Very Capably Earned: VCE students on surviving and acing Year 12

Top performers from the VCE class of 2017 share their success stories, top tips and favourite memories

Reading Time: 18 minutes

Karina Vasudevan
School: Star of the Sea College (Brighton, VIC)
ATAR: 99.30
Subjects: English, Biology, Chemistry, Italian, Mathematical Methods, Specialist Mathematics
School Awards: Top score for Biology and top score for Italian, academic award for general excellence, academic award for excellence in science
Lakshmi Ganapathy
School: Viewbank College
ATAR: 96.75
Subjects: English, Biology, Drama, Media, German, Mathematical Methods (CAS)
Awards: La Trobe University Vice Chancellor’s Excellence scholarship recipient, School Academic Achievement awards for Media, Drama and English, and Academic Endeavour in Maths Methods
Tanish Rao
School: Suzanne Cory High school
ATAR: 99.80
Subjects: English, Specialist Maths, Mathematical Methods, Chemistry, Physics, Psychology
Awards: Dux of Suzanne Cory High School
Sheil Bhatia
School: Melbourne High School
ATAR: 99.85
Subjects: Economics, English, Legal Studies, Mathematical Methods, Specialist Mathematics
Awards: MHS Award for Academic Excellence
Tanmay Gupta
School: Mazenod College
ATAR: 99.70
Subjects: Religion and Society, Biology, Maths Methods, Specialist Maths, Chemistry, English.
Awards: College DUX, Subject Awards in Specialist Maths and Chemistry, Science Scholarship, Long Tan Leadership and Teamwork Award.

Tanmay Gupta

With your VCE now done and dusted, you’ve probably had a chance to look back at it all with wisdom. What did you learn about yourself in the VCE year?
Karina Vasudevan: This year, I was surprised to find out that subjects which I’d always regarded as my “worst” ended up being my best, and vice versa, both throughout the year and in my final results. This taught me to never take my own abilities for granted, since nothing is set in stone, and also that I am capable of surprising even myself. Funnily enough, I also discovered that I study most effectively in the night time, especially late. In a more holistic sense, I learnt that I am capable of making it through the toughest of times, such as weeks where I’d have almost every period of every day filled with SACs (assessments), and I think that times like these ultimately propelled me into finding an invaluable ability to persevere.
Lakshmi Ganapathy: I learnt that I’m a bit of perfectionist, sometimes even to my detriment. This was especially true when it came to devising my drama solo – the scale of the task and the need not to stuff up (the solo contributes to about 37 percent of the study score) played on my mind the whole time. I ended up in a sort of creative pigeonhole where I was too anxious to write any material because I felt it was “not good enough.” I realised then that I had to write something before I could write something well.
Tanish Rao: I learnt that if you put in the effort, you will be rewarded. Hard work and determination are the most important characteristics both in VCE and in life.
Sheil Bhatia: The concept on which almost all of economics is predicated is that of incentive, self-interest and autonomy. Buyers and sellers act in the way they do and interact in the way they do because they have the sovereignty to do so and because it is in their best interest. In the same way, it is so crucial to recognise that every decision you make will affect you, positively or negatively. It is critical to realise that there comes a time when, as a student, you must act in your benefit. If that means not going to a party or it means getting off Facebook, then so be it. Those around you can only do so much to drive you, motivate you and reap results. So work for yourself and act in your own self-interest for what is arguably one of the biggest years of your life.
Sheil Bhatia

Shlok Thakur: I learnt that it’s not about how much you study, in reality it’s about how smart you study.
What were your expectations going into the VCE year? How did reality compare?
Karina Vasudevan: I definitely imagined that Year 12 would be long, tedious, lots of work, and not much fun at all. In reality, yes, there was a ton of work, and at times it seemed endless, but now, I feel as though the year actually flew past! In retrospect, I can say it was my favourite year of high school. The effort of studying all the time seems somewhat negated by the amount of fun I had with my classmates, by how many people I became closer to, and by how much I actually enjoyed coming to school (most days). The general feeling of being in Year 12 is amazing. I ended the year with unexpected new friendships and fun memories which will stay with me for a long time, well beyond the memory of how much homework I did or how long I had to study every night (although those are aspects which won’t be easily forgotten!).
Karina Vasudevan

