A job well done!

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Year 12 finishers look back at their final year of school…

At the end of December last year, students around the country were frantically logging on to the net to perform the final task of their last school year – collecting their ATAR. I know this because at the very same time one year ago, I was one of those frantic students. I was in India and it was far too early in the morning when I was roughly shaken awake by my parents and handed an iPad. The Board of Studies page glared at me menacingly. One tense minute passed. My parents stood over me, waiting as the page loaded. I surpassed my aim. I got into law.
It’s a lot easier for me to talk about my experiences, looking back at my own HSC year. I’ve just finished my first year of university, doing a course I love, and not once since uni started have I been asked my ATAR. The HSC has become a distant memory.
What I do remember of that year is the free pass I was given at home. All of a sudden I was unassailable. I yelled at my poor, innocent little sister, and it was her fault.  I stayed up till 3am, and it was okay. Dishwashing duty was no longer mine. The study was left in a constant state of disarray and my room became a no-entry zone.  All because it was ‘Radhika’s HSC year’.
School life also changed. All of a sudden, I was not surrounded by peers, but by opponents in the most important race of my young life. The top rank was in contention. ‘How many hours of studying did you do last night?’ ‘How much of that 3000 word essay have you completed?’ ‘How many marks did you lose in the latest maths test?’
And then, as soon as I found out my scores: How many of my friends got onto the distinguished achievers list? How many got onto the all-rounders list? How many got 99+ ATARS?
Everyone’s experience of his or her final year will be different. But I can guarantee you that everyone will go through some sky-high ups and rocky downs. I can also tell you, with a clarity that only presented itself following the whole ordeal, that for me, those rocky downs would not have been quite so rocky if I had lifted just a little pressure off myself.
‘So what?’ I would question my stressed and angry 2013 self. ‘What does it matter if you lost a couple of marks in that English essay? There will be more essays (not necessarily a comforting thought, I admit) where, after a chat to your teacher and a little hard work, you can more than redeem yourself. Seriously former Radhika, just calm down.’

Author Radhika completed her HSC in 2013

During this year, family becomes a fantastic support base. However, sometimes this support can translate into an unspoken pressure. So now I address the parents. Those few parents who belong to the ‘tiger mum or dad’ category: bearing down on their children, imagining an end of year result that they can boast about for years. You know who you are. Please stop. This year is not going to be easy for your children; that is undeniable. But, if you step back and let your child just do their thing, it can definitely be pleasant.
Obviously I don’t condone letting go completely. Sometimes a little push away from the suddenly fascinating outside world and towards the mounting pile of homework is exactly what an easily distracted teenager needs. But this year is already heavy with a never-before-seen amount of work and a thus far unparalleled level of stress. Adding more packs to the saddle will only slow your child down.
All of the students I’ve interviewed have done incredibly well in their final year of high school. But that isn’t the only parallel I can draw. Each one of them managed to match hard work with an abundance of extracurricular activities and relaxation. And for them, it was a fantastic year.
So, to everyone starting the HSC, the VCE, the SACE, or final school exams: Good Luck. This year will be a big one; that is undeniable. But big does not necessarily mean bad. Make sure you enjoy it!
Mahendra Chitrarasu
ATAR: 99.9, SACE
Subjects: Biology, Chemistry., English studies, Psychology, integrated learning
School: Rostrevor College 
Appurva Raaj
ATAR: 96.60, SACE
Subjects: English Studies, Chemistry, Media studies and Psychology
School: Lady of the Sacred Heart College 
Nehal Jain
ATAR: 97.35, (37 IB)
Subjects: Maths Higher Level, Physics Higher Level, Economics Higher Level, Chemistry Higher Level, English Standard Level, Hindi Standard Level
School: Glenunga International High School 
Rahul Malhotra
ATAR: 99.7, SACE
Subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths Studies, ESL Studies, Hindi Continuers
School: Eynesbury Senior College 
Prajna Vidyasagar
ATAR: OP2, Queensland (equivalent to 98-99)
Subjects: English Extension, English, Maths C, Maths B, Physics, Chemistry.
School: Saint Johns Anglican College 
Abhishek Goyal
ATAR: 99.95,
HSC Subjects: English Extension, English Advanced, Maths Extension 1, 2 Unit Maths Chemistry, Physics, Biology.
School: James Ruse Agricultural High School 
Sangita Iyer
ATAR: 99.85, VCE
Subjects: English, Maths Methods, Australian History, Business Management, Psychology, French.
School: Sacre Couer
What were your expectations going into the Year 12? How did reality compare?
Rahul: I knew that it would be a challenging year. There would be assessments and tests and time would have to be managed efficiently. Reality was not much different! So I was kind of prepared. It turned out that teachers were very helpful, and I had a good circle of friends who supported each other.
Rahul Malhotra

