35 Study Tips to Improve Your ATAR

Admissions

2021-07-06

Your ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) forms a crucial part of your journey into medicine or dentistry. You will usually need an ATAR of 99 or higher to have a high chance of receiving a commonwealth supported place (CSP) offer. 

Read on to find out how you can improve your ATAR!

A student writing a chemical formula

1) Choose subjects wisely

A lot of people say to choose subjects that are going to scale well. In reality, you need to choose subjects that you enjoy, are prerequisites for medicine or dentistry (e.g. English and chemistry) and are beneficial for your university study.

It’s true that some subjects that are less challenging tend to be scaled down, whereas other subjects may get scaled up. Don’t let this factor into your decision making too much. If you enjoy a subject and are passionate about it, you’ll do well in it, provided that you work hard.

Stressing and over analysing scaling will only cause unnecessary anxiety. 

2) Start Early 

Starting early is key to your success. By starting early, you’ll have more time to consolidate the new topics you’ve learnt as you’ll be confident in the old topics.

It’ll also give you more time to focus on challenging topics, as well as giving you time for other commitments like UCAT preparation. Starting early also means that you won’t have to cram, which reduces the quality of revision and increases your stress levels.

3) Make a plan and stay organised

Find out in advance when your exams will be and add them to a calendar. Have a weekly plan of what you want to cover in that week. This could include making notes for the topics you learn that week, and revising topics from the previous weeks. 

Set yourself deadlines that are earlier than the true deadline. If you need to hand in an assignment for Tuesday of week 8, set yourself a deadline of Friday week 7. This will help you stay on top of your work and will give you a few extra days to review your work. 

Learn to prioritise your tasks. A useful system for prioritisation involves assigning your tasks into four quadrants based on importance and urgency, as well as factoring in your readiness or progress. Also balance your study across your subjects, as you need a high grade in all subjects to get into medical or dental school.

4) Avoid procrastination

One of the biggest barriers to academic success is procrastination. There are plenty of tips available online on overcoming procrastination. Reward yourself when you complete a task or a milestone, such as watching an episode of your favourite Netflix show after you’ve studied for two hours or have completed an assignment.

This increases your motivation and turns your distractions into constructive rewards.

Time is a scarce resource. Improve your concentration to maximise study time. Develop an interest or add meaning to the subjects and topics that you are studying.

For example, you will find chemistry more interesting after appreciating how the treatment of many diseases relies on a deep understanding of biochemical reactions in the body.

5) Stay ahead of the game

Try to read a few chapters ahead during your revision. This will give you an idea of what you’re going to be taught. Then once you’re being taught it in class, you’ll be consolidating what you’ve already read, and it will almost be like you’ve already started revising that topic.

A student writing in a diary

6) Do things as you go along

Your revision and preparation should start from day one of year 12. By making your notes from the first day, you’ll reduce your workload significantly as you won’t have to make months' worth of notes in one go. 

By doing a little bit of note making for each subject you did at school each day, you’re already starting your revision process. The next time you come to revise that topic all the notes are there for you, so you can focus on active recall and summarising the notes. 

It’s also important to understand things as you go as well. If there are any gaps in your knowledge at the start of the year, it’s likely that these gaps will widen over the course of the year. This is because what you learn at the start of the year often forms the foundation of what you’ll cover over the year. 

7) Focus on your weaknesses

You don’t need to be chronological in the way that you revise. Score yourself on each topic of the syllabus and when you’re revising you can focus on the lowest scoring topics first. This will allow you to focus on your weaknesses and get better. 

8) Create a resource bank

Create a list of all the resources available to you for each subject. This can include textbooks, websites, links to past papers, links to questions. This will give you an idea of everything that you could use for your revision. 

This is particularly useful for subjects where the best way to revise is to do lots and lots of questions. For example, maths. Once you have a list of all the possible questions you can do, divide the questions over a period of time.

9) Avoid ‘feel good’ techniques

Highlighting texts, or re-reading passages can make you feel like you're doing a really great job, but you’re not actually gaining anything from just re-reading your notes. Focus on active recall. Spending time trying to recall the information you’re studying is much more beneficial. That’s what you’ll have to do in your exams as well. You’ll have to recall the information to write it down in your exam. Examples of active recall techniques include:

  • Using flashcards
  • Explaining to others
  • Doing practice questions

10) Stay Motivated

Motivation can have an effect on your academic performance. Staying motivated means that your revision sessions will be more productive and you’ll be less likely to burn out. When you feel unmotivated, remind yourself why you need to do well. 

