Exam tips

The NSW Higher School Certificate (HSC) is an important milestone in your life as a student. Below are ideas and tips to help you prepare yourself for the exam experience.

Study plan

Using a study timetable in the lead up to the exam will help you ensure all subjects are revised. Don’t forget to include time for exercise and relaxation in your timetable as these will help you manage the study and the exams themselves. See our Help with homework section for tips on creating a study timetable.

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Exam day

It’s not unusual to feel anxious on exam day. The best way to deal with this is to be familiar with the exam format – length of time, number and form of questions and topics being assessed. You can do this by reviewing previous exams.

Try and arrive at least 15 minutes early for your exam and make sure you have the equipment needed and allowed for that exam. This might include pens, pencils, an eraser, highlighter, ruler, calculator, watch, and water (no labels on bottles).

Make sure you have somewhere safe to leave your mobile and/or smart watch as programmable and electronic devices (other than authorised calculators) are not allowed into the exam room.

Read the paper

Read through the entire exam paper, including the important front page, during reading time.

  • Make sure there are no surprise hard questions that may require more attention/time.
  • Find compulsory questions.
  • Choose the alternative you prefer when a question has options.
  • Make sure you know how long to spend on each section – keep 5 to 10 minutes at the end to check over the whole paper.
  • Check you have a suitable number of answer booklets.

Make notes

Once you can start writing, jot down everything filling your brain that you think you might forget on a blank page of the exam paper – this will allow you to concentrate on one question at a time.

Start with an easy one

You don’t have to start the exam at Question 1 and move through in that order.

  • It can be helpful to start with an ‘easy’ question first to settle any nerves.
  • Leave the hardest questions for the middle of the exam time.

Look for keywords

Circle or highlight important words in questions worth 8 marks or more – these questions usually require multiple paragraphs.

  • For an extended response, planning is essential.
  • Access our Writing Essays page for more advice.

Know what the question requires

Focus on reading the question clearly and answer the question asked in the format required. No exam question will ask you to write down everything you know about a topic.

Use the marks allocated to understand the amount of time you should give to each answer (the higher the mark the greater importance) or number of lines given as an indicator as to how much you should write.

  • Don’t spend a lot of time on a 2 mark question at the expense of a 10 mark question, which will require planning and multiple paragraphs.
  • Don’t use dot points unless you are specifically asked to list.
  • Use topic sentences which focus on answering the question asked.

Know your keywords

Provide elaboration, evidence, explanation, examples, evaluation or analysis as required by the question.

  • Often a keyword will direct you.
  • The number of marks or lines provided will help you determine how much you need to elaborate.

Think you've finished?

Check, check and check again. Before you are told to put your pens down, spend your time checking you have answered each question and looking over all your responses.

Read as a reader, not as a writer. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Have I followed the exam instructions regarding which questions to answer and have I used the answer booklets correctly?
  • Have I always answered the question asked?
  • Is my answer obvious and clear throughout my response?
  • Do extended responses flow logically, linking my ideas to my point of view or answer to the question?
  • Have I used sophisticated language and specific technical terms from the subject and topic?
  • Have I used correct spelling, punctuation and grammar? Although not explicitly marked, handwriting, spelling and punctuation may affect how successfully you express your understanding to markers.
  • Are all my details correct on each exam booklet being handed in for marking?

Never leave an exam early

The time set is how much time you are expected to use, that is, to plan, write and check your work. If you do finish early, read over your responses, read every single word, you’ll be surprised at how often you have written so quickly you’ve missed entire words in a sentence. Check your answers, fix any obvious mistakes, correct any poor spelling or punctuation.

It's over – let it go

When the exam is over avoid speaking with ‘know it alls’ who want to discuss the exam in detail and tell you how they approached each question and their answers. There is nothing more you can do once an exam has been handed in. It is time to reward yourself with a break and then start preparing for the next.

Visit NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) Rules and processes for more tips on preparing for the HSC.

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HSC resources

  • HSC papers and marking guidelines from previous years to better understand what type of questions are on the test and how your answers are marked.
  • HSC Study Guide 2021 produced by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) and the Sydney Morning Herald is an excellent resource for all students and parents.
  • Exam advice and resources for students from NESA will help your child know what to expect in the exam and what students can and can't take into the exam room.
  • HSC stories from Reachout.com includes students who have been through the HSC talking about their experience and offering helpful tips.


  • Teaching and learning


  • Student assessment

Business Unit:

  • Communication and Engagement
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