HSC 2019: Looking back at the last year of school

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Students share their insights into surviving the HSC year

Amey Uppal

Castle Hill High School

ATAR: 96.35

Subjects: Extension Math, Extension English, Physics, Chemistry, Software Design and Development

Awards/State Ranks: Band 6 in Chemistry, Mathematics 2u, and Software

Samarth Shrivastava

North Sydney Boys High School

ATAR: 99.95

Subjects: English Advanced, English Extension 1, Mathematics, Mathematics Extension 1, Physics, Modern History, German Continuers, German Extension and Business Studies (completed as an accelerated course in 2017)

Awards/State Ranks: First in Course for German Continuers, German Extension and Mathematics

Yashvi Luthra

Girraween High School and Saturday School of Community Languages

ATAR: 95.80

Subjects: Advanced English, Business Studies, Hindi Continuers, Mathematics, Physics

Awards/State ranks:  First in State (NSW) Hindi Continuers, Distinguished Achiever (Band 6) Advanced English, Business Studies, Hindi Continuers

Himaja Dave

Crestwood High School

ATAR: 99.55

Subjects: Maths Extension, Maths Advanced, English Extension 2, English Extension 1, English Advanced, Economics, Business Studies, Industrial Technology Multimedia (Accelerated)

Awards/State Ranks: Intech/ Shape nomination, All Rounders, Top Achievers (10th in State English Extension 1)

Yashvi Luthra

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?

Samarth: I learnt that I could accomplish any realistic goal if I embraced a routine, then actually followed through with it. While there were undoubtedly setbacks along the way, coupled with growing expectations, I knew that I would remain resilient if I never took anything for granted and simply trusted my processes. In a more pragmatic sense, I discovered my vocation to be a patent lawyer, as my interest in the legal regulations surrounding life-saving technologies drew me towards a combined Law and Biomedical Engineering degree.

Yashvi: Looking back, the key learnings are to have greater belief in yourself and not undermine or underestimate your talent and hard work.

Himaja: I realised that the best way to do well is to choose subjects that genuinely interest you. If you’re passionate about your work, it won’t feel like studying.

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

Samarth: I expected that I would be isolated from the rest of the world during my HSC year, studying alone in my room and only performing the necessary tasks of eating and sleeping. However, that was far from the case, as I forged some of my best memories and closest relationships in Year 12. In addition to the unwavering love and encouragement of my parents and sister, I was extremely fortunate in having an understanding support network of grandparents, aunts and uncles from Perth to India to the United States. I continued to play cricket and basketball with my friends at lunch, as well as starting to see my teachers as caring individuals through thoughtful discussions about goal-setting and wellbeing.

Yashvi: At the beginning, the expectations were different to what I ultimately achieved; I thought the entire ecosystem helped me to excel.

Himaja: I didn’t have many expectations, and just worked to the best of my capacity. I had really hardworking teachers, willing to edit and reread my essays and check my working out on the eleventh hour, so I was very lucky in that aspect.

Samarth Srivastava

What was your studying technique?

Amey: Practice papers played a huge role. I’d learn the content in class (and tutoring for some subjects), then I would solidify this by making my own notes along with homework. Then I would find past HSC questions that address those points, to practice applying my understanding. Before exams, I would be doing solely practice papers and refine my exam technique. If I found that I was weak in particular areas I would revisit my notes and come up with some questions for my teachers to clarify, but then it was back to past papers. 

Samarth: When I was at school with teachers and friends or in my study group, I would consolidate my knowledge by asking questions and explaining concepts to others. At home, I would first write brief summary notes of what I learnt during the day, thereby compiling all my content regularly. That way, I was able to better allocate my time before exam blocks for completing past papers under timed conditions. Finally, I would complete my homework and work on assignments, making sure to take short breaks whenever needed. I particularly enjoyed reading cricket articles, eating a light snack or taking a short walk.

Yashvi: My Hindi teachers who were very helpful, practicing Hindi at home with my family and ensuring that I watch a couple of episodes of Tenali Rama every day to improve my vocabulary in Hindi.

Himaja: Preparing for a big exam, I would always start by doing a practice exam to assess my current knowledge. This would help me analyse my weaknesses and highlight my strengths, and thus, I was able to divert time towards areas of improvement rather than repeating content I was already confident in. This is particularly important for maths – if you’re finding that the questions are too easy, you’re probably not focusing on the right topics.

I also found that keeping a study timetable was never effective for me. Instead, I chose to make a list of all my priorities in a given week. This was much more effective for me because I participated in numerous extra curriculars and had to travel interstate on short notice several times throughout my HSC. Hence, having a flexible study schedule was easier to manage.

