Higher, Stronger, Cleverer: How the HSC year helped personal as well as academic growth

How the HSC year helped personal as well as academic growth

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HSC 2018.Indian Link

Akanksha Singh
School: Tara Anglican School for Girls
ATAR: 86.55
Subjects: Drama, Mathematics, Advanced English, Modern History, History Extension, Business Studies

Lavanya Kumar
School: Girraween High School
ATAR: 98.50
Subjects: English (Advanced and Extension 1), Mathematics (Advanced and Extension 1), Modern History, Legal Studies, History Extension and Chemistry (2016 accelerant)

Manan Luthra
School: Knox Grammar School
ATAR: 99.65
Subjects: Drama, English (Advanced), English Extension 1, English Extension 2, Legal Studies, Mathematics General 2, Modern History
Awards/Honours: 2nd in the state in Drama, 18th in Legal Studies, OnSTAGE Selected Individual Project – Portfolio of Theatre Criticism, OnSTAGE Nominated Group Performance, All-Round Achiever

Paul Joseph
School: Knox Grammar School
ATAR: 97.00
Subjects: Chemistry, Physics, Maths Advanced, English Advanced, Ancient History

Rizina Yadav
School: Merewether High School
ATAR: 99.80
Subjects: English (Advanced), Chemistry, Legal Studies, Economics, Society & Culture.
HSC Awards/State Ranks: 9th in Society & Culture, High Distinction Personal Interest Project (PIP) in Society & Culture, 16th in Legal Studies, HSC All-Rounder.

Sonali Yardi
School: Baulkham Hills High School
ATAR: 99.85
Subjects: English Advanced, Legal Studies, Economics, Mathematics Extension 1 and Mathematics Extension 2
School Awards: Ranked 1st in School (Legal Studies), School Academic Achievement awards for Legal Studies and Economics

Yohann Ghosh
School: St Aloysius College, Milsons Point
ATAR: 90+
Subjects: English Advanced, Biology, Chemistry, Economics, Mathematics, Mathematics Extension 1, Mathematics Extension 2

Zohair Kazmi
School: Hurlstone Agricultural High School
ATAR: 94.70
Subjects: English Advanced, English Extension 1, English Extension 2, Mathematics, Chemistry, Hindi Continuers, Studies of Religion I

With your HSC now done and dusted, you’ve probably had much opportunity to look back at it all with some wisdom. What did you learn about yourself in the HSC year?

HSC 2018.Indian Link

Akanksha Singh: Being of Indian origin, your Year 12 results are not just your business but also your parents’! Prior to receiving my results, I was preparing my family to get ready for an ATAR under 85 (85 being my goal through the year). When I received an ATAR of 86.55 which my parents round off to 87, I realised that I underestimated myself and doubted my abilities. I learned that I am capable of achieving my goals and as my maternal grandfather Nanaji says, “Labour always pays.”

Lavanya Kumar: I learnt that I can work well under pressure and that I am more independent that I thought. HSC was a period of growth not only for myself as an individual but also a growth in friendships.

Manan Luthra: Since there is a wide range of subjects to choose from, with only one core subject, I entered the HSC year with an interesting choice of subjects. As I went about my combination, I discovered a real interest in media and the entertainment industry, slowly becoming the sector I most want to work in. Complementing my passion for law, I carved out a career aspiration that I look forward to continue engaging with as I start university. Also resulting from this, I found a capacity to work that exceeded anything I previously knew, definitely good for the future!

Paul Joseph: During the HSC year, my ATAR prediction was well below what I wanted and even below my course requirements. However, during the HSC period, I studied hard and eventually achieved a good ATAR, albeit, below what I had expected. From all this, I learned that I will not give up and that with enough determination coupled with hard work, anything is achievable.

Rizina Yadav: Through Year 12, where passions, subjects, intelligence, friendships, as well as life purpose and meaning, were all challenged, I began to understand what I truly love doing, how I deal with adversity, and what matters most in life to me. Although I only did 10 units, which equated to five subjects, I became engaged in three and developed a considerable dislike towards the other two. This taught me about my strengths, weaknesses and interests, ultimately confirming my desire to pursue law and arts (psychology) at university. Furthermore, as assessments piled up and things didn’t go exactly as planned, I learnt that I often give up too easily and need to multi-task to stay engaged. Finally, as different aspects of my life – academic, extra-curriculars, family, and friends – pulled me in different directions all at the same time, I began to realise what I value most. I value friendships, family, and extra-curriculars, and was often too ready to shove my academic pursuits to the side!

