Reading Time: 10 minutesVictorian Year 12 finishers look back at the 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.’
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: 99.85, 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
ATAR: (would prefer not to disclose), VCE
Subjects: English Language, Specialist Maths, Maths Methods, Chemistry, Psychology, Accounting,
School: The Mac Robertson Girls High School
ATAR: (would prefer not to disclose), VCE
Subjects: English, Maths Methods, Economics, Information Technology, Business Management, Accounting\
School: Balwyn High School
What were your expectations going into the HSC/VCE year? How did reality compare?
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.
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.
Radhika: I knew it was going to be tough, but I didn’t think how exhausting it would be. My family stopped their social life for me. I didn’t expect that either. And my mum used to stay up with me while I studied. I wouldn’t say I got closer to my parents during the year. Studies would make me quite distant, but I’m spending a lot more time with my family now.
Rohail: I thought that I would lose a lot of my own time and what I like to do. I thought it would be the longest year of my life, but it was really the shortest. My expectations were almost the opposite of reality. People hype it up. But everything just comes naturally really.
What did you learn about yourself? Did you exceed your expectations?
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 relatively happy with 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.
Radhika: I think I learnt that I’m able to push myself more than I thought. Even if I was tired, I’d just have a short break and then keep on going. I’d come home after an exam and sleep for a few hours, and then I would get back up and go over the content briefly because I knew I didn’t have much time.
What went wrong/did you make any mistakes throughout the year?
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.
Radhika: I ended up watching a few movies during study breaks, which obviously prolonged the breaks more than originally planned. But I hope they didn’t affect my marks too much. And during one of my English Language papers, I feel like I wrongly interpreted the second part of the exam. But we don’t get that back, so I guess I’ll never know. Also, in Year 11, I did 2 VCE subjects and put in a lot of effort for them. When I got to Year 12 I was a little burnt out.
Rohail: There was probably a lot that went wrong. I don’t really pride myself on my mathematical ability, but it was a prerequisite for certain universities so I did it. What went wrong was my decision to actually choose that. In the end I didn’t really require it. I put in hours of work into a subject that I didn’t really end up needing.
Did you feel there was much competition within your cohort? Did this change after the trials?
Radhika: Not explicitly. People would joke about competing against each other. But it was not really that competitive; it was a lot more like working together to finish schooling together in a group. We had quite a few different study groups, with different groups of friends so I could get a more comprehensive understanding of subjects like English. I’d also revise with friends for Science and Maths Methods.
Rohail: You would always kind of think in your head that there was competition, but you wouldn’t really say it out loud. I mean we were also working as a team – if a lot of people do well in a subject, it lifts the people who don’t do so well. It was more of a team sense than an individual sense. But it is hard to avoid competition altogether – you always want to beat someone.
Did you do anything alongside studying?
Radhika: I did badminton outside school and just general volunteering and leadership in school. I was environment captain in class. We held workshops and worked on little projects like a school veggie patch to make our school more environmentally friendly. Outside school, I would help out with my mum’s charity organisation, PS3. It’s an organisation for women and works on raising awareness for health, psychological issues and daily life tips, raising money for charities like the cancer council. I would go to their meetings and help brainstorm ideas.
Rohail: I was house captain at school. I was responsible for 500 people or so. I also did extracurricular activities. I played cricket inside and outside school. I played club tennis. It’s all about balancing it out. Towards the start of the year, you don’t notice it, but towards exams I had to cut down on some of my sporting activities and sometimes had to pass my responsibilities as house captain down. But I prefer doing too much than nothing at all.
What HSC perks did you enjoy?
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!
Radhika: We had a common room; it was really nice. Everyone got to sit around each other and we all became quite close. It was nice that we got our own space. They had a thing where you could connect your music to a loud speaker. My friend used to play a lot of Chet Faker, Nora Jones on the speaker; she played lots of mellow music to calm us down.
Rohail: I enjoyed Year 12 privileges such as the common room, where only Year 12s were allowed. We also had a lot of spares (free periods). We were allowed 3-4 a week, 75 minutes each. That really opened up our time.
Was there anything you would do differently?
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.
Radhika: I think I’d try and get less distracted by Youtube. Like, I’d be eating and think I just might watch a Youtube video while I eat. And then I would end up watching long after I finished eating. I would watch really silly things; half the time I didn’t even know what I was watching, like documentaries on random things.
Rohail: I was telling my mum this the other day. If I had the whole year again, I wouldn’t do any better. What I did was the best I could do. I wouldn’t really change anything.
Do you have any advice for future VCE students?
Rohail: Ignore the hype of Year 12. It’s probably going to be the biggest year of your schooling, maybe even your life. But if you just be yourself, as you were the last five years of school, you’ll get through the year quite easily.
What do you want to do now?
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. It’s just everything – the contact with patients, the work ethic. It’s really about doing something to make a bigger difference.
Rohail: I have a scholarship at Monash University for a Bachelor of Business Information Systems