Lakshmi Ganapathy: Based on the experience of a few people I knew who had completed VCE, I was told it was going to be this gruelling, Herculean endeavour where you would be snowed under by work and which felt like “you put your brain in a blender and then back into your head again.” Obviously, I knew that this was a complete exaggeration manufactured to scare people, but there are definitely points in the year where the workload does get quite overwhelming, namely around the mid-year and end-of-year exam periods. Otherwise, it was all about consistently applying yourself. I reasoned that if I was able to achieve good results with hard work in the previous years, this year shouldn’t be any different, and that logic did more or less hold true.
Tanish Rao: I always knew that I would attain a decent score; around the 94-95 range. Reality hit me with a combination of joy, bewilderment, and confusion. I hadn’t really decided what career path to look at, so more options actually caused me some additional stress at the beginning.
Sheil Bhatia: My expectations of VCE varied greatly on the basis of the context; academically I know what I wanted to achieve and I know what everyone else wanted/expected me to achieve which was above 98. In that respect I outdid my own expectations achieving a 99.85. However, it is notable to recognise that my initial expectations were slightly misguided and overconservative, resultant of those around me and my own conservative nature. As expected, I had to make sacrifices to my tri-weekly sport in order to focus on my studies which was fairly justified. In all honesty, I found the year to be one of extensive mateship, creating more bonds and meeting new people as opposed to the rather cynical characterisation of VCE as this cut-throat friend vs. friend environment. In essence, I met or surpassed my expectations in all aspects, truly upholding the notion of VCE as a very rewarding 2 years.
Shlok Thakur: I expected SACs to be very scary and I thought I would be nervous and anxious when walking into an exam room, but I kind of got used to it so I could concentrate better whilst sitting the exam.
What extra-curricular activities or hobbies helped you maintain a balance between work and play?
Karina Vasudevan: I took part in a multitude of random activities at school – the music festival, sports carnivals, helping to organise the Year 12 end-of-year celebrations, mainly to maintain some element of fun in my schedule. I frequented the gym during the first semester as a form of both exercise and distraction. Furthermore, I held onto my job at McDonald’s for majority of the year and worked once every weekend (simultaneously taking your mind off schoolwork and earning money is doubly advantageous). I also tried to maintain some degree of social life and saw friends or attended parties if I had the chance. All these activities helped with creating a balance, and prevented me from feeling resentful towards my study. I won’t deny that I spent a gigantic portion of my time with my books, but all the small breaks along the way helped to keep me sane. As exams drew very close, I stopped working and fully cut back on going out, but in between doing practice exams, I often enjoyed going for walks to clear my mind.
Lakshmi Ganapathy: I don’t know if I really had much of a balance – I don’t play any sports or attend anything outside of my school, as I wasn’t really interested in such things, and so most of my focus was on my coursework. I did, however, partake in my regular smattering of extracurricular activities that I had been doing since Year 7, as I didn’t want to let go of them just to study more for one year. I participated in my school’s music program by playing Double Bass, as well as playing in the school’s production orchestra, doing debating and performing stand-up comedy. I also tried to find some time to get out of the house with my friends over the holidays and experience something other than coursework with them.
Lakshmi Ganapathy

Tanish Rao: I did most of my study at home, so was able to play casual basketball during my free periods and at lunchtime. At home, my free time would normally be spent on Facebook, reading random pages on Wikipedia, playing PC games (Dota 2), or meeting up with my friends at the local basketball courts.
Sheil Bhatia: Throughout Year 11 and 12, I continued my sporting and social activities to very high degrees, only reducing the number of events I attended 6-8 weeks before exams. My personal extra-curricular activities were debating and badminton and they were rewarding in their own way. Moreover, my love for music was something I maintained everyday of VCE and was critical in my maintenance of a work/play balance.
What would you have done differently, overall?
Karina Vasudevan: I wouldn’t change too much about my year, because I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and ended up exceeding my expectations in terms of results. I don’t regret putting in a lot of time and effort, or choosing to take breaks whenever I did. On a smaller scale, I might have used my summer holidays to get ahead of the things which I knew I wouldn’t find time for otherwise. For example, I would have studied my English texts more closely – I would have re-watched the movie and re-read the books a few more times than I did, given that there wouldn’t be enough time to do so after factoring in all my normal homework during the year.
Lakshmi Ganapathy: Somewhere towards the end of the year, partly out of frustration with studying for my Maths Methods exams, I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t chosen Literature instead, as the English language seemed infinitely more enjoyable and straightforward to me than that of Maths. I had chosen Maths to satisfy the Victorian Baccalaureate criterion, but I realised that I didn’t really need Maths as a prerequisite for anything I was planning on doing, and I could have perhaps performed better at Literature than Methods. That being said, I did enjoy Maths once I was able to do it properly, and I would have probably exhausted myself by adding yet another English-based subject to my existing three.
Tanish Rao: I can’t really comment on what I would do differently in terms of study/learning, because I have only taken one path and do not want to provide untested academic advice. However, I would spend more time with my friends and teachers, and get more involved in the school community, since it was the last year of schooling.
Tanish Rao

