About the author: David Quan, one of thirty recipients worldwide of a Cambridge Trust Scholarship, was one of our state’s top performing students, earning a near-perfect ATAR and International Baccalaureate (IB) score. An Order of Australia Association Student Citizenship Awards recipient, David has tutored, coached and mentored hundreds of Primary and Secondary students over the last half-decade, especially through his active volunteering and leadership roles for school, basketball, music, public speaking, social enterprise and community service.

Advanced Education SA
is pleased to partner with David before he commences his undergraduate studies at the world-renowned University of Cambridge. We hope that his fresh insights and perspective may offer all our students further inspiration to access excellence and advance their education. For private and group tuition enquiries, please visit our website at https://advancededucation.com.au/

Note: This is the 2nd blog for Advanced Education SA’s new ‘Systematic Studying’ Series.
Blog 1: Why You Should Engineer Your Own RAILWAY System



The sound of the infamous recess bell cut through the genial air, halting any sustaining conversations. Those reclusive individuals who decided to repudiate simply sauntered on, while some others dashed towards their lockers and subsequently towards the classroom as if chocolates were on offer. My approach was usually somewhere in between: while I walked quickly enough to be on time for class, I was somewhat insouciant given the accustomed ease of the routine. The laptop and pencil case were ‘must-brings’, so what remained was simply a matter of choosing that one exercise book for the subject. There was not really a lot of room for error!

But one time in Year 10, as I was walking towards class, I brushed shoulders with a high academic achiever in Year 12 and noticed that he possessed several books for each subject. Interesting (and how unnecessary)! My immediate thoughts were that he would benefit from a trolley! I then mindlessly strolled on after a standard “G’day!”.


Something Was Not Right

Fast forward a year, a Term into Year 11, I encountered a massive problem of concern: my lone exercise book for each subject was inundated with messy, unpredictable, and often irrelevant information and drawings. Some attempts of questions and incomplete solutions weaved in between the supposed theories. It was higgledy-piggledy. I struggled therefore to recall definitions, remember explanations, or understand diagrams. This led to a number of poor test results that were at the time quite demoralizing. Something just wasn’t right; I suddenly recalled back to that interaction – specifically, the observation of seeing the high achieving Year 12 with multiple books and folders per subject. Could that be the answer?

After some personal contemplation, and discussions with others, I realized that using only one exercise book for each subject, while convenient and simplistic, can be incredibly problematic. For one, using only one exercise book would seem improvident to the inevitable fact that the teachers’, textbooks’, and online resources’ explanations are not always aligned, not to mention the garrulous and mercurial nature of lessons. This meant that there wasn’t much structure to my ‘notes’. Additionally, I recognized that it is equally as critical to successfully filter out unnecessary information as it is to record down spontaneous facts in class. Relying on only one exercise book is therefore analogous to trying to understand a complex debate when thousands of people with differing viewpoints are screaming at your face – simultaneously. Maybe that is an exaggeration, but the point is that a more comprehensive system is needed when it comes to note taking and revision.


The Solution: ‘Not 1, Not 2, But 3!’

For these reasons, I experimented and subsequently adopted the ‘Not 1, Not 2, But 3’ books approach. Note that each ‘book’ is not necessarily a single exercise book in terms of physical quantity. Instead, it refers to books dedicated to a distinct category or purpose. Here is a brief overview:


Book #1: ‘Good’ Copy Notes

General: – A holistic book that contains resources all in one place

– Constantly updated

– Perfect exam revision material

Characteristics: – Handwritten (ideally) and succinct

– Neat, interesting and informative

– Contains all theories, diagrams, examples or worked solutions

You are on the right track if… – You would rather use your umbrella to shelter the book rather than yourself when it eventually pours in July!

– You are most proud of this book


Book #2: ‘Bad’ Copy Notes

General: – A carry-around exercise book

– Used to record information from class or from other resources like YouTube or websites

– The ‘draft’: some aspects will later be filtered, reorganized and transferred into Book #1

Characteristics: – Handwritten (ideally) or typed into a document

– Raw, informal and relaxed

You are on the right track if… – You carry this book with you everywhere

– You jot things down without second thought


Book #3: Practice Book

General: – A separate book for practice questions and solutions

– Functions like a workbook

Characteristics: – Handwritten (ideally) to mimic exams, which are likely paper based

– Logical, lucid and labelled

– Lots of ticks for all the questions you get right

You are on the right track if… – You use this book frequently and take pride filling it

– You always ask Mum and Dad for another Of