Leave motivational messages around your study space. Changing them regularly means that you're more likely to stay motivated, otherwise they can seem to just become part of the decor. If you’re wanting to go to medical or dental school, put images of doctors and dentists or clinical scenes around your room and study space. This will remind you of your ultimate goal and will keep you focussed.

Surgeons performing an operation

11) Understand not memorise

It’s not uncommon for you to have revised and memorised everything you needed to know for a topic and on exam day, you were thrown off by a question that didn't look like anything you’d learnt before. 

Instead of memorising the information, it’s more important to understand what you’re learning. Once you understand a topic, you can apply the same principles in unfamiliar situations. 

12) Know what type of learner you are

There are at least three types of learners, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (doing). Which one are you? Optimise your study around the learning method which suits you and try to reduce time spent on those which don't work so well.

Visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles

13) Use your syllabus

Get to know the syllabus inside-out. There's absolutely no point learning things which you won’t be assessed on. So the first step is getting to know the contents, and the second is finding out how you will be assessed. 

Use your syllabus or study design as a checklist. You can tick off topics as you go along. This will help you keep track of what you’ve covered and what’s yet to be covered. 

A good way to use the syllabus for revision is to turn it into questions. If you can answer the questions, you can confirm that you know that topic and move on. 

For example, a statement on the VCE study design for biology is ‘nucleic acids as information molecules that encode instructions for the synthesis of proteins in cells’ you can write that as ‘what is the function of nucleic acids’.

14) Use past papers

Take a look at the past papers as soon as you can. Familiarity with the structure will give you confidence, and also help you focus on learning the right things. 

Past papers will help you track your progress and see if you’re making improvements and they’ll also help you to practise your timings. This will give you the best chance of completing all questions on test day. 

You can use the past papers to practise your exam technique. Are you going to do all the multiple choice questions first? Or are you going to get the longest writing sections finished first? Doing past papers will give you the chance to experiment and find what works for you.

15) Improve your note-taking

Be selective with your note-taking. Don’t attempt to write down everything that the teacher says, but only the essential information. You may ask yourself, ‘How would I know what’s important?’ This is why familiarising yourself with the syllabus and doing pre-reading matters.

Use symbols and abbreviations to speed up your note-taking and don’t worry too much about grammar and spelling.

If you’ve missed something or were away for a class, catch up with your handouts and notes by asking your teacher or a classmate.

A student making notes

16) Use mnemonics 

Use mnemonics to help you with retention or retrieval of information. For example, memorising the sequence of orbitals for chemistry (s, p, d, f, g, h, i, k) can be hard as there is no pattern to the list of letters, but use the sentence, ‘Sober Physicists Don't Find Giraffes Hiding In Kitchens.’ to easily remember this.

17) Use mind maps

Use a mind map to easily remember lots of information pertaining to a topic. Write your subject in the centre of a page and radiate out with a hierarchy of linked topics and facts. You can do this on a piece of paper or using a programme.

18) Use flashcards

Use flashcards and carry them with you all the time. You will be amazed at how efficiently you can use bits of time here and there to boost your revision. You can also use digital flashcards to test yourself.

19) Keep revisiting 

Regardless of which memorising technique(s) you use, regularly revisit your materials. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve demonstrates how easily information is forgotten if you don’t revisit it:

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, showing how information is forgotten over time.

20) Help others 

This is a great example of active recall. You can’t teach something you don’t know yourself. You can start off by explaining a topic to yourself, then you could explain it to your peers or to family members. 

21) Make notes, then summarise 

Summarising your notes is an active form of reading your notes and writing them down in a concise way. You can summarise your notes in various forms:

  • Poster
  • Mind map
  • Powerpoint 

You can then use the summarised notes as a resource for some quick last minute revision.

22) Read examiners’ reports

These reports show how students did on certain questions. It's useful for understanding the viewpoint of an examiner and what they’re actually looking for in an exam. You can also see what common mistakes were made by other students. 

23) Do the things you don’t have to 

You’ll come across extra reading or homework that your teacher says isn’t essential or isn’t compulsory. You should do the things that aren’t essential, because they’re still helpful. 

Doing that extra reading will give you a better understanding of the subject and although it may not be relevant to your syllabus, will help you understand the topics you are studying better. 

24) Use your holidays wisely

It’s important to have a break. You need time to refresh and reset yourself for the next term. However, it’s also important to use some of your holiday to revise the content from the previous term. 

This will help you to consolidate all the new things you’ll have learnt and so when you revise these topics next time round it won’t feel as old.

25) Environment matters

Optimise your main study environment. Ensure that you have a well-ventilated room with adequate lighting, and a comfortable chair with your desk at an appropriate height. You might prefer to study in a quiet environment, but many study better with some background noise. Do whatever you can to help you focus.