Sonali Yardi: I think the most important thing I have learned is too have faith in my abilities. By picking a notoriously “low scaling subject”, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to do as well because I chose this subject. But I ignored such negativity and tried to have faith in my ability and love for Legal Studies. Further, moving to a new school helped me to realise that I had the strength to adapt to a new environment and excel. I also learnt that strong self-motivation is the only way one can achieve success as only you can get the best out of yourself.

Yohann Ghosh: The HSC year, for me, was emotionally exhausting. Often, I would work very hard in some areas of study but other areas would ultimately bring me down. Through this experience, I can say that the HSC does not measure an individual’s passion, intellect or understanding but merely requires a certain minimum effort so as to pass the academic threshold of the curriculum. Further, for the majority of the year, this effort was simply writing back on paper what we were told by teachers in class. I treated last year as one for personal growth, emotionally and intellectually. In retrospect, it is my perception that all HSC students with a real resolve to grow as people should meet the minimum required by the curriculum whilst also searching for meaningful academic rigour, strongly founded sense of self-worth and purpose.

Zohair Kazmi: As clichéd as it may sound, anything is possible. If you are determined and put in the hard yards, nothing can stop you from achieving your goals. I wish I learnt this a tad earlier in my HSC year because knowing that my dreams were within reach helped me overcome my procrastination and to finally get things done.

What were your expectations going into the HSC year? How did reality compare?

Akanksha: I expected some sort of magical change in my attitude as if I would naturally want to study all the time. In reality, I got tired very quickly and lost motivation easily. I had to consciously force myself to study and stick to a routine.

Lavanya: I expected it to be stressful 24/7 but realised that only exam periods were stressful and that I could still participate in extra-curriculars, hang out with my friends and become a more well-rounded person – more so than my other years of high school combined.

HSC 2018.Indian Link
Lavanya Kumar

Manan: I approached the HSC trying to be as objective as possible about my work, knowing I would develop a lot academically over the year and therefore there was no such thing as a ‘perfect’ essay or major work. However, particularly leading up to trials and the HSC, I found myself taking pride in what I had created – particularly with my creative writing in English, and a portfolio of theatre reviews I completed for Drama. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I was still incredibly proud of the quality of work I dedicated a year to; I am certain I will never write to that level again for some subjects!

Paul: As a student before the HSC, I underestimated the difficulty and the amount as well as quality of work needed in order to attain a high ATAR. Going into the HSC year, I believed that an ATAR over 99 was an attainable task, given the right amount of effort, yet the reality of the HSC and its difficulty hit me. The competitiveness and hard work needed was something that I failed to keep up during the internal component of the HSC and unfortunately was only something I was able to realise during the exam period.

Rizina: I remember being bombarded with advice regarding Year 12 and also zealously seeking it from people I knew. Overwhelmingly, the notion was that the HSC year is incredibly challenging and you’ll be studying 24/7. But the reality was quite different. Yes, the HSC year is difficult, and a significant amount of studying is involved, but it all depends on the individual person: what your goals are, how quickly you learn, how much effort you need to put in, and what skills you already possess. And most importantly, the advice overlooked the incredible personal growth that occurs over this period and the multitude of meaningful relationships you form – ultimately that’s what Year 12 is about.

Sonali: Having witnessed others go through the HSC, I had expected that the year would be filled with stress, piles of homework and an exam every week. However in reality, to my surprise, my HSC year, although plagued with these things at certain times, was much more fun than stress. I was able to strengthen my friendships and make new ones whilst having new experiences and enjoy the last year of school!

Sonali Yardi

Yohann: My expectations of the HSC had been based off the academic rigour in my junior years at St Aloysius. The mentality of this school took a very holistic approach to education and provided a very strong basis for individual passion to thrive. This level of education fostered in me a passion for scientific research. But in the HSC, such levels of freedom and individual education were snuffed out. The rigid state-wide curriculums, especially in the sciences, make the exams highly predictable and left almost no room for me to showcase my personal understanding of complex topics. This meant that for the first time in twelve years of education, even class time was boring.

