyond!

Have A Plan For A High ATAR

One of the easiest and most effective study strategies I used in Year 12 to get a 99.90 ATAR was making and following an effective study plan. Each year, it is not necessarily the smartest students who get the best scores. Instead, it is those who are the most consistently dedicated to their work over an extended period of time. The single best way to ensure consistency in your schoolwork is to implement a study plan. Below are two example study plans, both of which I found to be important.

A screenshot of our weekly study planner used by a 99.90 ATAR student which is free when you enrol in tutoring.
Weekly study plan example.

This first one is a weekly study plan. I used something similar myself during Year 12 to manage weekly commitments. While it’s obviously important to include study in the plan, I found it equally important to include time off as well. While it may seem counterproductive, ensuring you can do 2 hours of consistent work each day is far superior to leaving everything for four weeks and cramming in several 8-hour study days.

A screenshot of our assessment planner used by 99.90 ATAR student which is free when you enrol in tutoring.
Full term assessment planner example.

This second plan is an assessment planner. Year 12 is an extremely busy time, and it’s far too easy to get carried away with a few subjects or assignments while completely neglecting others. I found the best way to avoid this was to implement an assessment planner that outlines everything you need to complete for the term. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it should show the due dates for your drafts and finals. It should also have a ‘done’ date as well a few days before the final is due to give yourself a buffer and reduce stress. If you’d like to get a copy of these templates, you can pick them up for free right here.

Study Smart, Not Hard To Get A High ATAR

Don’t get me wrong, you definitely need to work hard during Year 12, and putting in the hours is crucial. However, you shouldn’t have to spend more than 2 to 3 hours a night studying to keep on top of the content, especially if you use a study plan to keep consistently working throughout the year. You could spend hours and hours ‘studying’ content, but unless you’re studying efficiently with ‘smart’ techniques, you’re likely wasting your time and decreasing your recall.

I can almost guarantee that the vast majority of students who score an ATAR of 98 or above, and certainly those who score 99.90 ATARs, understand what I’m about to say. Some of them might be doing it without even knowing it, but practically every single top student approaches studying in this way. What is it? Active recall.

Use Active Recall For A High ATAR

If there was one thing you could implement to skyrocket your scores in exams and significantly boost your chances of achieving a stellar ATAR score, it would be understanding and implementing active recall study techniques. It sounds counterintuitive, but active recall involves getting information out of your mind, while passive study techniques involve trying to cram (most likely unsuccessfully) information into your mind. Common passive study techniques include re-reading notes, highlighting, and watching videos. Active recall techniques include using flash cards to test your understanding of topics, solving practice questions from your textbook, doing fully timed practice exams and past papers, and summarising notes in your own words on a blank sheet of paper.

Before all of my internal and external exams, I solved almost every question in the review chapters of my textbooks, every question from the revision sheets handed out by my teachers, and every practice exam or past paper available. If I didn’t use these active recall techniques, I can guarantee that I would not have gotten the 99.90 ATAR result that I did. In my opinion, the single best revision method is doing past papers (without your notes). After you finish the questions, you can then consult your notes and fill in the gaps for any questions you struggled with. The best students study smart, not hard, and studying smart is using active recall.

Follow Your ISMGs For A High ATAR

When it comes to assignment work, the best students follow one thing: ISMG, ISMG, ISMG! The ISMG, or Instrument-Specific Marking Guide, should be your Bible when doing any kind of assignment work in Year 12. At the end of the day, regardless of how you feel about your assignment, or how your friends feel, or even how your teacher feels, nothing trumps the ISMG. It is where 100% of the marks come from for any and every assignment you have to write, and it outlines everything you need to include to do well. Here’s an example of an ISMG for Maths Methods from the QCAA website:

Example ISMG from the QCAA website.

In Year 12, I achieved a perfect mark for almost all of my assignments, losing just one mark in the Specialist IA1, one mark in the Literature IA2, and one in the Literature IA3. Internal assessment is key if you want to achieve a high ATAR, especially in Science and Maths subjects, as it takes some of the pressure off when it comes to the 50% external exams at the end of the year. One of the most difficult things for me was neglecting my own opinions on my assignments. As I said above, to do well in Year 12 assignments you must neglect all of your feelings about it and completely trust in the ISMG. I made a checklist for every assignment based on the ISMG bullet points, and if I could check off every single point I could be almost certain that I would get a good mark.

Submit Quality Drafts For A High ATAR

Follow the ISMGs religiously, and follow them early. So many in my grade neglected their assignment drafts, but you put yourself at a massive disadvantage if you don’t hand in the best possible draft you can. Your teachers’ feedback is invaluable, so make sure you hand in exceptional drafts. Another tip for assignments is to ask your teachers a bunch of questions. If there’s anything you don’t fully understand from the ISMG, your teacher will most likely know exactly what you need to include to meet that bullet point. I pestered my teachers a lot during assignment time in Year 12, and I wouldn’t have gotten a high ATAR if I didn’t.

Look After Yourself

There is no denying that Year 12 is an extremely stressful time. Maintaining your physical and mental health is absolutely crucial to doing well academically and achieving a great ATAR score. Don’t be afraid to ask for support, and make sure to keep socialising with your friends and participating in extracurricular activities. To prevent burnout, don’t be afraid to give yourself a day off here and there. On a number of Fridays, I would do very little schoolwork to give myself a break and clear my mind.

While I didn’t always succeed, I tried to make sleep a priority throughout the year and aimed for 7 to 9 hours every night. This is particularly important around exam time. It can be tempting to stay up late the night before a big test to cram in content, but you’re almost guaranteed to perform better if you instead use that time for sleep.

Seek Support

As I mentioned before, I simply would not have been able to achieve the ATAR score I did if not for the support around me. Make sure you reach out to your teachers, parents and friends for support throughout the year. Your teachers are there to support you, and the students who achieve the best marks take full advantage of that support. A challenge with the ATAR system is the constant emphasis on competition and numerical scores. Try to resist comparing yourself to others (much easier said than done) and maintain your relationships with your friends throughout the year.

Need Help To Get A High ATAR?

Another great option for additional support throughout the year and to boost your grades is tutoring, and the best tutors are past students who’ve been in your shoes. Year 12 can so often feel overwhelming with all of the content to learn and all of the assessment items to cover.

Our tutors are the best students in Australia (they all graduated in the top 2%), and they’ve all experienced exactly what you’re going through right now. Best of luck with your studies, I know you’ll smash it!

Learn more about our top 0.1% tutors here.

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