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VCE expectations and reality: a student perspective

By Jinaede1342 in VCE
4th of February 2020
Dealing with VCE expectations

The experiences in this article are the author’s, and the author’s alone; what works for one might not work for another. If you feel upset, apathetic or anxious for a prolonged period, you should consult professional medical advice.

The year 12 experience varies from student to student. In a practical sense, I’m certain that if I surveyed 10 people on the most effective way to study, I would receive a wide range of responses, some that even contradict one another. But one thing any year 12 graduate will agree on, is the importance of taking care of your mental health and wellbeing during what seems like the most important year of your life. At one point or another during this year, you’re likely to feel overwhelmed, anxious, stressed or just completely over it. These momentary emotions are completely normal experiences, but, oftentimes when these feelings linger, they impede the progress that you make towards your goals, whatever these may be.

These next pieces of advice will be embedded within personal anecdotes, taking the form of what I personally would’ve enjoyed reading as a wide-eyed year 12 student, before the novelty of this experience had worn off (hint: this generally happens a week or so after you receive your year 12 apparel) .

Having worked hard to improve in year 11, I approached year 12 with exceedingly high standards. I was harsh with myself. I came to accept nothing less than near perfect results in the subjects that mattered most to me, insofar as having all 5 of my teachers telling me to “be kind” to myself.  I thought that if I pushed myself and aimed high, I’d work towards and meet all my goals. It was only after the end of term 1 – when 6 SACs had rolled in on the one week – that I had come to realise how unrealistic the expectations that I had set for myself were.  One of the most draining things to have to deal with is a crushing burden of perfectionism, an unceasing self-doubt that erodes away at your confidence, and a crippling fear of failure that single-handedly coerces you into making decisions that are just unsustainable in the long run. In an often competitive and high stakes environment these seemingly inherent traits are accentuated, but, from my experience, there are things that you can do and put in place to keep the anxiety, stress and perfectionism at bay.


1. Recognise that your best is good enough

It is an unequivocal truth, that SACs, will indeed, to varying degrees, shape your study score. In retrospect, if I was to recall every time I had a mental breakdown in year 12, I would find that a large majority of them were all in the lead up towards SACs. No amount of study ever felt sufficient. My knees would always shake before a SAC – heart racing. Perhaps, to some, this response may feel overdramatic and irrational but in my eyes,  I felt that achieving anything less than 100% on an essay was a considerable shortcoming, an insurmountable barrier. On top of this I found myself staying up till 2-3am to study ‘enough’ so that I felt ‘prepared’, when, in fact, it was clear that the greater the pressure was to achieve 100% on my SACs, the poorer the outcome was. It’s at this point that one must learn to recognise that their efforts are sufficient, that their wellbeing should be made a priority and that their quantitative results are in no way an accurate reflection of ability.


2. Communicate with your teachers

At some point, work will begin to pile up. Deadlines – and meeting them – can become challenging, and instead of staying up late to get work done you should be speaking to your teachers. They’re an incredible support network, and they’re human too! They can be your greatest ally. Over the course of the year, I had gotten to know one of my teachers quite well, they listened to my concerns, praised my efforts, and, when needed, arranged to push a few deadlines to manage my stress levels. It’s not helpful to stay up late, burn yourself out and show up to school exhausted just to hand in things that can otherwise be pushed forward. Teachers are there to help, not reprimand, and you will find that approaching your teacher to talk to them before missing deadlines is greatly appreciated, and on your part, it shows respect and courtesy to the work and preparation that they tirelessly put in.


3. Avoid people that fuel mass hysteria

There’s a handful in every cohort. The ‘O-my-goodness-do-you-know-anything-about[insert a specific complex topic here]?-is-it-gonna-show-up-on-the-SAC?-I-don’t-know-anything-ahhh’ type of people. Comparison is an instinctive reaction that we have – our ATARs literally compare performance to performance to determine relative levels of achievement. Comparing what you know with what you think others already know and have mastered before a SAC is detrimental to your confidence. People that speak the loudest in a room don’t necessarily perform the best, and to think that your knowledge is in any way inferior on this basis alone will only do you a disservice because it shatters your confidence right before an important assessment.


Year 12 is a tough year. You are faced with being on the brink of a horizon of change; parting with friends who may go in completely different directions, concluding 13 years of what has always been your normal, moving away from structure and guidance to autonomy. These are big changes, some difficult and some exciting. To reach these milestones, however, you have to take care of yourself, find a balance between working hard and “being kind” to yourself.

If you’ve made it this far, I’d like to wish you good luck for year 12 and encourage you to view this not merely as a yearlong test but as an opportunity in which to shine!