What extra-curricular activities or hobbies helped you maintain a balance between work and play?

Akanksha: I really like watching movies and going out for dinners, so I tried to go out with family or friends at least once a week. I also did sport in Term 2 (Basketball) but in all honesty, I don’t think I was able to achieve a true balance between work and play because I forced myself to think that in order to succeed, I must sacrifice my social life which led me to say ‘no’ to quite a few social events and outings, and this isn’t the right mindset.

Lavanya: Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music, cycling, reading, playing my instruments as well as playing sport with my friends all really helped me to relax and forget about the expectations. It also gave me an incentive to have all my work and study completed each day so that I could enjoy my hobbies.

Manan: I was lucky in many ways with my HSC, being able to take subjects I have a real passion in. Drama class was always very practical and creative which provided a fun outlet for my energy. Yet, my participation in my local Army Cadet Unit every Friday afternoon (and for a full week in April at Singleton Army Base) as Second-In-Command of 130 younger students allowed me to take my mind off school and engage in something completely different. I’m glad to say that I can handle a sword, communicate on a radio, and wear a kilt!

HSC 2018.Indian Link
Manan Luthra

Paul: During the internal assessments, I did largely neglect extra-curricular activities, only participating in the mandatory school sport and mostly ignoring teachers’ advice for exercise. However, during the HSC exam period, although a more stressful period, I indulged in my hobbies, mostly cricket with friends and family.

Rizina: Writing, volunteer work, public speaking, and lunches and dinners with friends formed a considerable portion of my HSC year. Although I did try in examination periods to focus exclusively on my studies, I found this tedious. Instead, shifting from one activity or social outing to another made the experience more enjoyable.

Sonali: Whilst I did stop my regular netball games and part time tutoring job during my final year so I could divert more time to my studies, I was sure to put aside time for leisure activities such as yoga and walks. I also continued to be involved in school activities and used my time at school to socialise.

Yohann: School social volleyball was one of many key parts of my HSC experience. The camaraderie formed between myself and my team mates was some of the most integral relationships of the year. Indeed, attending a plethora of University engagements such as being the community judge for PhD and post-doc posters at UNSW’s International Nanomedicine Conference placed in perspective the triviality of the HSC as only the end of the beginning in my academic pursuits.

Zohair: I kept myself busy with extra-curricular activities throughout Year 12 in my roles as a cadet, debater and prefect.

What would you have done differently, overall?

Akanksha: Even though I reached my ‘goal ATAR’ and I am proud of my achievements, I do regret a few things that I did this year. I chose to go to my tutoring lesson over my friend’s birthday party which I still feel guilty about. I would have avoided leaving things for the last minute so I could have done more of what I truly enjoy: hanging out with friends and watching films! I think I would have also stressed less as stressing led me to procrastinate more.

Lavanya: I would probably have been less stressed during my trial exams and worked more efficiently. However, I wouldn’t change the fact that I focussed more on my creative pursuits over extra tutoring and overall, I have no regrets with how the year played out.

Manan: I think I could have spent less time on my major works, being more efficient with the research and drafting processes. It is easy to invest a lot of time on them because of their heavily self-directed nature.

Paul: For a successful HSC year, consistency is the key. This entails that you ‘juggle’ your subjects, meaning that you do every subject every night, including the night before an exam as well as after the exam, still making sure that you dedicate more time to the exam subject 1-2 weeks before. This is what I failed to do during my internal assessments and would have liked to do differently.

Rizina: I regret not forming study groups for each subject. Studying, especially over an extended period such as the HSC year, can become boring and tiring. Especially as the HSC exams approached, I became lethargic and unmotivated. A study group definitely would have increased my engagement and interest in my subjects. I would also have been kinder on myself. We tend to set high expectations for ourselves. Instead of feeling inadequate in my abilities or regretting that I hadn’t studied more, I should have been happy with what I had actually achieved, and looked forward by improving my skills.

HSC 2018.Indian Link
Rizina Yadav

Sonali:I don’t think I would do much differently, except maybe spend less time worrying about the outcomes that were out of my control – scaling, ATAR etc. and more time focusing on doing the best that I could do in each exam. I also would have tried to be better organised.

