Advice from HSC Achievers: Meet Ella

Ms Jenny Pollock | Deputy, Academic Strategy | 15 March 2024

Earlier this term we invited three students who undertook last year's HSC Exams, to offer advice to future HSC students in Senior School Assembly. Below is the advice offered by another one of our students.


Ella Fewtrell came first in the State in Mathematics Standard 2 with a mark of 100. She was also an all-rounder, which means she gained a mark of 90 or more for 10 or more Units. Ella undertook Society and Culture as one of her five HSC subjects, which included the completion of a major research project, called the Personal Interest Project. She is now enrolled in a Bachelor of Business at UTS.


I asked Ella what tips she could give other students about planning and time management to ensure that they complete their Society and Culture Personal Interest Project in time for submission in August, while still preparing well for the Trial HSC Exams.

Ella’s response was:

“My first tip is to pick a topic that you are actually interested in and want to spend time on because it is a major work, and you’re going to spend a LOT of time doing it.

The next thing I would recommend is to start early on your project … and plan the chunks of the project so that you will finish with plenty of time to spare. For me in Society and Culture, I started working on my PIP in Term 4 and got as much as possible done during the Summer holidays, ultimately finishing my first draft by April. This meant that I had plenty of time to focus on my other subjects in the lead-up to the Trial Exams.

With preparing for the Trials, I was doing subjects I enjoyed and started writing notes and doing practice responses consistently because, at times, it can get pretty intense and hectic. Finishing my PIP a few months before the Trials also gave me enough time to submit my drafts for plenty of feedback from teachers and other people in my class, and then had plenty of time to apply their feedback before the due date. So, to sum it up, my main tip, especially for major works, is not to leave it to the last minute."


I then asked Ella what strategies she used to achieve 100% in Maths Standard 2?

Ella’s response was:

“To be completely honest, before this Maths HSC exam, I had never attained 100% in a Maths test or any other exam, EVER! The fact that I somehow managed to get 100% on my HSC Maths Exam is still a massive shock.

Throughout the many tests across all my subjects during Year 11 and especially Year 12, I noticed that I often lost marks by reading the question incorrectly or making silly mistakes. My biggest mark saver was when I started to highlight the keywords and numbers in each question for tests across all subjects, whether it was keywords from the syllabus in PDHPE, English short answer questions, or the units of measurement or rounding required in maths. This really helped me to narrow down specifically what the question was asking and also acted as a reminder for the last step of many maths questions which I often missed.

Doing past papers in the lead-up to exams really helped me identify which content areas I was struggling with and hence to focus on and spend more time learning. Your teachers are genuinely one of your biggest resources and are there to help you understand the content. With maths, I still remember the good 20 minutes Mr Ayre spent desperately trying to explain the concept of longitude and latitude to me - a concept that still baffles me. Thankfully I grasped it just enough to get through the exam. However, this is a topic I wouldn’t even have known I struggled with if I hadn’t done countless practice papers to highlight my weaknesses.

So my main strategies which really helped me in all my subjects was to read the questions carefully, and do lots of past papers”.


My final question to Ella was to ask her which LEARNING@STLUKE'S strategies proved to be particularly useful for her in undertaking the HSC.

Ella responded as follows:

“When I started to plan a response to this question, and I sat with the 5Rs staring back at me, I recognised how much they actually applied to my experience throughout Year 12, ultimately being the key drivers behind my HSC results… most of which I never even thought possible.

Resilience is important. There's really no question about how intense and hectic school can get, but every day we show up and push through. I know personally that one week before the Trial Exams I got the worst mark in English I had ever received. I had already memorised the quotes and analysis for this essay but needed to throw it all out the door and start again. This definitely was frustrating. Resilience was about beginning again, listening to the feedback and making changes.

Resourcefulness also played a major role. I've already emphasised the huge role teachers have in helping us to succeed – and students should CAPITALISE on this. Mrs Proper, Mrs Donnan, Mrs Hamill, and all my teachers who marked my practice essays and responses over and over again, gave me a different view and a better understanding every single time, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Even looking at the Be Reflective domain, really reinforces for me how important it is to reflect on which subjects you enjoy and value, and then select those subjects. So, despite not necessarily having the 5Rs on my computer home screen, I recognise now that the learning framework is invaluable. Students should use it.”