VCE 2020: Learning in lockdown

Keirath Singh, Akul Saigal, and Aryan Bhatia share their experiences.

Reading Time: 7 minutes


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

Name: Keirath Singh (VCE)

ATAR: 98.45

Subjects: English, Maths Methods, Chemistry, Economics, Biology, French

School: Haileybury College


Name: Aryan Bhatia (VCE)

ATAR: 99.25

Subjects: Specialist Maths, Maths Methods, Physics, Chemistry, Accounting, English

School: Melbourne High School


Name: Akul Saigal (VCE)

ATAR: 99.7

Subjects: English Language, Further mathematics, Mathematical Methods, Specialist mathematics, Physics, German

Awards/State Ranks: Dux of Mentone Grammar School

School: Mentone Grammar 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?

Keirath: This year has shown me the importance of maintaining a balanced lifestyle and making sure you have outlets outside of school to keep you occupied. Sitting behind a laptop screen all year made this especially challenging, however it forced me to focus on being organised and staying ahead of schedule.

Aryan: I’ve learnt that I am capable of achieving things I’ve never been able to do before. I am very pleased with my perfect study score in Specialist Maths and high scores in my Methods and Physics and Chemistry subjects. I have achieved this through sheer dedication, hard work, self-study and without any external tutoring. I was a bit challenged by English, to say the least but I was able to write 3 complete essays during the exam which I am very proud of.

Akul: To have such an unpredictable year coupled with the already challenging year 12 meant that I was certainly pushed and given that the stakes seem so high, the only option was to cope. And I did. I also began to understand the mental and physiological signs of burn out and stress. Even when I did not feel stressed or tired, my body would exhibit signs that told me I had to rest to regain the energy and drive to continue.


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

Keirath: There was a lot of hearsay about the challenges of the year. In retrospect, I do believe that the year is much less stressful than past students make it out to be. One benefit of COVID (dare I say) was the amount of extra time that I had. It decreased my study load and made the year considerably less stressful than expected.

Aryan: I had expected a normal school year, filled with regular interaction with fellow students, including social events and physical activities. COVID was a disruption, but it had positive consequences. I did not expect that I would be using my computer more than 8 hours every day for nearly two full terms or nearly giving up on all outdoor activities, but I tried to make the best of the situation. Every cloud has a silver lining- COVID ended up being a blessing in disguise as I ended up having more time on my hands to study.

Akul: Coming into year 12, I felt anxious. Even having done a ¾ subject in year 11, I was still unsure about what the year would entail. Setting such a high standard for myself didn’t help. But once I opened the booklet and my pen hit paper, all of that uneasiness melted away. As the year went on, I began to realise that in the end, it really is just a number. A number that in no way defines you.


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

Keirath: Initially I found it very difficult to adjust to this new way of learning. I was forced to be more independent which contrasted the past 12 years of schooling. Making sure that I spent enough time away from my screen each day considerably helped me to adapt to online learning.

Aryan: The concept of online classes was both scary and exciting. I believe online classes are effective as long as students remains motivated to study for themselves. Computers have a host of tempting video games, so it’s admittedly easier said than done. But after a month, I managed to get into a routine and focus more on my studies. Having used my time more efficiently, I was able to be productive.

Akul: I was certainly not chuffed, but my school did handle it very well. I did force myself to leave my desk as often as I could and exercise most mornings – in fact, I felt more fit and regimental during iso than I had been before, which was something I was not expecting.


What was your studying technique?

Keirath: I wouldn’t say that I had a studying technique per se because online learning was so new to me. I would recommend future students create a study timetable and try to stick to it as much as they can.

Aryan: I managed to remain motivated by setting reasonable goals that I would finish by the end of the day, such as an essay per day. For maths, I mostly did questions from the textbook. Often students contacted me with math problems they found challenging, that I could solve. It was a bit of a win-win situation: I got to solve the most challenging problems while they got help with the solution. By the end of the year, I would do practice exams on a regular basis, correct my exam responses, and look for common mistakes. This also allowed me to get familiar with the exam content and structure.

