HSC 2020: Learning in lockdown

Arnav Kalra and Bhawan Dhillon shares their experiences.

Reading Time: 5 minutes


Students share their insights about surviving a stressful and unusual HSC year in 2020 with online classes, some cancelled formals, but a new way of learning.

Name: Arnav Kalra

ATAR: 99.70

Subjects: English Advanced, Mathematics Extension 1, Mathematics Extension 2, Chemistry, Biology, Italian Continuers, Italian Extension

School: Sydney Grammar School


Name: Bhawan Dhillon

ATAR: 93

Subjects: Punjabi Continuers, English Advanced, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry

Band 6s/State Ranks: Band 6 in English Advanced and Band 6 and 1st in State in Punjabi Continuers

School: St Marys Senior High School


With your HSC/VCE/SACE 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 academic year and 2020 overall?

Arnav: This year was, without a doubt, extremely difficult to confront, but with any difficulty in life comes an opportunity to grow. I really learnt of my potential to remain resilient in demanding conditions. I was constantly under pressure in both the online and on-campus environments throughout 2020, and I think my ability to come out of it well off, attests to my capacity to retain a determined and concentrated mindset, which is something I’m sure will be of use in future studies.

Bhawan: Throughout the HSC, I learnt how important it is to be adaptable and that I have the capacity to be flexible depending on the circumstances. We often view change as negative and a burden, but this is not the case if we condition ourselves to constantly evolve and plan for the worst, like going online during COVID.


What were your expectations going into the year? How did reality (COVID) compare?

Arnav: Honestly, I wasn’t too sure what to expect going into Year 12. I knew there would be a heavy workload, and I think online learning actually helped alleviate some of that pressure. I had more time to dedicate towards my studies at home, whilst also being able to relax more as I was able to pursue Year 12 study from the comfort of my bedroom. It was disappointing to lose out on many school events and activities due to COVID, but I was fortunate enough to end the year with a formal which was thoroughly enjoyable.

Bhawan: I expected quite a linear year comprised of going to school, assessments, and the final HSC exams. However, these expectations were undercut by the social parameters imposed by COVID as classes went online and assessment were altered and modified to fit the current paradigms. It just went to show that you can never know what’s ahead and having a broad focus on all aspects of life is the most reliable way to adapt.


What was your initial response to online classes, and how did you make them work for your learning style?

Arnav: I actually enjoyed online learning, as it meant I could sleep in longer and not have to change into school uniform every day! It was annoying not being able to interact with friends and teachers physically which is something I really enjoyed about high school, but with everyone’s webcams switched on on Zoom, online classes got a little less strange. I’m a very visual learner, so I appreciated the use of YouTube videos and whiteboards to make the lessons more engaging.

Bhawan: Initially, everything became very distorted because my internet connection wasn’t the best. But thanks to the staff at St Marys Senior High School, especially Mr Anil Sharma and Ms Danielle Ervine, I never fell behind with my schoolwork. They would help me out through email and Zoom, and upload the classwork and video tutorials onto Google Classroom to ensure that I could continue learning the content. In the end, I adapted my schedule to sleep during the day and study later into the night when all the content would be uploaded and available. It ensured I wasted very little time and increased my overall productivity.


What was your studying technique?

Arnav: I arranged my desktop such that each folder represented a subject, which contained subject notes from the year, as well as marked homework tasks and projects. This made studying much easier, as all my revision material was well organised, and I was under no added pressure towards the latter part of the year.

Bhawan: My studying technique was very simple. I would learn the content and then make sure I knew everything about the subject matter at hand by doing my own research like reading papers, watching videos, and listening to podcasts. Then I would take a break before returning to do past paper questions on the topic. After this I would prepare for future content to study, as per my school’s scope and sequence. This wasn’t anything too hectic, it was just reading some pages from the textbook and preparing questions that I may need to ask my teacher when we covered the content during class.


What extra-curricular activities, hobbies, or TV shows helped you through this year?

Arnav: Staying fit was really important to me, not only for physical means, but because it really helped me concentrate and also relax. Playing basketball and going to the gym (COVID allowing) were my main ways to do this. I definitely binged a few shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime as well!

Bhawan: I participated in a lot of volunteer activities including service at Langar (free congregation kitchen) at my local Gurdwara and some charities. It helped me develop a deeper connection to my Sikh faith and allowed me to help people during times of hardship and despair. I felt the satisfaction and internal pride associated with providing for others. Apart from this, I used to listen to Sant Jarnail Singh Ji’s and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s speeches that further instilled determination within me to do my personal best and stretch boundaries imposed by society and challenge political norms.


READ ALSO: VCE 2020: Learning in lockdown


What moments from the past year do you remember most?

Arnav: Definitely the last few weeks of Year 12, as I think that it was an opportunity for all of us at school to reflect on the past six years together. It was really enjoyable to be able to spend that time together, engaging in different activities and events organised by my school.

Bhawan: I remember stressing out a lot but life goes on, so I don’t really give much thought to individual moments. If I had to recall, it would probably be fighting a fake plagiarism case someone tried to impose on me for my English assignment, but in the end, I got a band 6 in English and they didn’t. It’s been an interesting year filled with challenges which allow you to grow and become a better version of yourself, so it is something I definitely embrace.


What would your advice to future final year students be?

Arnav: Stay organised. It is very easy to get caught up with stress and panic in your final year. Keep your notes together, seek help if you need it, and look out for your friends.

Bhawan: Don’t worry about it, just do your best and everything else will sort itself out. As long as you do your best, it doesn’t matter. There are many pathways to university. I personally know qualified doctors and surgeons who received ATARs below 75 and still got into medicine. Always remember to take care of yourself first before your grades.


What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

Arnav: Starting university will be a lot of fun. I’m excited to meet new people and experience a new learning environment. I’m also looking forward to travel, hopefully.

Bhawan: I am looking forward to exploring new things, meeting new people, and expanding my network at university. I am also excited to pursue more volunteering opportunities. I’d like to partner with more charities to undertake more social justice and contribute to improving society.


Describe your academic year in three words.

Arnav: Unusual. Challenging. Rewarding.

Bhawan: An interesting journey.

READ ALSO: SACE 2020: Learning in lockdown

Manan Luthra
Manan Luthra
Writer, cricket fan, gin and tonic enthusiast. Emerging journalist passionate about art, sport, and education

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