To me, Year 12 was the most demanding schooling year I’ve ever experienced. You’re confronted with the fact that everyone will be following their own pathways, the stress from the HSC exams themselves and also cramming last-minute extracurricular activities so you have something to add in your scholarship applications. Despite the pressure, I managed to survive, so here’s my Year 12 experience.

Term 4 of 2017

When I reached Term 4, the phrase ‘it’s only prelims’ didn’t apply to us anymore. We were in that awkward stage where we’re in Year 11 but going through HSC content. Although Term 4 was initially daunting, I soon began to view it as a transition period from prelims to HSC and reviewed what subjects I didn’t perform well in based on my prelim yearly exams. Initially, I wanted to drop Society & Culture because taking on two essay-based Major Works was quite daunting. However, since it wasn’t confirmed that History Extension was going to run, my HSIE coordinator recommended me to stay in Society & Culture. In retrospect, keeping Society & Culture was probably the best decision as I had more than enough units to drop. Regardless, I spent most of Term 4 trying to come to terms with the fact that I was doing 13 units, two Major Works and two extension classes. Initially, I was fine with 13 units, but the stress didn’t really hit me until later.

Year 12 experience

Apart from me trying to manage the new workload, I was also dealing with a lot of stress from my teachers, specifically math. A lot of people in my class complained about how she was always confused when teaching content and I managed to survive Year 11 by teaching myself the content. But as the content got harder, I tried to pay attention and see how my teacher explains it. It didn’t really help because she would try to go through an example but never finish it because she was also struggling to do the question, which meant that I would get stressed at home trying to figure out how to do the homework. My stress levels increased when my teacher would ask “Did anyone have any questions from the homework?” and when I told her the question I struggled with, she just told me to send her a screenshot of the question via email, in contrast to when other students ask for her help, she would sit with them. It took her around two weeks to get to my question. I was so stressed over math it got to the point where a teacher would walk past me and greet me with “How are you?” and I would just burst into tears because I was so stressed. I had to go back to my usual method of teaching the content myself. At that point, I realised that I had to rely on myself since the teachers weren’t very helpful.

Term 1 of 2018

The stress slowly went away when I found out we would be having a different math teacher. My sister had him for General Math and told me he was passionate in teaching. I was concerned that he hasn’t taught Extension Math for a while but I was glad to have him. He was very energetic, in contrast to my class where everyone fought for the best ranks. I felt comfortable in asking help from him because he was always happy to help. Even though he was a great teacher, I still found myself struggling with the work. On the surface, I thought I was fine with the content, but in reality, I was lying to myself, telling myself I’ll be fine.

On top of this, I was still trying to figure out how to manage my Major Works. I found myself staying up past 12am and read journal articles in my spare time because my math homework took up almost all afternoon. I was constantly paranoid that I was falling behind in my Major Works as well as stressing over half-yearly preparations.  When I arrived home, I would tell myself to finish my math homework as quickly as possible but end up passing out at my desk because I was so exhausted. And when exams come, it becomes a time where all my emotions become unstable – I would cry and have panic attacks after my exams and my teachers would tell me to brush it off. To put simply, I wasn’t in a good place emotionally. By the end of Term 1, I was glad that I was able to give myself a break and have the time to write, which I found to be a great stress-reliever.

Term 2

When Term 2 came, I was dreading to go to school. I knew I wasn’t going to do well in math and physics. My 2 unit math results surprised me a bit because my teacher told me it’s an improvement from Task 1. As for 3 unit maths, disastrous; not to me, but to the whole class as well. Our class average was abysmal to the point that a pass can get you a first place rank. I knew I wasn’t doing well in 3 unit maths, but I was in denial. I didn’t want to drop it because Extension Math is considered as assumed knowledge in a number of engineering courses. I also didn’t want to drop it because I didn’t want my subjects to affect my Co-op application. It also severely impacted my decision to do engineering. Whenever I would consider dropping, I would end up asking myself ‘What kind of engineer fails maths?’ I found myself crying to sleep a lot because of a mixture of stress and confidence in my skills.

I vented out all of my emotions in my HSC journal, but it wasn’t until when Jamon and Opengangs both responded to my posts on my dilemma, with Jamon constantly reminding me that ‘If you are crying yourself to sleep, something is going wrong, and you need to take steps to fix that’, and Opengangs reminding me that there are many UNSW students doing engineering courses who only did 2 units of maths. It was then when I decided to bite the bullet and get my parents to sign the subject dropping form after a long conversation.

Year 12 experience

Before I submitted my form, I spoke to my physics teacher, who has a Masters in IT and was a civil engineer. I wanted to make sure that I was making the right decision. Our conversation helped me solidify my decision because he would talk about how he never used 3 unit maths in engineering, as well as stating that the reason why 3 unit maths is assumed knowledge is to show your ‘mathematical maturity’ when in reality, everything is re-taught at university. When I asked a math tutor (who was also an engineering student at UNSW) to send me lecture notes, I found that a lot of the topics were 2 unit, with a couple of 3 unit topics like binomial theorem and polynomial division.

