A strategy for academic success

Posted on February 18, 2020

College Dux of 2017 Tom McGregor reveals the strategies developed at Joeys that continue to bring him success.  

During his six years at St Joseph’s College Hunters Hill, Tom McGregor competed in rowing, basketball, cricket and rugby. He was an Acolyte in Year 12 and took part in many other co-curricular activities, including peer reading.

Tom also became in 2017 one of only 42 students in a field of 78,000 to score the highest possible ATAR of 99.95, and made the NSW All-round Achievers list for scoring above 90 per cent in 14 units of study.

The former College Dux had inspiration in spades for the Joeys boys of 2020 when he returned to reveal the secrets behind his outstanding HSC success.

Two years ago, Tom might have advised younger boys keen to replicate his achievement to do their homework and submit their assignments on time – things that are important but, nonetheless, “boring and obvious”, he told Headmaster’s Assembly.

However, with the distance of two years and having moved successfully “from the relative comfort of school into the alien world of university”, two strategies have come into focus for Tom as key to his HSC result and his ongoing success at university: collaboration with fellow students (“involve yourself in group work wherever possible,” he advised), and taking responsibility for his own academic achievement.

“Joeys provided an environment that allowed you to develop those study skills – if you are motivated and really want to develop those skills, then Joeys is the place to do it,” says Tom, whose HSC subjects included 2-unit Religion, Accelerated Maths, Advanced English, Latin, Modern History and Physics.

Effective collaboration skills are increasingly recognised as fundamental to the future of work. Within the Joeys boarding environment there is every opportunity to develop those abilities, for the sake of HSC success right now, and success in study, career and relationships over a lifetime.

“Most schools, you go home at 3.30pm and don’t really see anyone until the next day, but here you are together, day boys and boarders; you are having dinner together, then afterwards you’re studying together,” says Tom, who became a weekly boarder from Manly in Year 7.

“When I was at school, some of my most effective study was not done sitting in front of a laptop, but instead involved a group discussion or a brainstorm in someone’s room.”

Taking responsibility for his own academic achievement involved setting goals, being independent and going beyond the prescribed work. Tom looks back with great regard for his teachers and their role in his success. “I loved all my teachers, they were all really helpful and engaging, and very passionate about their subjects in a way that was contagious,” he recalls.

Tom told the boys: “It’s not good enough to just do the work that your teacher gives you. You have such a unique opportunity at Joeys, it would be a waste to just go through the motions and only do the basics.”

Tom’s two strategies have continued to serve him well at the University of NSW, where he is studying a Bachelor of Commerce and Economics majoring in Finance, Accounting and Econometrics.

“I’m really happy with my uni marks, they’ve been very consistent since the beginning,” says Tom, who is considering a possible career in finance or investment banking.

“There are a lot of group assignments you have to do, you have to work with people – you don’t have a choice. Developing those habits here at Joeys, especially in Years 11 and 12, has worked really well for me at uni and work, and given me the confidence and the ability to work well with others.

“Having been away from Joeys for a few years now, I know how important it is to be independent. You really have to take ownership to succeed, and push yourself to do the extra work, inside and outside of school. “

Tom told the boys that, “even if these strategies aren’t for you”, being at a place like Joeys means there are many tools to help boys achieve their academic goals – the Strive program, homework support and peer tutors being just a handful of the opportunities to help boys improve the way they learn.

But 2020 HSC students such as Adrian Dawson needed no convincing about the effectiveness of Tom’s strategies. “I really thought his advice is something that me and many of the boys will be trying to implement even more now,” Adrian said. “It means a lot to know that something that seems so impossible [an ATAR of 99.95] is actually available to us at Joeys.”

Tom meanwhile has continued to balance his studies with many other pursuits, including part-time jobs at the Manly Bowling Club, in publishing and as a homework support tutor at Joeys in 2018. He also plays rugby with the University of NSW Colts. Last year, he took time off to travel with some Joeys mates.

It’s a busy life but, thanks to the skills he developed at Joeys, he knows how to strike a balance and make it all work.

“If you can manage to introduce these strategies into your studies in a way that works for you,” he assured the boys, “I guarantee that you will be able to perfect this balance between work and enjoyment, and in turn, get the most out of your Joeys experience.”