Yohann: What I would have done is please my teachers and markers by giving them the simple memorised responses that they were looking for in order to get higher marks. Unquestionably, my single biggest mistake during the past year was allowing my study life not to be a part of me but instead be me. This denial of social interactions led to an unhappy mindset.

Zohair: I would’ve spent more time and effort focussing on my weak areas rather than wasting time going over things I already understood in depth.

How did you feel at the end of your first assessment of the year? How did you feel at the end of your final HSC exam?

Akanksha: The first assessment in Year 12 was one for Mathematics in class test. I remember feeling like I started my HSC year on a bad note after the exam. I remember that the whole class was stressing over how the task weighs 10% of everyone’s internal marks, which is quite petty, now that I think about it. My final HSC exam was Drama, the last exam on the HSC timetable. I winged quite a few exams over the year but I had 10 days before my Drama HSC exam and so I was completely prepared for it! I recall feeling really proud of concluding my school career on a happy note.

Lavanya: My first ever HSC assessment was as a Chemistry accelerant – I still remember feeling nervous during the exam because I had forgotten my basic equations and everything on batteries. However, that ended up being my best score on a HSC chemistry task! By the end of my other HSC exams, I didn’t feel a sense of anxiety during or walking out of the exam because the exams finished with a whimper rather than a bang.

Manan: Coming out of my first assessment, a piece of creative writing on the topic of ‘Discovery’ for English Advanced, I felt like there was a long road ahead. I was determined to keep my focus and motivation over the next 12 months, and I believe I kept to it. My last exam, which was my Drama theory paper, was held on the last day of the HSC cycle in the last timeslot – meaning when all my friends were taking a well-earned break I had to carry through a few days more! When we were told to put our pens down, for the first time in a year I felt empty-minded. I didn’t think about how I went, nor what I could change. I just felt calm. It was the best feeling in the world.

Paul: After my first assessment, I was very anxious as I realised there was still much more to be done. This was very different for HSC: after I finished, I felt pure elation, not worrying about any study, assessments, minor questions or even my marks.

HSC 2018.Indian Link
Paul Joseph

Rizina: I was incredibly nervous about how I had performed and already developing a considerable dislike towards studying. I was elated to have finished the HSC exam, and was looking forward to the future, and reminiscing the good old days when we used to go to high school.

Sonali: At the end of my first assessment I was mostly feeling stressed and disappointed as I didn’t do as well as I would have liked to. However, at the end of my final HSC exam I felt relieved and very proud of what I had been able to accomplish. I guess this taught me that it’s okay to slip up once. It won’t affect your final outcome too much. So don’t get hung up on one exam as long as you keep working on your mistakes and weaknesses and continue to learn and grow you will achieve great success.

Yohann: My first assessment was an English oral with the area of study being ‘Discovery’. As a person who enjoys expressing unique ideas, this first assessment was encouraging for the year ahead. However, this notion turned out to be misleading as every subsequent task became more and more rigid. Even until my final exams the demands by the HSC to just regurgitate information became more blatant. So, at the end of my last exam (Economics) I felt incredibly liberated.

Social media now plays a big part in the lives of many HSC students. Did you find Facebook groups such as the HSC Discussion Group helpful?

Akanksha: I checked the HSC Discussion Group at least once a day. As sad as it sounds, it was my source of entertainment. Seeing other people doing the HSC, made me realise that 70,000 people are also on the same boat as me. The discussion group really helped lift the pressure off me.

Lavanya: I found them extremely helpful in motivating me to study and work hard because of a sense of empathy and support with my peers. Social media also allowed me to connect with my peers in all my subjects which allowed us to share notes and tips that boosted our individual and collective results.

Manan: Regardless of all the media hype around HSC Discussion Group, I found a lot of strength in the memes, banter and jokes posted on it – it made me realise that my struggles were not just mine alone. I think it also changed how we see exams; I remember sitting in English Paper 1 and subconsciously trying to identify what would inspire the traditional memes that come from the only exam paper the whole state sits!

Paul: Although social media was a distracter during the year, the various groups did prove useful when posting difficult or ‘outside the box’ style questions for us to answer.