Once I dropped 3 unit math, it felt strange. I found myself having more time completing parts of my Major Works and slept before 12am. I met a few members of the AN lecture team at the career expo, including Jamon. When he asked me about my stress levels, I mentioned to him that I found myself sleeping before 12am and actually had the energy to talk to university ambassadors – something I always struggled doing.

I was also glad I spoke to a UNSW ambassador that was also doing aerospace engineering. We had a great conversation about Bernoulli and Newton’s theories of flight. But I was also relieved to hear from him that Year 10 maths is assumed knowledge since they will re-teach everything in a shorter period of time. He also mentioned that the fact that I’m keen to study aerospace engineering will help me stay motivated and work hard. I was also glad that work experience was mandatory and how one of his friends completed an internship at Qantas, meaning that even if I don’t get the Co-op scholarship, I still have the chance to gain real-life experience.

Term 3

The holidays before Term 3 were quite stressful. I was doing last-minute touch-ups for my PIP, screwing up my study schedule for Trials. I was glad that we had a meet up during the holidays because I feel like if I spent all holidays at home, I would end up becoming very moody. Not only this, I had a scholarship interview with UTS for Women in Engineering on the first day of school, the same day my PIP is due for the teachers to do last-minute editing. As a result, I was also stressing over interviews because this was my first interview.

The interview ended up being semi-formal; it was formal in the sense that you were speaking to academics and a representative from an engineering company, but had an element of informality to it since we were sitting in a pod rather than having a panel. They asked me if I had school afterwards (since I was in my uniform) and we spoke a bit about school. The interview went for around 30 minutes, which didn’t feel that way during the interview.

Trials came faster than I expected. The weekend before Trials, I was doing last-minute cramming, especially quotes for Module B (Yeats). I was so stressed over Trials I had a panic attack before Paper 1. My year coordinator offered me to sit in the special provisions room (even though I didn’t submit paperwork for special provisions) but I declined her offer. Throughout the exam, all I focused was trying to refer to the rubric as much as possible despite my shaky start to Trials. But Paper 2 was even worse because of my lack of confidence with Module B.

But my stress over Trials didn’t end there. I had to deal with exam double-ups. I had math and Modern on the same day, and physics and Society & Culture on the same day (technically, they clashed). I had no clue how to study for two exams on the same day so I crammed as much as I could the night and morning before my exams. My friend was on the same boat as me for physics. I didn’t have time to cram content for Quanta to Quarks (though in our defence, we finished that topic in 4 weeks and just recently completed it) so I tried to cram as much as I could in the morning. But how does one cram information when you’re also trying to memorise quotes for Society & Culture with stress piled on top of that? By the end of the day, I broke down and cried to my physics tutor, mostly because of so much stress built-up and how I won’t do well in physics.

When I received my marks back, my ranks weren’t too bad for all of my subjects. Some, I wished I did better in. But others, I was sort of content with my ranks. But that doesn’t mean my marks were great, especially in math and physics. I barely scraped a pass in both subjects. But at that point, I just wanted to get my HSC exams done and over with.

Term 4

The following days before my HSC exams, my main source of stress came from the possibility of burning out before the HSC starts. I had to go back to school to pick up the numerous essays I gave to my English teacher back in Term 3. It was comforting to see my teacher write on my practice essay ‘If you produce the same quality this Thursday and Friday, I’m confident you can achieve a Band 6.’ But it was also stress-inducing to go back to school. School just reminded me of my impending exams.

The day of Modern and Society & Culture exams was probably the most stressful. Even though I’ve had experience in having two exams on the same day, I will never get over the stress, especially cramming for two content-heavy subjects. I kept reminding myself that the end of the HSC was slowly coming. At this point, I just wanted to forget what I could’ve done for my other exams. I was more excited over the fact that I could throw away my notes and completed past papers.

Year 12 experience

To be honest, I was kind of surprised I was a bit calm when I had my last physics lesson. It was probably because I had already been accepted to Macquarie University through the Global Leadership Entry Program and I was already enrolled in my classes (even though UNSW is first on my preference list) but that doesn’t mean I could get away stress-free. Once physics was done, I didn’t want to talk to any of my classmates because I knew that if I lingered around, I would end up breaking down.

With four days until my next and final exam (Studies of Religion 1), my mum decided to let me get away from the desk so I could take a break. After all, SOR had the lightest amount of content out of all of my other subjects. I was glad I could take a breather. I felt like I was going insane seeing the same four walls and desk. The days leading up to my exam felt like time slowed down because I wanted to get it done and over.

But once SOR was done, it felt strange to sit at my desk and no longer study (even though my dad told me to start studying for university). Being able to play video games for over 12 hours made me realise how I’m free from school, but also slightly empty because over the past 13 years, I had lived with a strict routine of waking up, going to school and doing homework at home. But I guess this marked the end of my HSC journey.

Check out Olivia’s Instagram: studywithlivia.