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

Samarth: After the Physics exam on 11 November (a date that has been etched into my memory), our exam invigilator declared, “For the last time, pens down”. At that moment, as cliched as it sounds, it felt like an expanding balloon of stress had been burst. I was free to pursue all my interests without guilt, going to the movies with my friends later that day and planning for our family vacation to the United States and New Zealand.

Yashvi: I must admit the final exam was extremely challenging. I left the room thinking I could’ve tried harder but it was soon all washed away as the feeling of relief settled in.

Himaja: I was filled with an overwhelming sense of euphoria and nostalgia at the end of my economics exam. It didn’t feel real – as if I was floating in some bubble cloud waiting to burst with apprehension in the wake of my ending secondary education. In some senses, it was kind of anticlimactic, but I was definitely glad to head back home, and finally, get a good night’s sleep.

Social media now plays a big part in the lives of many HSC students. What did you like about Facebook groups such as the HSC Discussion Group?

Amey: I personally don’t use Facebook, though group chats with friends on other social media were very useful both as a way to keep up with work and ask questions, as well as peer motivation.

Samarth: I did not follow the HSC Discussion Group very closely, preferring to participate in my school’s NSB Class of 2019 Facebook group. We would share resources such as study notes, essay plans and past papers, as well as posting motivational messages to reduce stress around exam blocks. I particularly liked the camaraderie that the platform fostered, not only because we would benefit if everyone performed well, but also due to the nostalgic sense of Year 12 being our final journey together.

Yashvi: Absolutely! The HSC Discussion group consists of a plethora of quality exam notes offered by supportive members that made my study life smoother. Another perk of the group was the reassurance I received from laughing at the light-hearted memes as it proved that it wasn’t a solo journey, all of us were in this together.

Himaja: I think the discussion group was a fantastic online forum where students could access notes, information and an escape from the anxiety of the HSC. I remember waiting to leave the exam room to read the cohort’s reaction to my first English paper, feeling glad that I wasn’t the only one confused about Uncle Steve and his boomerang!

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

Samarth: An integral component of my identity is my love for cricket, which I have played at a school, club and representative level over the past 10 years. I was privileged enough to captain my school’s 1st Grade team in Year 12, which involved leading the boys down to Melbourne in our annual sporting exchange, the Crawford Shield. While such activities required substantial time and effort, they instilled in me values of camaraderie, sportsmanship and dedication. Also, I have always enjoyed watching Bollywood movies, which I continued during my HSC year. However, rather than finishing entire films in one go, I would watch them in half-hour chunks. In the face of an increasing workload, maintaining your hobbies is not about narrowing your interests, but about managing your time more wisely.

Yashvi: Swimming, horse riding.

Himaja: 2019 was a big year in terms of extra curriculars. I won the NSW public speaking championship, and was the national runners up in the Plain English Public Speaking Competition. I was also on the Combined High Schools debating team, representing public comprehensive and selective schools against NSW’s elite private schools. In addition to this, I also volunteered in the Cancer Council’s Relay for Life, worked as a tutor, completed my Duke of Edinburgh Award and was a Captain at my School.

These were critical in keeping me grounded throughout Year 12 because I didn’t feel I was studying all the time. I also tried to remain active, playing basketball and catching up with friends at study groups because I found it was a way to make studying more engaging.

What would your advice to future final year students be?

Amey: I think consistency is key to reaching your ideal ATAR. This means working hard and steadily throughout the year and not just cramming before exams, to allow the content to sink in and become hard wired into your long term memory rather than short term. A helpful tool to ensure this is to log your hours of study each day, for each subject, ideally in a physical diary of sorts. Have a goal for how many hours of study you want to do each week, and divide it sensibly between each subject. This is really helpful as it illustrates your time allocation throughout the week, which is powerful in helping you re-evaluate your study schedule and habits. 

Samarth: Learn for the sake of learning. When a teacher wants to extend you beyond the syllabus, do not switch off because that content will not be assessed; the skills you gain are always transferrable. Continue to read widely, as the scope of your knowledge is not finite; it will come in useful at some point in life. If you pursue excellence and not success, other problems of stressing about marks and balancing your leisure time will sort themselves out.

Yashvi: Gravitate towards people who make you laugh. Have fun. Time will fly this year so make sure you buckle down and set yourself a disciplined study timetable to balance your studies, fitness and social life. Start preparing for exams much sooner and please don’t leave it for the last few weeks. Last but not at least, take regular breaks to avoid burnout.