Rizina: A platform for recording and sharing the tribulations of the HSC year, the HSC Discussion Group was very useful in creating the group sentiment that ‘we’re all in this together.’

Sonali: Facebook groups, rather than being academically helpful, were more of a means of humour and fun. However, my grade at school had a Facebook page for each subject which was a super helpful place where students could post any questions or difficulties they had and other students could help them with said questions. This collaborative effort was particularly useful in the holidays before the HSC exams when teachers may not have been available.

Yohann: For me, social media is a very large distraction. I deactivated my Facebook account for the duration of the year. Sure, messaging applications on my phone helped me organise socialising with friends, but large discussion groups only result in many notifications and mundane conversations. Ultimately, the self-motivated student will already know all the available opportunities which are presented in such groups, instead choosing to engage with knowledge friends and mentors face-to-face and having no need for (anti-)social media.

HSC 2018.Indian Link
Yohann Ghosh

Zohair: The HSC Discussion Group was an unexpectedly valuable tool in my HSC year. The group became a place where we shared tips, sought career advice; and most importantly, shared memes. I cannot recommend the group more highly as a place to network, learn or just to have a laugh.

What would your advice to future final year students be?

Akanksha: My friend Anna, who ranked between 1 and 3 in all her subjects told me that the only way she got to where she was, was not through her natural intelligence but through serious and consistent dedication. Anna preferred to study at school and only left school around 7:30 pm every day. In her study time, initially she typed up all her notes for each subject herself. Later, she attempted past papers and then practiced paragraphs for essays. In order to do well in Year 12, just make sure that you are putting in the effort you need consistently; don’t leave everything to the last minute like I did. (My parents were very understanding and I had some really nice friends and teachers to help me out; not everyone has that!) I also feel that most students don’t need that high ATAR as they also receive academic bonus points from almost all universities. Except for one or two courses (such as Medicine or Law), admission is not as difficult as we start imagining at the beginning of the year. There are Early Entry Schemes, School Recommendation Schemes and Academic Entry Programs that allow students to receive an offer before their ATARs are released. These especially look out for students with an all-rounder persona and can be extremely helpful. So, do continue to involve yourself with the extra-curriculars that your school might offer. I myself received three offers before my ATAR was released.

Lavanya: You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on tutoring or a million hours studying. It’s about being efficient in how you study, taking breaks, setting goals and, more importantly, seeing that you reward yourself when you achieve them and work on improving yourself. Also, don’t push away your friends or hobbies for school – you will be unhappy and have no incentive to study and get the results you want.

Manan: Find something to love about each of your subjects. Too many students choose subjects they dislike or find things to dislike about what they’ve chosen. I agree, sometimes it is hard to process what you’re being taught, but because the final exams assess everything you’ve been taught holistically, you must find out what appeals to you in each module. It also makes revision and study less cumbersome if you are passionate about what you’re learning.

Paul: Pace yourself throughout the year. Don’t let the weight of Year 12 make you go all out during the first weeks of the year only to find yourself tired and worn out during the rest of the year. Also, make sure to do each subject each night, meaning do your homework as well as a little extra (such as questions, essays etc.) and prioritise subjects when needed

Rizina: Form study groups, maintain a balanced lifestyle, make sure you have friends you can always vent to, submit practice responses to your teacher, always do more than 10 units (Murphy’s Law + personal experience). It’s a challenging year but it’ll be over rather quickly and each time you make it through an examination period, the next one will be easier. And finally, remember that the education system is inherently flawed.

Sonali: Honestly, just relax and enjoy your last year of school. This is going to be a tough, long year but with hardwork and perseverance you will get through it. Also, pick subjects you genuinely enjoy (this will make year 12 a lot more fun and heaps less stressful). And finally, English (unfortunately) is very important so put as much time and effort into it as you can (you won’t regret it!).

Yohann: Don’t overthink the solution to your problems. The HSC is not a complicated challenge by life’s standards, you will get through it. No matter how long away the end may seem or how difficult it feels, remember that it’s only thirty-six weeks or so of class. Further, never forget the HSC is extremely simple – just write down what the marker wants and you will be fine. In addition, get involved with everything you do. Never be the silent observer, be the active learner and this way you will learn more for yourself.

