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"Last year, I received an ATAR of 99.65. It didn't mean what I thought it would."

When someone would tell me during the HSC that the exams would not determine my future, I would roll my eyes and ignore them. Whilst I understood that there was life beyond the HSC, when I was caught up in the bubble of study, stress and pressure, it was difficult to envisage a future not determined by my ATAR.

This time last year, there were a lot of bells and whistles. I had come first in Music 1 in the 2018 HSC and there were many presentations to attend and many media interviews to do. I received at ATAR score of 99.65, and it seemed as if the HSC bubble would carry on forever. However, even though it felt like it at the time, the year after the HSC has not been about the mark that over 68,000 students will receive today.

In spite of its imperfections, the HSC is a fairly robust and fair examination system to rank students for tertiary entry. My dream throughout high school was to study law at the University of Sydney. My ATAR allowed me to achieve this goal and I am very proud of that. However, what I would not have grasped a year ago is that there is not just one way to achieve your goal. If I hadn’t received the mark I desired, there were plenty of other courses, universities and pathways I could have taken which would have opened up a whole bunch of new paths. Some would have been quite similar, some vastly different, some better and some worse. But, in the end, I would still have the same opportunities to achieve my goals, regardless of my ATAR. I used the HSC as my pathway to tertiary study. But it is not the only pathway and had I gained that perspective when I started my HSC year, a lot of things would have been quite different.

That is not to say that those who are thrilled with their exam results today should not be proud of themselves. Every good result is a testament to the student who has put in the hard yards over a long period of time, and to their parents and teachers who have shaped them, both academically and personally. A good result is certainly something to be proud of and something to savour. But, for those who might be a little more disappointed with their results, this does not mean it’s the end. Rather, it just means that passing through the different doors that will open over the next few years will be even more important and even more exciting.

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Watch: Mia Freedman on life after Year 12 exams. Post continues after video.

Although I would not have expected it at the start of Year 12, the most important thing that the HSC gave me was confidence. Singing four challenging songs in front of a panel of examiners in an empty theatre, knowing that every note and every word was make or break was daunting to say the least. However, getting through it and knowing that I could succeed on that stage showed me that my voice and my confidence could handle even the most high-pressure scenario, which allowed my confidence to skyrocket. This was probably the most important thing that the HSC gave me.

A few months after the HSC, I was offered an audition on The Voice Australia. As the first Indo-Australian to sing at the blind auditions in all eight seasons, it was an extremely nerve-wracking experience. I had never done anything on that scale before and I was singing for people who I had idolised for a great part of my life. In the sea of auditionees, I certainly felt like the odd one out and even a few months before, it would have thrown me completely. What the HSC gave me was the confidence to believe I was ready to go toe-to-toe with my idols on the big stage and give the best performance I could. There are so many ways that singers get their break and their confidence and for me, the HSC gave me that opportunity. The HSC was one of many possible doors that opened at the right time. It’s certainly not the only door. But it was the door that opened for me.

As students and parents find out HSC results today, many will be elated. To know that you have achieved your goal and got the mark you desired is a brilliant feeling. However, if the result is not what you expected, that is perfectly okay as well. There are so many doors that will open in the future and this is only one of them. In a couple of days, no-one will care about anyone’s ATAR. But what the HSC can give is a confidence boost to those who might need it. Apart from university entry, I haven’t directly used my ATAR for anything since the day I got it. So, if I could go back to Year 12 and getting my results with the knowledge I have now, I’d realise that it is just one step in a long journey ahead. However, if the HSC goes well, make sure you use it as a confidence boost to set you up for the next year and beyond. Because everyone who does the HSC is more than a mark, but if you have managed to achieve your goal, you should be very proud.

Kiran Gupta was first in the state for Music 1 in 2018 and achieved a 99.65 ATAR. He is currently studying Media Studies/ Law at the University of Sydney. 
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