Playing the VCE Game – Is It Just a Competition?

By Nick McIndoe in Study
10th of May 2017

If you want to vent, muse or ask questions about VCE, this is the place for you.

VCE is a game. Your friends are your competition. It’s all about the numbers.

These are some of the ideas that seem to fly around at this time of year.

It’s sort of understandable, given that ATARs and study scores and whatnot are based on a ranking system. But seeing VCE as nothing more than a competition is, well, kinda unhealthy – and potentially harmful to scoring highly.

VCE is a lot more than that. And whilst I understand the VCE = game analogy, I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the connotations it holds.


Is VCE just a game?

I was going to begin this section with, “Objectively, it’s true that you’re competing against your friends”. But then I thought about it a little more. I’m going to change it to this:

Objectively, it’s true that your results will, at least to a certain degree, depend on the performance of the rest of your cohort. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re competing against them.

In Year 7, I scored 99% on a maths “semester test” (I don’t know if this is a thing at other schools but it’s like, a mini exam for twelve-year-olds, I guess). It made me feel pretty grouse. But then I saw that somebody else in my class had scored 100%, and my little world turned upside down.

I lost a mark. Somebody else didn’t. Tragedy.

It wasn’t tragedy, obviously – I still got a good mark. But I unnecessarily turned it into a competition. It definitely wasn’t a conscious decision – I didn’t mean to do it. It just happened.

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience (this year or otherwise) – it seems to be a bit of a trend with high school students. Why? Probably at least in part due to the notion that VCE is a game – the idea that, fundamentally, it’s all just a competition.

I feel that competitions usually finish with winners and losers, though. And that needn’t be the case with VCE, so it’s a little different. I’m not huge on handing out participation ribbons and whatever else, but think about it: if you develop as a person through Year 12, and throw everything you have at exams – how can you possibly deem that a failure? Actually think about that for a moment – how could that be a failure?

In the respect that ATARs are based on a ranking system, I guess VCE is a competition of sorts. But that doesn’t mean you have to beat everybody else to win.




And like, it’s the same thing in that “real life” mumbo jumbo

I started playing around with a Rubik’s cube like five or six years ago. A friend told me that to complete it, you just need to remember a whole bunch of algorithms – and then apply those algorithms in the correct situations.

I was awful at first, but I gradually taught myself (with the help of ol’ trusty YouTube). Initially, I could complete the cube in about ten minutes – reading the algorithms off a piece of paper next to me. The more I practised, the less I needed the piece of paper. Eventually, I could finish the whole thing by myself.

Then I got my time to sub five minutes.

Then sub three minutes.

And then sub one minute.

My best time at the moment is about thirty seconds. A great improvement from the time I started – and yet, still considerably slower than the dude who first showed me more than half a decade ago. He can solve the cube in less than ten seconds – pretty crazy stuff.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I think it’s pretty clear that I should still be proud of my achievements to date. I worked hard over a period of time, I improved, and now I’m in a better position than I was. Just because somebody else is better than I am at solving a Rubik’s cube, that doesn’t mean that I should feel jealous, or annoyed, or worthless. I can solve a Rubik’s cube in thirty seconds, and I’m pretty chuffed with that.

You can draw comparisons here to VCE – and you just know that I’m about to. It’s almost inevitable that somebody will get better marks than you. Somebody will get a better ATAR – probably a whole bunch of people will. That’s great for them! But it doesn’t mean that you should feel jealous, or annoyed or worthless.

All you can do is your best. If you can compare yourself to others in any way, it’s probably in terms of effort – not results.


Cool, so – what now?

Set goals.

Not somebody else’s goals. Your goals. Your own goals.

And then work toward them.

Put it this way. Soon, you’ll be in a different environment to what you’re in now. You won’t have the bubble of VCE – no SACs, no study scores, no ATARs. You won’t be assessed in the same way, and perhaps not to the same degree. Potentially never again. Things will be different.

If you spend all year judging your own worth or successes based on those of others, what’s going to happen when VCE is no longer a thing?

IMO, the best – and most sustainable – way of gauging where you’re at is simply judging yourself against your past self. It makes sense to compare your most recent Methods SAC to the one before that. If you improved, that’s great! If you didn’t, you can think about what went wrong. But it doesn’t make sense to compare your Methods SAC to Joe Bloggs’ Methods SAC, because what does that really tell you? Very little – and Joe Bloggs won’t be around your whole life to act as a measuring stick. Plus, you can’t control how well or poorly Joe Bloggs does.

So set your own goals. And instead of comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to – well, yourself.

Other people doubtlessly could have written this article better than I did. Some of those people are literally sitting right next to me at this very moment. But that’s okay, because this isn’t a competition. And whilst I understand the game comparisons, nor is VCE.

Don’t know what you want to do next year? Ask your questions here!


  • avatar_comment



    Thanks for this amazing article, Nick. It was just what I needed after a pretty poor SAC!

    • avatar_comment

      Nick McIndoe


      No problem, Clarke! I'm glad it was useful. :]