In this article, we continue our VCE past student interview with Bri: VCE 98 ATAR-achiever. You can find PART 1 of this interview HERE.
Bri achieved a 98.30 ATAR, and now studies a Bachelor of Science Advanced – Global Challenges (Honours) at Monash University. Follow along and get involved in Bri’s university journey journal:
ATAR Notes: Thanks for joining us again, Bri. Let’s get back into it. You had a nice range of subjects through Year 12. How did you go about the VCE subject selection process? Do you have any regrets?
Bri MT: I wanted to do two 12 subjects in year 10 so my school made me draw up a 3 year plan for what my subjects would be. In that, my subjects were bio & chem (because I wanted to be a marine biologist), outdoor ed (because I love nature), Japanese SL (I’d been doing this from year 7 and enjoyed it), methods (my school didn’t offer spec otherwise I would’ve done that), & literature (I felt this would extend me beyond English).
Due to subject clashes with bio I dropped outdoor ed and Japanese, so I decided to pick up psychology and physics since they were sciences and I knew I wanted to go into science. I found literature very boring in year 11 and didn’t feel like I was learning much. My teacher was receptive to trying to make it a better experience for me but it didn’t work so I switched over to eng lang – which I’d heard good things about from friends at other schools – and studied that via distance ed.
Picking up eng lang in year 12 and studying it through distance ed was definitely not an ATAR-maximising move. It’s the only subject I did that I don’t tutor and that’s because I felt like I didn’t get enough feedback to develop a strong understanding of what assessors are looking for. It’s also a subject that less students are interested in being tutored in compared to English. That being said, although it was probably comparatively bad for my ATAR and work opportunities in the VCE space I did enjoy the subject content a lot.
I absolutely do not regret picking up psychology and physics – these are the two science subjects that taught me the most about what it means to be scientific. If I had had the choice I would have done specialist maths rather than methods but my school didn’t allow us to study it – even via distance ed – and it was only after year 12 that I realised that if I had pushed I probably could’ve gotten around that “rule”.
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ATAR Notes: The big one – how much did you study, and how many practice exams did you do?
Bri MT: I was the stereotypical always studying student at my school but I also had a lot of extracurriculars which gave me forced downtime (senior band [alto sax], vice school captain, youth mayor of the local youth representative council, and for a bit chairman of the local Venturer Scout unit). I also did attend some social events with friends, albeit not very many.
In retrospect, periods of time where I was actively focused on something other than my studies and had guilt-free time away from studying were very important. It’s all about balance, and you want to add in protective factors that help you avoid burnout and/or recover from it faster. There was only one time I stayed up past 10pm for schoolwork (physics EPI) and I felt that being better rested was more helpful for me than the extra study would have been.
I did so many practice exams. Ridiculous amounts. Hundreds and hundreds of practice questions – more if you count redoing questions until I got them right [looking at you, old bio question on labelling a diagram of a virus]. I don’t have an exact number but I started early and kept doing them the whole way through. I did the VCAA exams, I got exams from friends, I got exams from teachers, I tried to answer questions people put on the forums, and for topics I struggled with I looked up resources outside VCE.
ATAR Notes: You mentioned you started revision early, but how did you find your final exams? Were they as expected? Would you now do anything to prepare differently?
Bri MT: I’m actually very happy with my exam preparation strategy in VCE. Of course there’s always the thought that you could’ve done more study, more exams etc. no matter how much/many you do – but I was content with my level of preparation in that sense. I had my mistakes logs to look back over and remind myself of what things to do and not to do, and had sat exams under practice conditions at the time my actual exam would be.
One of the things I was particularly happy with was my focus on giving myself mental energy and seeing the exam as a chance to prove myself rather than an insurmountable obstacle. I made sure I had been waking up at a good time where I wouldn’t be rushing to get ready on exam morning well in advance, I had a nice brekky, I got to the venue early and was chilling. I had already packed everything I needed so I couldn’t forget anything. The afternoon before exam day was dedicated to relaxing and getting in the right mindset.
There were times when I was thrown by a question on the exam, but I knew that I knew the study design and could at least write something down for everything that showed study design knowledge. I doubt any of us expected to get a question on Mars on the 2017 chemistry exam but I knew to pause, pick out the topics, and see what the connections to the study design were.
ATAR Notes: You now work for ATAR Notes. How did that come about?
Bri MT: I attended a lecture first, but I really got involved towards the end of year 11 when a friend told me about the forums. On there, I saw an incredibly supportive community of students and past students helping each other and was drawn in. I lurked for a while before answering a question about studying lots of science subjects and then kept participating until now some of my best friends are from the forums. I used some other resources, like a subject guide and kept attending lectures during year 12. I kept staying active on the forums helping students after year 12 and when I had the opportunity to be someone writing subject guides, giving lectures, and tutoring I jumped at the chance!
I love being able to share my love of science with others and give high school students more insight into uni life. I’m currently teaching chemistry at TuteSmart and in a recent class on polymers I could use the example of friends I’m doing honours with making more environmentally friendly plastics, and then in instant tutoring I get to talk to students from other TuteSmart classes and get a wide range of topics. Education is very important to me and I love seeing students develop understanding rather than memorised confusion.
ATAR Notes: Finally, if you had three quick pieces of advice for current VCEers, what would they be?
Bri MT: Firstly, use the resources available to you: from VCAA, ATAR Notes, your teachers, your friends… there are people who want to help you and support is available.
Secondly, as much as some people may act like it’s everything, you ATAR isn’t. Sure, it’s nice to get a high ATAR but it doesn’t determine your intelligence, self-worth, or whether you can go on to study something you love or get a great career. Your ATAR cannot stop you from having a rewarding life.
And thirdly, if you don’t take care of your wellbeing, your ability to study effectively will be lower and you’ll also be less happy. No one is perfect at getting the right balance and you’ll keep working on this throughout your life but if you haven’t already, now is a good time to start investing in yourself.
This concludes PART 1 of our interview with Bri – VCE 98 ATAR achiever. As a reminder, you can find PART 1 of this interview HERE.
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