Zohair: Put the work in. It’s as simple as that.  There are no shortcuts, and no hacks to success. If you manage your time wisely, you’ll realise you have everything it takes to smash the HSC.

HSC 2018.Indian Link
Zohair Kazmi

What moments from the past year do you remember most?

Akanksha: I think, because studies took over my life in 2017, I distinctly remember how my parents were extremely supportive and nice during all my weekly breakdowns. I also remember being sleep deprived and basically craving coffee 24×7. I remember waking up at 3am on the day of my English exam to memorise 2 essays. The night before each of my HSC exam was just hectic memorisation.

Lavanya: Hanging out with my friends, participating in interschool sporting competitions and extra-curriculars as well as being exempt from chores to “study”!

Manan: I threw a large party in April to celebrate my 18th birthday, inviting friends I hadn’t seen in a while because of school and work commitments. Organising it took a bit of time but luckily many of my friends were able to make it and we all got a nice study break after half yearly exams!

Paul: My first physics test where I missed a 7-mark question and thinking that it was impossible to achieve a band 6, and then later achieving a high trial mark as well as doing well in the HSC, to ultimately allow me to receive a Band 6.

Rizina: The moments spent with close friends and teachers. The inside jokes, intellectual discussion, group events, and post-exam adventures.

Yohann: Biology and Chemistry labs were the highlight of my high school career. Being so involved with the practice of science allowed me deviate from the very limited curriculum and make genuine discoveries about how the physical world works. From forming fruity esters with volatile chemicals to deconstructing a cow eye with surgical precision, learning was in my hands. Also, graduation night with my peers is a memory that will not fade from my mind for a long time.

Zohair: Spending time with my friends after school, and chatting the hours away in the library is a memory I’ll fondly cherish. Graduation was also a highlight as well – seeing my peers all across the finish line was an amazing feeling.

How did you celebrate the end of your exams?

Akanksha: After the HSC, I holidayed in New Zealand with my family. This is also where I celebrated my birthday and the trip really helped me destress!

HSC 2018.Indian Link
Akanksha Singh

Lavanya: Making a big deal about going out with your friends to your parents – then ending up at the food court in Westfield, window shopping at Kmart because you’d spent all your money on food then going home to your bed and Netflix (which you subscribed to DURING your HSC).

Manan: At the end of every HSC exam, I always treated myself to home-cooked dumplings and I found they reflected my mood quite well – if it was a bad exam I had less, whereas if it went well I had more! When all my exams were finished, six of my friends and I flew down to Melbourne for a week, staying in our own rented Airbnb and exploring the streets until the late hours of the morning!

Paul: I came home and watched movies for 6-7 hours without sleeping.

Rizina: An express two-week family trip visiting five countries in Europe and a weeklong stay in Queensland with a close friend.

Yohann: With family over dinner. My cousin also finished his HSC with me, meaning that the end of exams was a momentous occasion for four parents in our family. To celebrate, my aunty made an amazing dinner and we spent time with each other after many months of ‘study seclusion’. Also, the following day, I went on an overseas holiday with my parents and a close friend.

Zohair: I caught the bus home, snuggled up in bed, and started binge-watching Netflix. It wasn’t a very grand celebration, but for me, it was important to decompress. And for me, Netflix and Nutella worked best at doing just that.

Favourite quote from a teacher?

Akanksha: “Remember that, although I know you will do your best, these exams don’t define who you are or where you are going to go in life’s wonderful adventures.” – My English teacher

Lavanya: “Remember that nothing is impossible – you just haven’t worked out how to do it. Your future is a choice, not a chance.”

Paul: “The HSC is a marathon, not a sprint.  Make sure to pace yourself.”

Rizina: “We live in a bourgeoisie capitalist society where the superstructure, through maintaining an archaic system of education, indoctrinates us to conform to their established way of life.”

Yohann: “Stay cool like a cucumber.” Perhaps one of the most relatable quotes for any anxious student before an exam. My biology teacher believed in me and this support allowed me to regain a confidence that had almost been beat out of me by the HSC year. To Mrs. Shih, thank you.

Zohair: “Never let perfection be the enemy of the good.” Thanks Ms Chapman.

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