Andersen Lau

  • 99.80 ATAR
  • 1st in Sydney Boys Chemistry
  • 1st in Sydney Boys Physics
  • 2nd in Sydney Boys Maths Ext 1


  • Sydney Boys Graduate
  • 99.80 ATAR
  • Chemistry: 97 (Rank 1st)
  • Physics: 95 (Rank 1st)
  • Maths Extension 1: 97 (Rank 2nd)
  • Maths Extension 2: 94 (Rank 8th)

About Me

Before year 11, learning had been smooth sailing for me. None of the concepts taught from Y7 – 10 were particularly difficult or in-depth, and I already had a natural aptitude for learning. (Or so I thought). The moment I entered year 11, the workload tripled, the rate of content and expected learning speed increased massively, and the expectations were that you were completely on your own.

Needless to say, I struggled a lot in the first half of Year 11, especially in Chemistry. The concepts that were being taught were radically different in theory, and the complexity and detail that was expected of you in written responses was totally unlike the previous years. Even for the concepts that I thought I’d be good at (like the maths involved), I struggled to grasp even the simplest foundations. It was  really demotivating to see a lot of people around me easily understanding concepts that I found alarmingly difficult. Consequently, I flopped the half-yearly exam, coming 60th out of 110 kids – which was something that hadn’t happened to me previously. In my half yearly report, I ranked at an all-time low. You can imagine the panic that set in as I thought that my natural talent had run out and that this was the end of my academic success. Maybe this feeling is relatable: the moment where you start questioning if you’re even that smart. In the end, I was able to achieve an ATAR I never thought I’d be able to of 99.80 while juggling the UCAT as well (where I scored in the 99%tile), allowing me to pursue Medicine at UNSW.

What changed?

After receiving my results, I knew something had to change. I didn’t know exactly what, but at least that was the beginning of the process. After really reflecting on my learning habits and my experience throughout the year, I realized that the two reasons I wasn’t succeeding was because:

  1. I took too much of a replicative approach to learning, rather than being generative.
  2. I had a mindset that was preventing and actively limiting my potential to learn.

Being generative: I needed to learn the first-principles (the absolute basics) of the topic, create my own connections between pieces of theory, understand the terminology and definitions in the context of their applications and thus generate my own conclusions in the subject. That’s being generative. In a sense, I needed to paint my own picture of the subject and form my own, unique understanding. Previously, I had been mindless regurgitating whatever my teacher had put up on the slides, absorbing absolutely nothing and thus doing poorly on my exams. A replicative approach will provide short-term retention, limited understanding and an overall lack of enjoyment of the subject.

Mentality: In addition to that, I had a very poor mental when it came to learning new things. I had previously learnt things quite quickly and intuitively, and so I didn’t put that much time into Chemistry because it intimidated me inside the classroom, leaving me afraid to tackle it outside of the classroom. This was the first time I had struggled to learn something, and my confidence was completely shattered. I knew I needed to bounce back. After implementing a radical shift in my mindset, particularly the phrases that “I can do it if others can do it too” and “learning takes time” I removed my own mental block and began to appreciate the nuances and process of actually learning something, understanding that it takes patience and mental effort. I leaned into the mental strain, rather than shying away from it, allowing myself to know I was only 2-3 minutes away from understanding it.

The impact?

After changing these two things, my marks consistently and quickly rose. I came 5th in the Year 11 (preliminary) yearly exam, and came outright 1st in Tasks 1 and 2, and 3rd in Task 3. Overall, I came 4th in my internal HSC Chemistry rankings. Instead of the kid that was unconfident, unsure of himself and always asking others, I was the one breaking down and explaining concepts to other people. This process also happened to me for 4U (a subject I really struggled with) and Physics (I came 5th internally).

If you can relate with the things I say, I hope I’ll have an opportunity to impart my knowledge and principles to you so you can discover your own potential. I’m very responsive and genuinely care for each student that I teach. Hope to see you soon!