Himaja: Ask lots and lots of questions! I found that a lot of my friends struggled because they didn’t understand an elementary concept earlier in the year which carried through the rest of their HSC. This is perhaps the most dire mistake because it can be easily avoided by speaking up and asking your teacher, or a trusted peer for help. For me, this was particularly useful in subjects such as English Extension and Economics where students are encouraged to unfold complex ideas.

Amey Uppal

What moments from the past year do you remember most?

Samarth: While much of my time over the past year was spent studying, my most memorable moments came when relaxing with family and friends. On our Year 12 camp, we organised a Class of 2019 trivia night, complete with all the inside jokes and funny stories from the last six years. To see everyone’s faces light up at the mention of times gone by reflected how tight we had become as a cohort, poking fun at and simultaneously looking out for each other. I also vividly remember dining at the revolving restaurant in Sydney Tower for my sister’s 21st birthday, even though it was the day before my trial exams. While others were deep in last-minute revision, I was feeling on top of the world, content with my preparation and refreshed for the path ahead.

Himaja: I remember the first week of my trial exams vividly. I was in Brisbane the weekend before, furiously preparing for the English exam while trying to memorise my speech for the national final. 

This year, there were a variety of new subjects and syllabi available to students; everyone studied a brand new English syllabus, for example. What do you think about the new English syllabus?

Samarth: I enjoyed studying the new English syllabus, as its unpredictability sought to reward original thought, as opposed to memorised work. In the English Advanced course, I found the Year 11 Reading to Write and Year 12 Craft of Writing modules highly rewarding, as they involved studying short texts and their construction. In exams, we only had the time to write thousand-word imaginative, persuasive or discursive pieces, so analysing the language features of similar texts was more helpful than responding to entire films or novels. While there were fewer changes to the English Extension 1 course, it was made more equitable by the introduction of the common Literary Worlds module, whereby half of the HSC exam was identical for every student in the state.

Yashvi: Although it was challenging at first, spending a couple of lunch times in a peer study session under the guidance of my awesome English teacher, I began to unpack the requirements of the syllabus. Syllabus-endorsed texts allowed me to dissect and explore human experiences, further pronounce my morals and acknowledge the representation of the phases of the changing urbanised society through poetry, plays and novels. The syllabus emphasised upon critical thinking skills which are mainly developed through reading a wide range of texts and experimenting with one’s own writing.

Himaja: I can’t really compare the new syllabus to the old one, but from what I understand, it’s more comprehensive and encourages students to voice their personal concerns rather than regurgitate essays. In light of our current socio-political landscape, I think that this change was critical and long overdue because it delves more deeply into the purpose of art and literature as a manifestation of humanity itself. We need to raise a generation of young people who can look beyond the pages and express their concerns about their world outside the bounds of alliterations and allegories, and I’m glad NESA took the first steps towards achieving that.

Following that, did you take any new subjects, and if so what did you enjoy about them?

Samarth: I studied a new Physics syllabus, which I felt provided a much deeper understanding of matter and energy. By shifting its focus from the history and philosophy of science to the derivation and application of mathematical formulae, the course better prepared students for STEM degrees at university. Additionally, I undertook a new Modern History course, which placed greater emphasis on critically analysing primary and secondary sources. I found this skill more useful than writing planned essays, especially with a view to life beyond university.

Himaja: I thoroughly enjoyed taking economics as an HSC subject and found it to be both engaging and rewarding, because it was unlike any other subject I had taken before. Often times, we hear about changes in the stock market, or wonder why we pay our taxes without understanding their significance. The preliminary and HSC economics course was fantastic in developing a basic understanding of the machine that is the economy and encouraged me to pursue a career in Actuarial Studies and start a cadetship at UBS in 2020.

Favourite quote from a teacher?

Samarth: After the HSC, some of my friends and I went to visit our primary-school teacher, so that we could thank him for his contribution to our development and generally catch up with everyone. When we told him about our educational and professional aspirations, he reminded us, “Just because you’re scaling a mountain, doesn’t mean you should stop looking to the sides.” That quote has stuck with me because opportunities truly can come from the most unexpected places, for which one must remain open-minded.

Yashvi: The mark of a person is how they make the people around them better.

Himaja: Just keep swimming.

Describe your HSC in three words.

Samarth: Stressful, exhilarating, emotional

Himaja: Just keep swimming!

Yashvi: Chunautipoorna, santoshjanak, vishesh (challenging, enjoyable, special).