Sheil Bhatia: Given my results, I am inclined to say ‘nothing.’ I have no way of assessing the impact that any drastic change would have had on me socially, physically and academically. In hindsight, continuing my physical exercise right to exams and even through them perhaps may have placed me in a better position physically, but irrespective, I have no regrets. I participated in everything I wanted to, I worked how I wanted to and I backed myself and in that respect, my VCE years are something I would not change.
Shlok Thakur: The usual, “study harder and longer” but honestly, I don’t think I wanted or needed a higher ATAR than what I got.
How did you feel at the end of your first assessment of the year? How did you feel at the end of your final VCE exam?
Karina Vasudevan: My first assessment was an English essay. I remember feeling I hadn’t written very well and walked out disheartened. Nevertheless, I did much better than I thought, and the rest of my assessments unfolded as a perpetual series of ups and downs. After a while, you just learn to take it in your stride. As for exams, my exam timetable seemed never-ending, as it stretched over a whole month, with my Italian oral exam being amongst the first and the written exam being the very last scheduled for the VCE timetable. After I put my pen down, I felt indescribably strange. Reaching that exact moment of freedom at long last, something I’d looked forward to for many months, I was blank, because I didn’t know what to do or how to feel! For the last few months, my life had been filled with non-stop study and suddenly it was all over. It took almost a week to stop feeling aimless and get over VCE in general, and from then on, I started to enjoy my holidays.
Lakshmi Ganapathy: I’m not sure what the first SAC of the year was for me but I distinctly remember the English Creative Response SAC, which was sat by my entire year level in late February. Nobody was sure of how difficult it would be, so there was this real nervous energy that hung around everyone. Everyone went above and beyond to prepare themselves; teachers were constantly mobbed by students wanting last-minute help. Despite the palpable tension, I think that was perhaps one of the few SACs of the year that I came out of feeling completely happy with my work, as I managed to write my piece exactly as I had planned it. My final exam was German. A lot of people I knew had already finished and I couldn’t really imagine just getting up and leaving and not having to come back another time to sit another exam. Despite having sat 8 other exams prior to this one, it still felt quite nerve-wracking: I don’t think you ever stop feeling nervous for these kinds of things, you just get better at controlling the nerves, a bit like performing. When it ended, it didn’t really sink in until the day of my results that I had actually finished school completely.
Tanish Rao: I can’t really remember how I felt at the start of the year, but I can tell you that finishing your final examination is amazing. You can actually feel all the stress evaporating into nothingness.
Sheil Bhatia: If I’m honest, Year 12 and its difficulty was so hyped throughout Year 11 that I came to learn that for me Year 11 and 12 were the same. I put the same amount of effort and vigour in Year 11 as I did in Year 12 and so the first SAC of the year was just another one for me. My first thought after my final exam was not one of relief or of fear of what would happen. My first thought was rather one of reflection and certain indifference. There is an unequivocal aspect of sadness involved in realising 13 years of schooling are over but nonetheless that time is for reflection and pride.
Sheil Bhatia

Social media now plays a big part in the lives of many VCE students. Did you find Facebook study groups helpful?
Karina Vasudevan: For Victorian students, there’s a Facebook group called VCE Discussion Space, which is almost the same thing as the HSC Discussion Group. I personally found its best value came from the entertaining memes posted by fellow VCE students. However, the internet still did play a big part in my revision. The most helpful online resource was a website called atarnotes.com which I only started really using in November, but now wish I had found before. I found forums for every possible VCE subject with an abundance of notes, practice exams, study resources, and past high achievers willing to help out and answer any question that you possibly could have. I know the website operates for VCE and HSC, and I’d definitely recommend its use to anyone if you need help with anything, extra study materials, or different perspectives.
Karina Vasudevan

