Year 12 finishers look back at the final year of school, writes RADHIKA BHATIA
At the end of 2014, on 18 December, students around New South Wales were frantically logging on to the Board of Studies website to perform the final task of their HSC year, collecting their ATAR. I know this because on the very same date 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 the 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.’
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!
ATAR: 99.00, VCE
Subjects: Chemistry, English Language, Methods, Specialist Maths, Psychology, Accounting
School: The Mac. Robertson Girls High School
ATAR: 99.25, HSC
Subjects: English Advanced, Maths Extension 2, Maths Extension 1, Chemistry, Physics, Studies of Religion.
School: Marist College Kogarah
ATAR: 99.95, HSC
Subjects: English Extension, English Advanced, Maths Extension 1, 2 unit Maths Chemistry, Physics, Biology.
School: James Ruse
ATAR: 99.45, HSC
Subjects: English Advanced, Maths Extension 2, Maths Extension 1, Physics, Economics, Business Studies.
School: Epping Boys
ATAR: 99.55, HSC
School: Girraween High School
ATAR: OP2, Queensland (equivalent to 98-99)
Subjects: English Extension, English, Maths C, Maths B, Physics, Chemistry.
School: Saint Johns Anglican College
ATAR: 99.85, VCE
Subjects: English, Maths Methods, Australian History, Business Management, Psychology, French.
School: Sacre Couer
ATAR: 99.7, VCE
Subjects: English, Maths Methods, Accounting, Chemistry, Psychology, Biology.
School: Melbourne High
What were your expectations going into the HSC/VCE year? How did reality compare?
Vaibhav: I expected to do really well this year. The whole year, I worked really hard and it paid off. I aimed to achieve a high score and I got it! I don’t think you will find the year too difficult if you maintain a strong work ethic. The thing that people don’t say is that doing well is not about being smart. It’s about memorisation. The syllabus and answers are given to you. You just have to know your stuff. It was stressful during exam times though. I’m a stressed kind of guy. Before exams I would be scrambling around trying to make sure I knew everything. To relax myself, I had a lot of group study sessions with my friends.
Abhishek: I didn’t expect my HSC year to be too difficult. I found that moving into yr 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.
Rohan: Overall, I thought my year was pretty interesting. All the teachers started to respect me a bit more so I got to have a bit more fun. Our maths teacher was pretty fun. He would make lots of jokes, mainly maths puns, to hold our attention. That was pretty important, because we had early morning maths classes four days a week. The days were long, but I got used to it. I also got a lot closer to my brother, which was something I didn’t necessarily expect. He was helping guide me through the whole year. He taught me how to study. If I was ever worried, he would calm me down or give me advice on how to study and how to improve.
Sangita: Everyone builds it up but its 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.
Kiran: The VCE did take up a lot of time. However, while it was academically strenuous, you could still enjoy the social aspects. It was actually a great final year of schooling. We had a lot of fun events this year such as formal and valedictory to keep us going through all the work.
What did you learn about yourself? Did you exceed your expectations?
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.
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.
Zinnia: I don’t think I met my expectations. I wanted to get a higher score. But I was happier with even this. I think for the amount I worked in Year 12 I didn’t work to my full capacity. I would have a greater drive and push myself more. This is the only chance you get.
What went wrong/did you make any mistakes throughout the year?
Abhishek: My English extension half yearly exam in year 11 didn’t go very well. The essay was supposed to be a comparative study on Emma and Clueless and I thought I had done very well. However, it turns out I had completely misunderstood the question and didn’t answer it at all. (It seems really simple, but it can be quite hard to misinterpret an English question. And English is all about answering the question.) I was so confident with my response and thought I had written down everything I wanted to. In actuality, I had gone off on a completely unrelated tangent. When my marks came back, I got a 20/25. I later found out this was the maximum mark you can get if you don’t actually answer the question.
Pratik: There were definitely a few mistakes I was making during the first part of the HSC. This probably applies to everyone because none of us had done anything like this in our lives before. We had to figure out how to balance our lifestyle with the added workload. At the beginning, I was studying up till 2 to 3 am, but nothing was really happening. When I got my exam marks back that became obvious. I realised that all the marks I lost were just on stupid mistakes. I thought ‘If I’d studied properly, I would have got this right’.
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? Did this change after the trials?
Vaibhav: There definitely was competition. And it was great motivation to do well. Without smart friends, I wouldn’t have pushed myself. I tried to surround myself with driven, like-minded people, and I think it definitely helped. After the trials, everything was different. We all began to collaborate. I think we all realised that at the end of the day we had to come together and perform a cohesive cohort to do well. The high-ranking students helped the low-ranking students and the whole school did better as a result.
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. The trials separated us – that’s the point of trials, to separate the students. And 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. These would happen for Chemistry, Biology and Physics. 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.
Pratik: I went to a selective high school, so everything was always a little competitive. Of course this increased when we got into HSC year. I was always ‘what marks did you get? How did you do this? Why can’t I do the same?’ But at the same time, our cohort became quite close. It was relatively small, about 140 students, and people began to bond. We became a support network for each other.
How did you deal with marks you were not happy with?
