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The syllabus: your key to smashing the HSC

By Lauren Condon on 23 May 2017Study tipsExam adviceHSCNSWblog

If you’re a big reader of this blog (🤞🤞🤞), then you’ll notice that a lot of our study advice comes down to one thing: the syllabus.

And if you’re a huge fan of our videos, you’ll notice that we bang on about the syllabus a lot in them too. I mean, hey, we basically make every single one of our videos around the dot points.

So, if you want to know why we’re so obsessed, it’s because being specific is your best friend this year. Your goal should be to know everything you need to know and nothing more. Let’s face it, this is a crazy stressful year and you don’t need to be doing any more work or taking up anymore of your memory with stuff you won’t be assessed on.

So it’s true, the syllabus is basically your bible for year 12. Get on the NESA website and check out the syllabuses for each of your subjects right now! And then just keep on reading to find out exactly how to get the most out of them.

1. Sort out your expectations for Trials and HSC exams

The syllabus will give you such a good idea of what to expect from Trials and HSC exams. And really, you want to be 100% prepared mentally and study-wise for these exams so you can get the best marks possible for the least amount of effort/drama/breakdowns. Seriously, it covers everything:

  • The skills you need

For examples, if we take a look at the Geography Syllabus, they list the ‘Geographical Inquiry Methodologies’ for year 11 and year 12. They basically give us a big checklist of things you need to be able to do as a geo student sitting the HSC e.g. calculating the gradient of a slope as a ratio. The syllabuses of other subjects where you need specific skills like Chemistry are going to do the same thing!

  • The content you need to know

The syllabus also gives a nice overview of all the content. See, for Geography in year 12, it will show us that there are three big topics: Ecosystems at Risk, Urban Places and People & Economic Activity. Under each topic, you’re going to see the sub-topics and the dot points which basically cover everything you could be asked about, or asked to do in an exam.

  • Exactly what you need to know about the topics

So, the syllabus will also give you ‘outcomes’ which basically tell you the kind of things you are going to be asked to do with all the content. Sound confusing? Let’s make it a bit easier! So, for Ancient History, an outcome in all four parts is: “H 1.1 describe and assess the significance of key people, groups, events, institutions, societies and sites within their historical context.

So, whether you are looking at the Cult of Amun in the Hatshepsut option (Personalities in their Time) or the Hyksos in the New Kingdom Egypt to the death of Thutmose IV (Historical Period), you know that you will need to use the information you learn to make a judgement about how important they were in impacting the rest of their historical context.

We’re not joking, if you know that syllabus, there should be nothing that will surprise you in your final exams. Yay for 100% preparation.

2. Structure your study

What we all really love about the syllabus is that it basically tells us how to structure our notes and our study. When you’re writing those geo notes, you can have a section on each of the three topics and use the sub-topics and dot points as the structure to write your notes out.

Here’s why this is such a lifesaver:

  • You don’t accidently leave anything out of your notes or your study and then get a seriously nasty surprise in trials or HSC.

  • When you learn something in class that makes you go “why on earth are we learning this”, you can go and find it in the syllabus and get a bit more context about where it belongs in the big picture of the subject.

  • (This is the best part) You will see an end to this madness. Sometimes it feels like you could never write enough notes but when you base them on the syllabus, you will know that you are actually making progress with the content and that there is only so much you have to know.

3. Know what markers are looking for in any exam questions

Not to freak you out too much, but sometimes NESA can throw you a really curved ball by asking a question that you are so not expecting.

It might give you a piece of writing or picture to refer to that you’ve never seen before, it might be a way too general question or maybe you just don’t see how it fits in with anything you studied.

That happened in the Studies of Religion exam in 2009 and seriously, people. freaked. out.

This is what it looked like:


People basically thought they were being asked about something they hadn’t studied. Yeah no, they are still asking you about what you studied so just go back to that syllabus!

A great answer to this question would look at how revelation through the Prophet impacted the life of Muslims in their significant practice and ethical decision making. See, that’s the syllabus content! You would also talk about the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Principle Beliefs to give a super on-point answer to this pretty vague sounding question.

Whatever the subject, whatever the question, the syllabus is going to help you give the markers exactly what they want to see.


We all like to exaggerate a little bit sometimes but this one is so spot on. The syllabus really is your bible to year 12. If you haven’t already, study your syllabuses so carefully so you know exactly what you need to study, how to structure your study and answer questions. Let’s nail this HSC as efficiently as possible!

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