Maths Extension 2 tips

HSC Maths Extension 2 tips

Mathematics is one of the most rewarding subjects you can do for your HSC. And it is just highly fortunate for us math-loving people that Mathematics Extension 2 is so incredibly highly scaled . Maths is the perfect subject - not because it is inherently any easier or harder than Chemistry, Economics or English, but because there is always a right answer. When you're correct in maths, your mark is undisputable, free from the distortions of human judgment of your marker. Variables like individual marker leniency or experience never comes into play with maths. Situations like the marker going through 200 papers that day before yours, and he's tired and grumpy, won't (in theory) affect you in maths.

If you are correct, you will get the mark. Doesn't that sentence just ring with universal justice? The principle is so elegant and appealing, it has such a powerful motivating effect on maths students. Every ounce of effort you put into maths translates directly to your end result. That's why we say maths is the perfect subject. It is the perfectionist's ideal subject. If you know your stuff, you will do well. If you really know your stuff, and answer everything correctly, you will score a 100% raw mark (and top the state)! If only more students shared similar views on maths, we would have a much greater interest in HSC maths subjects.

Mindset of an athlete

So how do you get spectacular marks in Maths Extension 2? The same way as you do for any maths subject.

Maths is like a sport, at all levels. The more questions you do, the more experience you gain. The wider variety of questions you experience, the less chance you will face something tricky and new in the exam. Pattern recognition is the name of the game, especially in Extension 2. How did you feel when you first saw a Question 8 type question? Did you just look at it and stood there thinking "how on Earth is this humanly possible?", not having the faintest clue of the first step, or even a general approach?

That sort of reaction is simply due to inexperience. Natural intelligence makes no difference in this course, the vast majority of people are smart enough to do well. We can't emphasise this enough: every single HSC student can do well in Extension 2 maths, if they put in the effort. It is really just a matter of doing enough questions and experience enough variety of different question types. Eventually, around Trials time, you would be so familiar to all the quirks of maths they can base their hard questions on, that you'll practically recognise every trick behind every "tricky" question they can ask.

That's what we mean when we liken maths to a sport. To be a winner in this subject, you need to train like an olympian. Go through your homework, go through textbook exercises, go through as many past papers as you can, and always follow up on the questions you can't initially do. In every failed question there's an important lesson. Stay positive and focused.

Learn ahead of schedule

Most schools simply go through the course too slowly. They focus heavily on the early topics, Complex Numbers, Integration, Polynomials etc, and too lightly on the later topics: Mechanics and Harder Extension 1. Ironically it is your performance in these latter topics which differentiates you from the average Extension 2 student. Remember, your percentile performance matters most to your scaled marks, and your scaled marks determine your ATAR.

Often, schools only very briefly cover the latter topics, leading up to the internal trials. There is simply inadequare coverage of these topics, and this is one of the main causes of poor performance in the later questions of the HSC exam. Instead, students should aim to learn ahead of schedule if they want the spectacular result. Tutoring can help, but especially motivated students can also do this on their own. The main advantage of learning well ahead of school schedule is that early knowledge allows you to start doing those actual HSC exams earlier than you could have. Imagine if you finished learning the HSC course 2 months before your trials? That's 8 weeks where you can focus on doing past paper, (or even other subjects).

Going through those past papers

Past papers are an invaluable tool to exam preparation. Always do your past papers under exam conditions, under the appropriate time limit. Practice thinking fast, and sustaining a healthy pace throughout your exam. The more you do, the faster you get. We had a couple of students who could finish a HSC past paper with 30 minutes to spare. These times, while amazing, are perfectly within reach by the average Extension 2 student, as long as he/she does neough practice at home with past papers.

An interesting thing we notice is that Extension 2 school trial papers, whether they are from a normal public schools, Sydney Grammar, or James Ruse, are limited in the creativity of Question 8 questions that are written. The toughest papers with the most insightful and creative Question 8 questions are invariably past HSC papers. That's why we recommend students should start with HSC papers first to get a grasp of the actual difficulty of the HSC exams, then go back to the same exams after they've become more experienced.

There can only be so many variants of the tricky Question 7 and 8 questions. After you've covered enough past papers, you would have seen most of them already as variants of the same thing. And if you're at that standard anyway, you would make easy work of Questions 1 to 6 anyway, which is adequate for Band E4.

Time management

The HSC can be a daunting task, trying to juggle between multiple subjects, each demanding a large workload on its own. Students should carefully budget their time, especially if they want to do well in Extension 2, as this subject is one of the most time-intensive. Remember, to do well in Extension 2, there's no substitute for working through many questions and getting the much needed experience and exposure to a wide variety of questions.

To do this effectively without neglecting your other subjects is a task in time management. You will need to decide how many hours in each school day and each weekend day you wish to dedicate to study (the more the better, obviously). Out of those hours, what proportion do you wish to dedicate towards this subject? Then stick to the plan throughout the year. Consistency of effort is more important than budgeting for a large number of hours, because what good is it if the effort is not sustainable?

And finally, be smart when it comes to allocating your time and effort. If the school keeps giving you non-assessable homework tasks, you should do them, but focus more on more challenging things that are more relevant to your skill level and the final exams. Keep in mind that your trial exams will be modeled after what your school in particular has covered, but the HSC exam (worth 50%) will not be so specific to your school. For example, if you're ranked 1st internally by a wide margin, you can afford to direct more of your energies towards preparing for the HSC exams by doing more external past papers and focusing on the challenging questions.

Final tips

Time is not your most valuable resource in the HSC: motivation is. If you really think about it, you get home from school at 4-5pm, you have 2 hours before dinner. You finish eating at 8pm, giving you another 4 hours till midnight, which by then is bed time. But no one actually puts 6 hours of study per school night! And rightfully so, that is a crazy amount of time to put in. Ideally, just 3 hours is more than sufficient for an excellent HSC result. The trick is to get motivated, and stay motivated, especially as you're working through the past papers of Extension 2!

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