Vaibhav: I would come back harder. It’s what you have to do if you don’t get a good mark. English was a hardest subject for me. It’s the subject where you really have to think about what you write, which is completely different to everything else I was studying. Throughout the year I had to refine my writing style and was constantly asking questions. I kept writing draft essays and asking teachers to read them, and correct everything. Practice is key to every subject.
Rohan: At the start of the year, I wasn’t doing very well in English. My first essay got a 8/20. You can’t have a bad internal mark. So I realised I just had to work harder on my English. I kept giving my teacher essays to mark. I even gave it to different teachers so I would get a more comprehensive understanding of English as a subject and what the markers wanted from me. I started off the year with English Extension as well. I dropped it after the first five minutes.
Did you do anything alongside studying?
Abhishek: I spent some time volunteering at Vinnies. The program I participated in was called ‘Vinnies Buddy Days’. We were trained as chaperones for disadvantaged kids between the age of 5 and 16. They were mainly kids from the Western suburbs and the Blue Mountains 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. We would get to have fun as well, so everyone wins. 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.
Rohan: I thought it was pretty important to maintain some form of life outside studying. Otherwise, I would have died of boredom. I played a lot of sport; cricket, soccer and basketball. I also volunteered at an Indian singing group in Hornsby. I would set up the area and serve food. The singers were mainly elderly Indian people and I would help them move around. They were pretty happy that I was there to make their lives easier.
What HSC perks did you enjoy?
Abhishek: I became quite close to my Biology and Advanced English teachers. During Year 12, we were able to talk more openly, more conversational as opposed to the strictly teacher-student relation I was used to. I think it really helps when you’re having trouble with a concept. Its easier for them to explain to you when you’re comfortable with each other. Also my Biology teacher was the person that really helped me enhance my love of the subject and that contributed a lot to my success in the subject. (Abhishek topped NSW in Biology).
Rohan: We got jerseys. But they took a while to come because our jersey committee was quite slack! The nickname on my jersey was ‘Dharnit’, like ‘darn it’, and then ‘Dharni army’ on the front like barmy army. I know it sounds kind of stupid, but that’s what it was! We also had study periods, which were pretty cool. No, I didn’t use them to study. You’re not meant to study during the study periods. We would just talk and just play card games, especially after trials. And maybe sometimes we would do some work.
Pratik: There was a senior line at the canteen. We got to get our lunches first.
Prajna: We weren’t allowed to go outside school for lunches, and we don’t get free periods in Queensland, unfortunately. However, after exam blocks we would all go celebrate at the McDonald’s next to school. We did get jerseys though! People called me PJ because my name is Prajna. So my jersey name was ‘Pajamas’.
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. The music varied- sometimes ‘doof doof’, top 20 pop hits. It was mostly ‘90s though; the Backstreet Boys, the Spice Girls. Anything to pick up the morale!
Was there anything you would do differently?
Rohan: I would probably try harder in English. Maybe I would also pay more attention during school hours. I tended to joke around and have fun rather than listen to my teachers. Actually, I would probably still do that. Yeah, maybe trying harder in English would be the only thing.
Pratik: I wish I was a bit less competitive and on edge. As I got more stressed, some of my friendships felt the strain. Some people that I would have loved to talk to began to drift away. I wish I had paid a bit more attention to the social aspect of the year.
Kiran: Call friends over a bit more for something other than studying. But I think I planned this year pretty well, so I don’t think I would change anything major.
Sangita: I actually don’t think there was anything I’d do differently. I balanced my life well. I think once you get that balance, you can be pretty satisfied. 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.
Do you have any advice for future HSC students?
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. You need to know practical skills you learn during science practicals. Also, as I talked about earlier, 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 do when you’re in exams. It also helps you troubleshoot specific types of problems.
Rohan: Just relax. I was pretty relaxed throughout the whole year. Before the exam I would watch TV and eat breakfast rather than cram. Just don’t stress out too much. It’s not that bad if you don’t do that well. There are always other ways to get into your course. This isn’t the be all end all, even though it might seem so.
Prajna: Make sure you have motivation and never lose faith in yourself. Those are the two big things. Make a goal and achieve it – it’s one of the most satisfying things you can do. Make sure you keep talking to your families. Try and relax at the same time! Work hard now so you can enjoy yourself afterwards. I am!
What do you want to do now?
Vaibhav: I’ve always been a science and maths guy so I think I want to do engineering. Engineering is all about applied science, constantly developing and applying new technology to the world. I want to be at the centre of that.
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.
Kiran: I don’t want to take a gap year; I don’t think I’d be motivated to study again after year of holidays. I’m thinking about doing Commerce/Law or Medicine. Probably at Monash- I was really impressed by their facilities at the open day.
Sangita: I’m hoping to do Arts/Commerce; I want go to 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.
Zinnia: I hope to get into medicine. It’s been something I want to do since I was three years old. I worked hard my whole schooling to get to this point. I grew up in a family where I was really exposed to the career. Why? I don’t want to say just helping people, because that’s a pretty generic answer. Its just everything – the contact with patients, the work ethic. It’s really about doing something to make a bigger difference.