At our Senior School Assembly this week, St Mary’s College Alumna, Miranda Ling (Class of 2016) was presented with her award for outstanding Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) results in last year’s examinations.
Here she reflects on her time in Year 12, her definition of ‘success’, the way she approached her final exams and the positive strategies she relied on to make her study preparation and revision effective.
Hopefully most of you would recognise me from Year 12 last year. This year I have started studying a Bachelor of Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, and am absolutely loving it. University is a very different environment to school, one has taken me some time to adapt to. I’ve already survived two three-hour exams, my last for the semester is this Thursday.
Mrs Conboy kindly asked me to speak to you today about studying and success. So, I hope you find some of my tips and advice useful or reassuring.
As the Year 12s would know, possibly the most anxious day of the year looms ahead – the day the results and ATAR are released. I remember this day last year, December 19 to be exact. I was only just about coping, waiting to receive that email that would indicate whether everything I had done over the past two years had paid off. It did, and reflecting back on it now I feel slightly embarrassed about my melodramas I put my parents through. So, Year 12s, whatever happens, please don’t be scared or intimidated about the results or ATAR. Yes, they’re important as you’ve been told many times, but only to a certain extent. They don’t define the rest of your life and certainly not who you are as a person. They are a mere reflection of your performance over a few specific days in November, at a certain time where your brain may have not been in its best state possible. In the end, you will almost always do better than you expected if you know that you have put the effort in.
That now brings me onto my second point about effort. You might be sitting there thinking, ‘Yeah, she was just born smart so was always going to do well’. I’d like to offer an alternate point of view. Natural talent actually makes up such a small percentage of success. It’s a good starting point to excelling in something but cannot carry you through in isolation. Many times I’ve observed people who have potential in a particular area of study, but throw away that potential when they simply don’t put the work in that’s needed. How does one put effort in? Well there’s no easy solution. I’m sorry to sound harsh, but basically you need to do the work required and dedicate time to study.
Now, the word ‘success’ can have a somewhat subjective meaning. I am not saying success is doing four pre-tertiary courses and getting straight EAs; it’s not getting multiple awards at the prize-giving, nor is it getting into a competitive university course on your first try. Really, it is about setting realistic goals for yourself and achieving those goals through effort – becoming the best that you can be. Don’t underestimate your abilities; with effort, you are able to do more than just pass that subject you thought you weren’t any good at. But don’t get into the trap of being too disciplined and hard on yourself as I did – expecting straight As on everything is unrealistic. Telling yourself you are going to fail will only diminish your pathway to success. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have a positive mindset – replace your ‘cant’s’ with ‘cans’. The right attitude towards your education will make actual study a whole lot easier.
Now, effort takes motivation. Having that positive attitude is the first step. Finding the motivation to study can be difficult, but I found that having a future-oriented mentality is key. Dwelling in the past or on your present circumstances will make it difficult to find focus. Instead of thinking about your current homework as a burden, I suggest you think of it as a small checkpoint on the road to success. What you do in class over the year really does set you up for the bigger tasks and exams, so make the most of class time. I always thought to myself, ‘I’ll come to class and get through as much work as possible to limit the amount of work I’ll need to do at home’. That way you can ensure you have some proper leisure time on the weekends and after school. Making small, individual choices about how you spend your time in class comes into this. Leave your phone in your locker, it’s an unnecessary distraction. Come to class prepared; pay attention, don’t be afraid of the front row seats, be willing to ask your teacher questions when you’re unsure – they are there to help and want you to succeed. Each time you hand in an assignment is a small achievement on the road to success. Make sure you attend as many school days as possible. You can’t learn unless you’re physically present and falling behind is just not worth it, as catching up is hard.
It also helps to be passionate about what you’re studying, and there is some room for choosing subjects you will actually enjoy. Finding your passion is no simple task but believe me, once you do, you’ll be motivated to succeed and have clearer goals for the future.
Finally, I wanted to offer practical tips, some of which I personally relied on during my time at St Mary’s and even today. Firstly, it’s a tough truth but if you’re wanting to excel academically, especially with regards to the ATAR (if that is your personal interpretation of success – I’m not saying it’s the right path for everyone), you will have to make some sacrifices. We all wish we could have the perfectly balanced life, but it’s impossible to have the exciting social life, multiple extracurricular activities, whilst working a part time job and managing to still get top marks. It just can’t be done … there’ll come a time where you will have decide what your priorities are for the future, and be willing to give up one or two of those things, dedicating your time and energy to the rest. For me, my priority was and still remains study to achieve my dream career– my time and energies at St Mary’s were put into school work, and still today at UTAS. I had some extracurricular activities, though I did not have a job nor a huge social network. It’s not much of a loss if you’re planning to go to university, because your uni social life will inadvertently flourish anyway, you make many more social connections without even trying. Plus, there’s significantly more time to do other things apart from study, as university doesn’t follow the strict all-day, five-days-per-week structure like school. Life will only get better!
It also helps to minimise the amount of distractions in your life. Create a good study space, disable all notifications on your phone – it really does make a difference. Having your phone ‘bing’ at you every minute whilst you’re trying to study for an exam won’t help your brain absorb the information. You could even try logging out of all your social media and maybe even temporarily deleting the app if it’s that tempting. And, of course, we all know that sleep is vital. It’s the only way for your brain to consolidate information, forming those many connections which then form memory (yes, this actually does come down to neuroscience). The recommended hours of sleep for adolescents is about eight to eight-and-a-half hours, but I aimed to get nine to nine-and-a-half hours per night, as I always found early morning starts a struggle, and still do.
When it comes to studying, know your learning style – are you an auditory, visual or tactile learner? Do you need to draw tables, mind maps or diagrams to help you understand? Organisation and having a constant schedule that works for you is key. If you get distracted easily, it’s probably better to try and study in a quiet environment, or listen to same calming music. When preparing for that tough three-hour external exam, past exams are your best friend. I can’t emphasise this enough. Make the most of the fact TASC makes them available, read the assessment reports and assess yourself to identify your weaknesses. Be familiar with the externally assessed criteria, especially for essay-based exams. Overall, self-directed learning and having the initiative to do these sorts of things sets you up for success. It’s a key skill needed for university studies, so it’s a good idea to practise now.
And finally … don’t leave your exam study to the last minute. This never ends well and you’ll regret it! The revision process is best started early. Just putting in a consistent effort throughout the year and a little time aside each week to study will set you up perfectly to excel in your final exams.
I’d like to wish everyone a fantastic and productive rest of the year and I sincerely wish you all the best of success. Thank you for having me at your assembly, it’s been a pleasure.