As the old cohort of year 12s eagerly rush out of the doors, a new group enters with apprehension and hesitance (understandably so). They cautiously make their way in, unsure of the protocols, the signs, and how to operate their parachute, or exactly how they are going to navigate through the expanse of the heavens, that is, their final year of high school - its pressures, deadlines and expectations.
I’ve been in your position before and I most definitely empathise with your anxiety about the upcoming year. I'm here to tell you that it'll be okay. You'll land safely. Although it can be a daunting spectacle when you’re at the very beginning of the journey, looking down from the sky, feeling as though you're being forced to dive and crash into some miserable fate, I’m here to clarify that everything will be alright.
In 2019, I graduated with an ATAR of 99.40 and was able to achieve two state ranks (I came 6th in NSW in English Advanced and 9th in Business Studies Accelerated which I completed when I was in year 11). As budding, impressionable year 12s, these marks may seem both impressive as well as seemingly beyond your reach - unattainable for some. However, reflecting back on my own journey, I realise that I too thought that this was the case. No way would I have ever been able to receive two state ranks, let alone achieve a 99 ATAR.
In my reflection on the journey, I began to think about what was it exactly that allowed me to parachute off of the same point as everyone else, yet land on a slightly different coordinate than others? I then realised that there were really only a few key things I followed religiously throughout the year which I believe led to my success, and that can undoubtedly lead to your own.
Tip 1: IF YOU DON’T KNOW SOMETHING, ASK. IF YOU'RE TOO SCARED, GOOGLE IT.
The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth.” – Peter Abelard
As students, I think one of our worst habits is biting our tongue - being too afraid to ask something we are unsure of for the sake of maintaining the facade that we’re capable of getting through the journey successfully without having to engage in rapport with others. Of course, there’s always that fear of being judged by your teachers or peers as being the student who ‘doesn’t know what’s going on’, or the one that ‘disrupts the class’ with questions and queries. I get it - we want to uphold the image that everything is understandable, and that we are making our way through the HSC nonchalantly without breaking a sweat. However, this tendency to avoid judgement to preserve our own egos at the expense of our academic development is the first step towards bringing ourselves closer to self-sabotage - something we want to avoid at all costs during the HSC as it is a huge impediment on our ability to learn and thus grow. We don’t know everything and we will not know everything - but that is okay.
If you don’t know something, whether it’s a concept, a formula, or even the meaning of a word, simply ask someone - your teacher, a friend, your parents, your siblings, your cousin, an adult, your pastor, your colleague, WHOEVER. From my experience, gaining insights (of any type) from someone else was one of the crucial ingredients to my success. In fact, Google became one of my closest friends since I was able to receive answers for pretty much any query I had. All I had to do was type in anything I was unsure of into its search engine and be flooded with hundreds of different variants of the same answer which I could then begin sifting through until I was confident that I understood a specific topic or issue. More importantly, one of the great things about CONCEPT is that it’s a platform that facilitates students to develop a healthy relationship with being unsure, and having the confidence to stand up and voice their queries, not silence or cower behind the vanity involved in playing it ‘cool’ when in actuality we don’t know what the heck a ‘double entendre’ or ‘sibilance’ actually means (if you don’t know - then ask Google).
Tip 2: BE CURIOUS. INTERROGATE AND INVESTIGATE THINGS.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day." (Albert Einstein)
This tip naturally flows from the first one. Looking back on my HSC as well as my marks, I realise that I performed best on subjects which I was actively interrogating and curious about. As humans, we will always have questions about the world around us and the things we learn or discover about it. Do not downplay the power of curiosity and where it can take you. Being inquisitive about the things you learn and uncover in each of your subject can take you from simply knowing something to actually appreciating and understanding its nuances, implications and meaning, which then opens up your ability to begin to critically evaluate it as a construct. In fact, I was able to learn the most enriching and valuable things from my own curiosity about what I was learning as it led me to investigate things on the internet and discover my own information which deepened my comprehension of the subject.
The moment you become passive in your learning and rely solely on what is being fed to you as opposed to what you can try and discover from the material given, you put yourself in a sticky situation where the syllabus content begins to control your learning as opposed to you being the agent of your journey in control of what is supposed to be learnt. Once again, I stress that when you have questions your curiosity raises, tap into and immerse yourself in it - do not avoid it. Again, use Google if you need.
Tip 3: HUMANS NEED BALANCE. MODERATION IS KEY.
The coordinated physiological processes which maintain most of the steady states in the organisms are so complex and peculiar to living beings – involving, as they may, the brain and nerves, the heart, lung, kidneys and spleen, all working cooperatively – that I have suggested a special designation for these states, homeostasis. The word does not imply, something set and immobile, a stagnation. It means a condition – a condition which may vary, but is relatively constant.” (Cannon, 1963)
My third and final tip would be to find balance. The HSC year undeniably involves a lot of challenges both academically and personally, whereby you will be stretched to your very limits as you study until the early hours of the morning, frantically prepare notes before exams, revise over 100+ pages of content per subject and begin to consider your future options post high school. All of this requires effective stress management - that is, the ability to acknowledge that one is feeling stressed but not being consumed by this thought and instead approaching these emotionally tense tasks with a rational mind to logically and lucidly execute our responsibilities in a cogent manner. Successful stress management however can only occur when we have clarity of mind such that we can distinguish between an irrational and emotionally charged response, versus a logical and appropriate one. To maintain our sanity, we need to have balance in the way that we live our life. Moderation is key to a healthy body and mind - of which is necessary to excelling which in turn contributes to stress management.
Everyone has a different form of release after a day of stress and deadlines. Some of us find comfort in watching youtube videos, creating art or indulging in a good book, others enjoy exercising, going for a walk or meditating. Irrespective of how we decompress, I would really recommend that you try your best to not feel guilty whenever you do find the time to relax. You deserve it. Although our minds can become our own worst enemy, attacking us from within as our thoughts insidiously creep up on us, berating us for our under-productivity, and harassing us for our laziness and poor effort on a specific day, just know that if you’ve worked hard, tried your best or done what you could have (even if it was a small amount), our bodies and minds need time to recuperate, to return back to a healthy balance point before we pick ourselves up again to keep trudging forward.
Putting ourselves under continual pressure can have real consequences on our mental health and places unnecessary tension on our minds, tricking us into believing that there is a constant, lingering presence of danger when in reality it's just a phantom constructed by our own brain telling us that we should feel guilty or anxious whenever we devote time to ourselves whether it be hanging out with friends, napping, eating, exercising etc. and not to studying. Acknowledge that the thought is - if anything - counterproductive and move on. Do not entertain it because all it's trying to do is sway you off balance.
In all, the HSC is sort of like a microcosm for life. And naturally, the course of life has its inflexions. There’s ups and downs, and inevitably there will be times where we aren’t too sure whether we are veering off path or if we’re making the correct choices. As much as we all desire to peer into the future, to have just that bit of certainty about whether our choices are pulling us closer towards the direction our heart wants - life does not work like this. We can only take the advice of those who’ve walked the path, gather as many tips as we can, whilst developing our own little strategies as we parachute off into the abyss, before landing safely and thinking: wow, that wasn’t too bad after all.