Lakshmi Ganapathy: I found the VCE Discussion Space rather daunting; for me it heightened the competitive atmosphere of VCE and made me doubt whether I was capable at anything. I couldn’t help but subconsciously worry about people from the other side of Victoria when they posted their “raw 50 notes” and bragged about their results. However, I did enjoy the vast quantity of memes which served to mock the questions on the exam papers. They were rather entertaining, and reminded me that I was in the same boat as others and it was just an exam.
Tanish Rao: Groups such as VCE Discussion Space are helpful in that they allow the thousands of VCE students to let loose their emotions and realise that they are not alone in their endeavour. There’s also the memes. And that one guy who induces heart attacks by commenting about the non-existent last page on the exam.
Sheil Bhatia: Unlike many of my own friends and to the disgust of every parent, I did not leave social media throughout Year 12. I am not an excessive or avid user of social media bar Facebook and I continued to use it and Messenger throughout exams. In all honesty, VCE Discussion Space and similar groups were more of a comedic outlet with the jokes posted on them. In the least condescending way possible, a majority of the resources on any of those sites was quite useless given the high standard set by my peers and my school. For many, however, I know that those resources were truly useful and they should definitely be explored.
Shlok Thakur: Yes, often a lot of helpful resources like cheat sheets, textbooks and solutions to difficult questions are posted on these pages, so if you have Facebook and are in Year 12 don’t hesitate to join because it’s a friendly and helpful community.
What would your advice to future final year students be?
Karina Vasudevan: This is a piece of advice given to me by both my father and one of my maths teachers: Consider the year a marathon, and not a series of sprints. That is, don’t tire yourself out and barely just make it alive from assessment to assessment. Rather, maintain a reasonable pace which allows you to complete the marathon that is Year 12 without burning out (which certainly can happen). I learnt this the hard way, spending a third of the year being unwell due to exhaustion and self-imposed stress. Once I learnt that it was impossible to finish every single piece of work, I was able to prioritise the most valuable work and maximise my limited time. Things improved significantly when I learnt to compromise – for example, if I was confident that I understood a maths concept really well, I would attempt every second or third question instead of doing every assigned question in the exercise, and save a whole hour from my night in doing so.
Lakshmi Ganapathy: Be proud of what you can do and try not to compare yourself to others, no matter how much you want to. It’s so easy to feel that you have to be the best to be valued by anyone in such a competitive atmosphere, but as long as you’re doing better than you were yesterday, you’re already successful. (If only I knew this myself!)
At the same time, who you are as a person really can’t be reduced to a 4-digit number, so don’t feel that your results indicate your capability. Give it 2-3 months after you receive your results, and people will have forgotten about the hype and moved on.
Finally, enjoy the year! It’s so easy to get caught up in acing the next SAC or next exam, but sometimes you need to zoom out and just look at the year for what it is – a year. It’ll be over in no time and you be left missing the routine and community of your schoolyard life – so don’t leave school regretting that you didn’t have enough fun!
Lakshmi Ganapathy

