ELLIE Waight was "ecstatic" to score first place in her Retail Services class of 20 at Dungog High, yet alone the NSW cohort of 1729.
"It's very surreal," Ellie, 18, said.
"I'm still shocked - it doesn't feel real yet. I was not expecting it, not at all - I didn't think about people coming first in the state, it didn't even cross my mind."
Ellie was one of two Hunter students recognised on Monday at the NSW Education Standards Authority's First In Course ceremony, which celebrated this year's most outstanding Higher School Certificate performers.
Ellie, 18, tied top place in the Retail Services Examination. St Philip's Christian College Waratah's Meg Arnold, who is overseas with her family, came equal first in the Hospitality Examination.
Across the state, 126 students topped 119 subjects.
Ellie said she had enjoyed studying commerce in year 10 but hadn't known her school offered Retail Services until the start of year 11.
She decided to enrol so she could get a Certificate III and have "something to fall back on when I finish school".
It ended up being one of her favourite subjects.
She said students were told after each assessment whether they were competent or not, but they didn't receive any test results until their trial exams in August this year.
"Up until then I didn't know if I had to study harder or not, so this was a bit of a shock," she said.
"I put in a lot of hard work all year [across all my subjects] and was pretty good with my time management.
"When I'd get good results it would make me motivated for the next thing."
Dungog High principal Janene McIntosh said Ellie's results were "well deserved and a reflection of her attitude, effort and application".
"Ellie consistently improved her written responses by seeking and accepting feedback and was persistent in her approach, taking every opportunity afforded to her at our school."
Ellie's mum Tanya Waight said she was "super proud" of her daughter, saying Ellie "deserved everything she's got".
Ellie received an early offer to study business, innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Newcastle.
"I like being a leader and decision making," she said. "I want to go into management or be a CEO of a company."
St Philip's head of senior school Jamie Fahey said Meg, who was also school captain, had worked hard consistently throughout the year.
"She's been an outstanding leader and ambassador for the college," Mr Fahey said.
"We're incredibly proud of her and excited for her with this fantastic achievement."
Students will receive their HSC results from 6am and their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank from 1pm on Tuesday.