Be free from distractions and interruptions: put your phone on silent during study sessions. If this is not practical, turn off your notifications from social media apps including Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat.

Equip yourself well with the resources you need, including stationery (e.g. notepads, pens, highlighters), study materials (e.g. notes, textbooks, workbooks), digital devices and study planners/calendars. Make sure everything you need is easily accessible to you. Having to go down upstairs to get the biology textbook is just another reason to procrastinate.

Form a study group with a number of self-driven and motivated classmates. You will be able to share resources, teach each other, and a degree of tension and competition is good for keeping you on track. You can also find study buddies online.

A student giving a presentation

26) Take breaks

Study breaks are important for improving your productivity as well as benefiting your mental and physical health. Be aware of your attention span and plan your study sessions accordingly, with quality breaks in between.

27) Switch things up

Interleaving is an evidence-based method for more effective and longer-lasting learning. Mix several topics during your study sessions, but don’t switch your subjects too often.

Use multiple resources to enhance and reinforce your learning, including your notes, teachers, classmates, textbooks and the Internet.

For example, textbooks are great for covering all contents in sufficient depth, but might not be okay when you find a concept difficult to digest, in which case you can find a YouTube video that explains it thoroughly.

28) Ask for help

If you feel you’re struggling on a topic, ask your teachers for help. Teachers want to help you. Make sure you know how to contact all your teachers. Asking for help is not a bad thing. Everyone needs help and it’s good to ask for it.

Likewise, if you are struggling to cope with the workload or concerned about your mental health, ask for help. Speak to people about it and sort out any issues you’re facing, rather than letting it get worse. 

29) Small steps

If you haven’t had good study habits from the beginning it’s going to be difficult to create them now. In that case, you should take small steps and build up the time you spend revising. 

Maybe start off by revising an hour a day for a week. You can then bump it up to an hour and a half in the following week, and gradually increase your study time thereafter.

This technique is best used at the start of the year, when you don’t have as much content to cover. 

30) Don’t forget your hobbies

You need to make time for your hobbies. If you focus all your time and energy into studying, you’re going to start feeling burned out. Spending time on the things you enjoy will keep you happy. Being happy and fulfilled will help you be more productive in your study sessions. 

A student playing the guitar

31) Be consistent and persistent

Consistency is key to improving your ATAR results. Studying regularly will have a greater cumulative effect overall. If you had exams at the end of the month and you studied for 2 hours each day, by the end of the month you’ll have studied for 60 hours! 

If you had been inconsistent in your approach it’s a lot less likely that you’d be able to get 60 hours of revision done. You could do it, but it’s likely you’ll be a lot more stressed and the quality of your revision won’t be as good. 

Persistence is also crucial for success. Don’t give up. Don’t let a bad score or low grade in an exam trip you up. You need to keep going. All the mistakes you make in your preparation are mistakes you’ll learn from and you won’t make them in the real exam.

32) Stay healthy 

Year 12 can be stressful for a lot of people. You need to eat well, drink lots of water and get enough sleep. A lot of people compromise on their sleep in order to get a few more hours of revision in. 

Sleep deprived study sessions are nowhere near as useful or productive as normal ones. Your body needs a good night's rest to function. Pulling all nighter revision sessions in the runup to your exams is going to do you more harm than good.

33) Set goals 

Set targets for yourself. Your goals should be SMART:

  • Specific 

There’s no point having a vague goal. Make them precise so you know exactly what to do.

  • Measurable 

You should be able to quantify your goal.

  • Achievable

Your goals need to be realistic. Setting unrealistic targets will demotivate you when you don't accomplish them.

  • Relevant

Make sure your goal is linked to your studies.

  • Time-bound

 Make sure you set a time for you to complete your goal by. Setting a specific, relevant goal but not deciding when you should do it increases your chance of procrastination.

SMART goal:

'I am going to do 40 practice questions on organic chemistry each day this week in preparation for my exam next Monday.'

Not a SMART goal:

'I am going to do some science questions and ace my exams.'

34) Have stress release mechanisms 

Year 12 will be stressful. It’s important that you know how to minimise and manage your stress. Letting all that stress build up will only do you harm. Some ways to destress include:

  • Breathing techniques
  • Exercise
  • Mediation 
  • Listening to music 
  • Pursuing your hobby

35) It’s not one size fits all

What revision method or note-making style works for your friend may not work for you. In the same way you won’t be able to use the same revision method for every subject. You need to be varied in your approach depending on the subject. 

For example in maths you need to focus on practice questions, whereas in humanities subjects you need to focus on learning all the content so you should focus on active recall.

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