Tanish Rao: Do what works for you rather than for others. You most likely would have picked up on this from your previous 11 years of schooling. Also don’t bother with the amount of study (or practice exams) that other students have done. The amount of study necessary varies from person to person, so maintain a good work/play balance. In terms of trial exams, just do them until you feel you are confident that you can answer any question. Any form of study has diminishing and possibly detrimental results if you overdo it. Don’t take this as an excuse not to put in the hard yards though. Just make sure that it doesn’t compromise on your health and stress levels. Eat good food and sleep well.
Sheil Bhatia: To do well in whatever you want to do, all you have to do is back yourself. You know yourself better than anyone else and VCE was scary for me not because of the result or the work but because I did not know whether or not what I was doing was what successful students do. Was the way I studied right? Should I be listening to music? Should I use cue-cards or mindmaps or just write things out? The moment I realised that it didn’t matter what other people did, that fear disappeared. VCE is not hard. It is hard work. Everyone knows you have to study but no one tells you how to and that’s something every student has to discover for themselves. I listened to music every time I studied but never when doing a practice exam. I wrote down everything because that’s how I learned. As a student, you’ve had 12 years of experience before your final year of schooling and in that time you would have learnt a little bit about yourself in terms of your studying and work ethic.
Shlok Thakur: Don’t stress, at the end of the day it’s just a number and whatever you want to be you can be with passion and hard work.
What moments from the past year do you remember most?
Karina Vasudevan: I definitely remember two distinct periods in the year, each lasting a few weeks, where I had SACs for every subject continuously rolling out one after the other. I’d be walking out of one assessment and straight into the next, day after day. The experience was hugely challenging but getting through those times made me feel like I could get through anything. Some of my more cherished moments include the events that characterise the end of your schooling years, such as the Year 12 formal, final sports carnivals, the final music festival, final house events, the Year 12 graduation celebrations and ceremony, and really everything else that happened for the last time – they are so memorable since I genuinely loved my school and everything about it. I will, however, also never forget the early morning classes held by my one of my teachers on Monday mornings for which I had to wake up an hour early (often finding myself on the bus before the sun even came up during the winter months).
Lakshmi Ganapathy: My Year 12 muck-up day. I dressed up as Liam Gallagher of Oasis and approached teachers in character, as well as playing Wonderwall with my friends. It was hilarious and entertaining and the rehearsals with my friends leading up to the performance were a lot of fun.
I also remember some public speaking events from the year. The public speaking final where I spoke about vegetarianism, the Great Debate where I roasted my teachers, and the final Year 12 assembly, where I performed some stand-up comedy about the school to my cohort.
Sheil Bhatia: My Year 12 formal, senior social, my birthday, cricket with my mates every day.
Shlok Thakur: Muck-up day at our school where we got to relax for once.
How did you celebrate the end of your exams?
Karina Vasudevan: It just so happened that someone was celebrating a birthday the same day as my final exam. I was able to celebrate with all my friends, some of whom had been finished with exams for weeks, and it was a nice way to end the exam period. I didn’t go on Schoolies, but just enjoyed a relaxing week at home and caught up with some friends during that time.
Lakshmi Ganapathy: I didn’t so much celebrate as start working; I didn’t feel like going to Schoolies or any other festival as none of my other friends were doing such things, so now we try to meet up and go on outings in the city, which are really quite enjoyable. I also went to a concert the day before my results came out, which helped me not to fixate on them.
Tanish Rao: I just relaxed at home, played computer games and basketball and helped out at the family grocery store. I didn’t really have a formal celebration, just did all the things I normally do without the guilt of not studying. However, upon receiving my result, I celebrated at a hiking camp with family and friends.
Tanish Rao

Sheil Bhatia: I was never into the whole Schoolies concept so I just enjoyed some time at home and just did things that were partially restricted during my VCE – going for walks, playing sport, catching up with mates and enjoying all the things Melbourne has to offer.
Shlok Thakur: I went out with friends and just talked about things other than the exams.
Favourite quote from a teacher?
Karina Vasudevan: In a mathematical context, “when x is pi, I’m feeling high!”
Lakshmi Ganapathy: “Spares!? I’ll give them spares!” from the principal in our Year 12 formal video.
Tanish Rao: “It’s only the VCE”. I like many laughed at that seemingly dramatic understatement of the score that determines our lives, however now I see the truth in it.
Sheil Bhatia: You either wake up as a champion or you don’t wake up at all, and you all woke up today.
Shlok Thakur: Work smart, not hard.
Know any good VCE jokes?
Karina Vasudevan: The VCE Maths Methods Exam 1.
Lakshmi Ganapathy: The GAT. Most confusing 3 hours of my life – I’m not sure if I’ve completely recovered from all those questions about pre-soaked fries and Arabica bean coffee.
Tanish Rao: Not really. I’m just not a punny person. But how this: Why don’t maths teachers go to the beach? Because they can use a sin and cos to get a tan.
Sheil Bhatia: The minuteness of the discrepancy and margin of error between a 45 study score and 50 is a bit of a joke.
What was your Jersey name?
Karina Vasudevan: It was just “Karina” (not very imaginative, I know).
Lakshmi Ganapathy: “Thank You”. It stems from a joke in my Year 7 School Production, in which I was a stage crew member and had to bring a stool out to an actor positioned centre stage. There was no inconspicuous way to do it, as the curtains were closed and spotlights were pointed at him, so the director added a joke where he would suddenly turn and say “Thank You, Lakshmi!” as I gave him the stool. The audience loved it and the name has followed me around the school ever since.
Tanish Rao: Sin(ish)/cos(ish). For all you maths kids
Sheil Bhatia: Dherya (While everyone knows me as Sheil, Dherya was my nickname given my full first name is Dheryasheil)
Describe your VCE year in three (or four) words.
Karina Vasudevan: Exhausting, exciting, endless, extraordinary
Lakshmi Ganapathy: Hectic, stressful, (but) ephemeral
Tanish Rao: Purpose, persistence, pressure, Pythagoras
Sheil Bhatia: Taxing but rewarding
Shlok Thakur: Once in a lifetime

What's On