Nehal: My expectations were quite similar to reality. Just as I had thought, Year 12 was much harder and faster paced, with more assessments I had ever done before. But I learnt how to manage my time and it all worked well.
Appurva: I was college vice-captain so there was a lot of excitement. I was doing subjects that I really loved. I didn’t really worry about the social aspect. I became quite close with all my friends because we were going through the same thing. We grew closer by helping each other out. If someone had a bad day we’d talk about it and support each other. I thought it as going to be the best year of my life. I was really sad when it ended.
Prajna: I thought Year 12 would be just like Year 11, quite chilled. But it was quite stressful, competitive. You see the competition and you want to beat others, you want to be the top. My family and teachers really helped me though. I was not used to this amount of study and stress. My support system really helped me bring it together.
Mahendra: There was that sort of outside pressure, it’s going to be hard etc, etc. But it sort of fluctuated how difficult it really was. It wasn’t like I had to give up going out, talking to my friends, that sort of thing, in order to do well. It was like make a decision between, sometimes, going to a party or working on something due soon. But having those other things in your life made you realise that school grades aren’t the most important thing in the world.
Abhishek: I didn’t expect my HSC year to be too difficult. I found that moving into Year 11 was tougher than Year 12. There was a big jump in the syllabus between Years 10 and 11. Moving into Year 12, I wasn’t too worried. My goals weren’t focused around getting a high ATAR. I just wanted to do the best I could do for each subject, and then the ATAR would come with it. The most important thing to concentrate on is learning the content for each course and then marks came with that.
Sangita: Everyone builds it up but it’s really not that big a deal. I imagined having to study several hours every night. But it didn’t end up being that bad. Most weekends I wasn’t even working really hard at it. I was just waiting for it to get more intense. You never really realise that the workload increases. You just take it on. They tell you it’s a big deal, but they don’t tell you to get on with it.
What did you learn about yourself? Did you exceed your expectations?
Mahendra: Every year you look back and think about how much you’ve changed. Looking back now, I think it’s been a positive change. I’m quite happy. It wasn’t so much that I got a particular ATAR, but more that I tried doing lots of different things.
Mahendra Chitrarasu

Abhishek: I realised how much I like spending time with my family. Throughout the year I would procrastinate studying by spending time with my family in the lounge room watching TV. Indirectly, I learnt more about what goes on in their lives – my mum, dad, sisters. I like spending time with them. Even during the exam period, I used to sit down with my mum and watch TV while we ate dinner. We watched reruns of The Big Bang Theory and complained that they played the same episode every few days. I even sat and watched some Indian dramas. I didn’t even know what they were called, just some crime serials on Youtube. Exceed expectations did you say? Yes, definitely. I never expected to do as well as I did. I don’t think I studied hard but my study techniques, especially group studying, were effective.
Rahul: I learnt that I must believe in myself. I would often doubt myself, but I know now that if I work hard, apply myself, I can overcome any challenge that life throws at me. I feel confident to try new things, and experiment. I’ve learned that I have good time management skills and can organise myself well! Did I exceed my expectations? Well, I’ve always wanted to do medicine so I knew I’d need a high ATAR. I pushed myself hard… and maybe I could’ve gotten a higher score but I’m happy. Getting the Governor’s Commendation as well as Dux of the school, were both thrilling, though.
Sangita: I’ve sort of been the kind of person to sail along, somewhere in the middle of the group. I was never the kind of person that received many awards. To come out of the year as Dux of the school is kind of insane. It taught me that if I apply myself, I can do well. You don’t have to be the smartest person to succeed.
Nehal: You know, looking back, I learnt that I can work hard. I can try new and different things and do them well. I’ve also learned the importance of activities other than studies – extracurricular activities and even physical activity. These aspects really helped me last year, and perhaps that’s why I finished well.
What went wrong? Did you make any mistakes throughout the year?
Nehal: Mistakes, of course! Perhaps the biggest one was losing interest in one of my subjects and then not working as much on it. Which subject? Maths!
Nehal Jain