Akul: My study timetable saved my life. Okay, I might be exaggerating a little, but without it I would have been so lost. In the last two months before the exams, I had a plan that showed exactly what subjects I wanted to do and for how long. This meant I was able to give equal time to every subject. Of course, I was not able to follow it to a T. But it still gave me some much-needed structure and meant I did not feel overwhelmed with the prospect of exams being right around the corner.


READ ALSO: SACE 2020: Learning in lockdown


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

Keirath: I made sure to call my friends and organise Zoom calls every now and then to keep in touch and talk about our lives. I followed the AFL quite intensely and always made sure to block out time to watch my team, the Saints, play every week.

Aryan: I joined more clubs in year 11 than any other year in school. I had joined Army Cadets, Robotics, and even Chorales as extracurriculars. I also used to run every Saturday in an activity called ParkRun. I used to detest it, but I have to admit I felt refreshed and invigorated afterwards and it helped me to focus better. At one stage I even got Park Runner of the month. I would highly recommend these kinds of activities in year 12. As for TV shows, I used to watch a lot of space and science documentaries, world history and World War II related videos, National Geographic and the like They really helped to relax when I got a bit tired of studying but fed my brain’s appetite for trivial information.

Akul: I stayed involved with activities from previous years. I was still leading a platoon in cadets, playing saxophone most days a week, playing soccer, volleyball and tennis, debating and – most importantly – spending lots of time with family. Sadly, as we all now know too well, Ms Rona wasn’t too kind, so a lot of my activities got cancelled. Debating and band did move online and they became necessary to maintain balance and break from study. I also made an effort to play with my little brother as often as I could. Only now have I begun to realise how important it was for me and my sanity.


What moments from the past year do you remember most?

Keirath: The last day of school was quite memorable for me. I thoroughly enjoyed celebrating it with my friends and teachers. Additionally, throughout lockdown, we had organised a few online ‘Year 12 games nights’ as part of the leadership committee which were very enjoyable.

Aryan: I remember getting A+’s in most of my subjects. That was really heartening. But I also remember one poor score in English, I was a bit heartbroken at first but I took it as a lesson and moved on. Sometimes one might get low grades, but we should just learn from it and not lose sight of the destination, which is the VCE exam.

Akul: A lockdown 18th birthday made special by my family that my 9-year-old brother likes to take credit for.


What would your advice to future final year students be?

Keirath: My main advice would be not to stress too much about the year. Even if you don’t achieve your desired ATAR, there are different pathways to reach the end goal. I would maintain the importance of keeping a balanced lifestyle and making sure that you keep other interests outside of study.

Aryan: Year 12 is a stressful year and it pays off to practice techniques to cool your mind. I’ve noticed that when my mind is cool, I am able to perform better. Please don’t study one subject for more than 2 hours a day – it gets tiring! Break the monotony with other subjects or some fun activities.

Akul: Take a deep breath. It is such a powerful tool. Take one now and you’ll see what I mean. Whenever I felt stressed or overwhelmed, I would take a few deep breaths. It helped put everything into perspective. It’s such simple, quick and powerful tool and I would recommend it for everybody!


READ ALSO: HSC 2020: Learning in lockdown


What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

Keirath: I am most looking forward to the additional freedom and independence that uni will provide. Online university will be another challenge, but I am looking forward to hopefully being on campus soon.

Aryan: I am very excited to see what the future holds for me, especially the opportunity of getting into the university and the course of my choice. I’m hoping it will be enjoyable and will open up many venues for me. I’m also excited to take on a part time job and get into more outdoor activities post COVID.

Akul: The unusual freedom and challenges of university. It will be a totally different experience and I’m excited for this new chapter to begin.


Favourite quote from a teacher?

Aryan: “It is what it is.”

Akul: “VCE is a marathon, not a sprint.”


Describe your academic year in three words.

Keirath: Challenging but enjoyable.

Aryan: Unprecedented. Perplexing. Enjoyable.

Akul: Challenging, rewarding rollercoaster.

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

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