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Tara Mahapatra is one of the economics mentors at Keystone Education. She graduated from Sydney Girls High, and achieved the perfect ATAR of 99.95 in 2012. She came 4th in Legal Studies and 6th in Economics in NSW. She now studies Commerce and Law at the University of Sydney. Gary sits down with her to talk about her experience.

Gary Liang: So you achieved 99.95 ATAR, and came 4th in Legal Studies and 6th in Economics in NSW. How did you do it?

Tara Mahapatra: For me personally, I think it was wise subject selection, consistent effort, doing practice exams and really dedicated teachers. I wasn’t doing that well in the junior years because I didn’t apply myself, but as I got to year 12 I realised how working consistently even when there aren’t exams can really help in the end.

The HSC also has so many great resources online, with past papers from a decade ago until now. I tried to do these throughout the term and mark them using the answers online, and it really helped as you gradually learn the different types of questions that can be asked and the answers that the Board of Studies wants.

I also had really dedicated teachers that were really helpful, and that I would seek help from throughout the term, whether it be sending them a practice essay or getting help with a hard maths problem before school. 

GL: What subjects did you choose and why did you choose them?
TM: I chose English Advanced, Mathematics, Legal Studies, Economics, Modern History and History Extension. I can’t stress the importance of subject selection enough. During year 11, I was ranked in the 100's for maths, because I was doing extension maths as well and it absorbed a lot of my time. Realising maths wasn’t a strong point, by dropping to 2 unit maths I was able to focus much more, and was fortunate to end up coming first in the grade.

I know a lot of people choose subjects on the basis of them being perceived as higher scaling, but for me I just chose subjects I was interested in and thought I could do better in, and I didn’t worry at all about the scaling. I also did better in essay writing as opposed to really technical subjects, so I mainly chose humanities. 

GL: That's a great approach - leveraging to your strengths. What other study tips you would give to a Year 11 or 12 student?
TM: I have two main study tips that I think really worked for me. First, sleep. Sleep is so important - you can’t focus properly when you’re studying or absorb anything if you’re sleep deprived. I tried to sleep 8 hours each night, especially closer to exams and that really helped my focus when I was studying.

Secondly, I think it’s important to be organised with what you’re trying to achieve that day you are studying. You don’t have to make an hourly timetable for yourself, but even just writing down a few things you want to achieve (for example, do one practice paper, do two mathematics exercises etc.), will help you remain on track and be focused. 

GL: Was HSC a stressful year for you? What strategies did you have to cope with it?
TM: It was stressful, but I think because I studied consistently throughout the term, not just during exams, I was able to minimise stress during exam time. To cope with stress I always ensured that I was taking time out for myself to relax. For me, it was important when I came home from school that I always had a break, whether it be going outside or watching TV, before I started studying.

GL: What things did you do throughout the year, other than studying? How did you achieve balance?
TM: To achieve a balance, I continued to play netball in year 12 and dedicated plenty of time for myself to relax and hang out with friends. Whilst the HSC is important, your health and happiness is much more important, so achieving a good balance during year 12 is paramount. 


Do you have any questions for Tara? Put them in the comments below and we'll forward them to her.