Rahul: I did make mistakes, yes. There were times I did not score well, but I told myself to stay positive. No point getting bogged down by one bad mark, better to see it as a chance to improve yourself.
Appurva: I probably hyped it up way too much in my head. I would be really hard on myself, like I’d say, ‘This isn’t good enough for Year 12’. I think I underestimated my abilities to do well. I just put myself under an unnecessary amount of pressure.
Mahendra: Of course there were mistakes. Year 12 was something new. I wasn’t smashing everything at the beginning of the year. It was all a learning curve. The way I saw it was, it’s not really important what grade you receive, but appreciate the learning that’s taking place. By learning I mean new ways of thinking. It’s inevitable that you’re going to make mistakes, but don’t stress over it. The sun is going to rise tomorrow, life goes on. That’s the way I took it.
Prajna: I had a hard time answering English questions in Year 11. I want to tell people, especially in Year 12, if you’re having a hard time, keep writing, and keep practising. Write your own questions even, and practice them, that’s what helped me. This worked with Maths as well. I would do all the questions in my Maths textbook and then I looked for more. It made me more confident. Also try different types of questions; this will give you the exposure to exam style questions.
Sangita: I’ve had times where I’ve studied more than I needed to, or stayed up revising things that I never ended up needing to know. I wouldn’t get enough sleep before exams sometimes. I would stay up doing…?I don’t even know what I was doing – reading or being on the internet. Just procrastination, really.
Did you feel there was much competition within your cohort?
Mahendra: Not really actually. For the group of friends I hung out with, it wasn’t so much that you would be protecting your answers. If someone asked you something, you would let him or her know.
Appurva: There was a little competition. Like ‘who is at the top of the class’, and who would get dux for each class. It was healthy competition though. And I learnt a lot from my peers. If we had doubts, then we’d help each other. We did a bit of give and take. I’d teach them something they wouldn’t know and vice versa. I ended up getting Dux of my school!
Appurva Raaj

Nehal: Yes, there definitely was competition, but I’d call it healthy competition, and it was encouraging for us all.
Abhishek: Definitely. There was always lots of competition towards top half of the grade. Especially in things like Maths and sciences. For me, I topped the State in Biology. However up until the external exams, competition for the top spot was quite fierce. It was always the same five people neck to neck at the top of the class – getting the same exact mark or one off each other. After the trials, a lot of my study became group study. I really endorse it. I organised sessions with my friends where we discussed syllabus and try and teach each other bits of material. Teaching other people is one of the most effective ways of learning itself, and fixing problems or issues specific to your understanding of a subject. Usually this would happen just before assessments (even internal ones). But it happened considerably more after the trials in preparation for the external exams.
Prajna: Our final year brought out a lot of competition between all the students. We wanted to beat each other. But what I liked about my cohort was that we also really helped each other. We shared notes and discussed questions. I recommend helping each other as well as staying competitive.
Did you do anything alongside studying?
Nehal: I was debating club captain as well as coach. I continued to take part in public speaking events.  In sport I did swimming and tennis and at the community level, I participated in the Mela. I figured it was important to keep up all my usual activities.
Rahul: I kept up my other activities as best as I could. I was part of social justice groups, working for the homeless and for the World Wildlife Fund. I took part in debating and at school open days. I kept up sporting activities through tennis and cricket.
Appurva: As college Vice-Captain, I organised a lot of social justice work. We ran campaigns and raised awareness for organisations involved in social justice i.e. St Vinnies and ran soup kitchens. We also organised a silent vigil for asylum seeker children in immigration, for the educational rights of children in detention. It was called ‘A Child Like Me’ and Channel 7 News covered us and we have a Facebook Page.  I also do Bharatanatyam and Karnatic singing. I performed in festivals around Adelaide, like Mela.
Abhishek: I spent some time volunteering at Vinnies. We were trained as chaperones for disadvantaged kids between the age of 5 and 16. They were mainly kids who were experiencing hardships at home. I wish I’d done more. I didn’t do very many days because of studies. We would go around to fun places: ice skating, magic shows, parks. In school I was the leader of the charity club. So I spent time organising fundraisers for things like Daffodil Day, Pink Ribbon Day and the Red Shield Appeal. It was a great way to spend time besides studying.
Abhishek Goyal

Mahendra: I was Deputy Head Prefect; that was one of the major things. I would help out with the school community and the wider community. The most significant thing, I suppose, was that we established a peer support network. We got one or two prefects to chat to younger students and help with homework. It was probably the most satisfying part of my role; the teachers were keen to continue with it so it was a great legacy to leave behind. I also played badminton, table tennis, debating and was in the 3rd A team for football.
What Year 12 perks did you enjoy?
Rahul: My parents treated me as usual, really, and only went easy on me sometimes regarding my share of household chores.
Nehal: At home, I got given food wherever I wanted, and of course whatever I wanted! But I did my bit too – I kept my room clean and helped with the gardening. At school, I really enjoyed the new study centre for Year 12s, with kitchen facilities so that we had hot lunches. It was pretty cool!
Sangita: We had a big common room with a kitchen and couches to sit on, and a stereo where we could play our music. It was a great way to relax and bring everyone together.
Was there anything you would do differently?
Mahendra: Not really, and that’s probably one of the most satisfying things. I had a great time and went out a lot. Mum would get angry, she thought I was going out too much. Whatever mistakes I made weren’t life changing.
Rahul: I’d probably get more help where I needed it, as sometimes I was reluctant.
Sangita: I actually don’t think there was anything I’d do differently. I balanced my life well. Before results came out I thought I was going to regret relaxing all those times I chose to have fun instead of study. But I really don’t think I could have worked harder. I don’t think I regret anything.
Sangita Iyer

Nehal: I could have done more work in Maths! Also, I could have organised myself a bit better, so that I could fit in more of my extra-curricular activities.
Prajna: I don’t think so. I think I worked as hard as I could. I’ve never worked this hard before.
Do you have any advice for future Year 12 students?
Rahul: Get as much help as you can, don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t get bogged down by the pressure of the situation.
Mahendra: Realise that at the end of the day it’s not so much the grade that you get but more the person you’ve become. If you can judge your success on that rather than the grade that you’ve got, that would be an achievement. Enjoy the year. Year 12 is so much more than just your studies.
Appurva: You’ve reached Year 12 so you are capable of doing whatever Year 12 throws at you. Don’t get worked up over it. You are more than capable of handling it. Make the most of the last year you have at school.
Prajna: Make sure you keep up the motivation. I never lost faith in myself. Make sure you share time with your family. And relax! For people who are not academically motivated right now, like I was, start pushing yourself now. You will surprise yourself!
Prajna Vidyasagar

Nehal: Aim high. Don’t underestimate yourself. You can achieve if you put your mind to it. And of course, keep up those extra-curricular activities besides studying. At home, involve your family; ask for support. Importantly, learn to manage your time.
Abhishek: Make sure you pay attention in school, especially to your teachers. I know lots of people do tutoring so they believe there is no point paying attention in class. However, I feel school offers you a lot of knowledge that tutoring doesn’t. It’s important because all internals are made and marked in school. You need to know specific nuances, unique focus your teacher places on specific parts of the syllabus. Also, study in groups. This is one of the main reasons I succeeded in the way I did. It really helps you craft responses in your own words when you’re in exams. It also helps you troubleshoot specific types of problems.
What do you want to do now?
Mahendra:I’m taking a gap year to work and meet new people. The school offered me a job as a boarding house coordinator, so I’ll do that. And maybe tutoring. I might pick up a job here or there. Later in the year I want to travel, maybe South America. I want to enjoy the year off. I’m not a hundred percent sure yet what I want to do at uni.
Appurva: Bachelor of Law/International Studies at Adelaide University. I wanted to get into journalism but I’m not sure. But I’m definitely interested in human rights. I’d love to work for the UN. I want to be the voice of people denied their human rights. I want to do my part in helping build a better society.
Rahul: Medicine. Probably at University of Adelaide or at Flinders. Later on, I’d like to get into cardiology, maybe.
Nehal: Probably medicine. If not, then software engineering.
Prajna: I want to become a vision science professional. Like optometry. My course is a 5-year course integrated with Masters. I was reading an article about how in old age, eyes and muscles are the first parts of the body to deteriorate. I think it would be really rewarding to help old people with their eyesight. The plan is to go places in Africa and India, less fortunate places, and help people out – everyone needs to enjoy life, and sight is a big part of that.
Sangita: Arts/Commerce at Monash University. Within Arts I want to do History or English, but I’ve really got to experience it a bit more before I make any big decisions.

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