Setting their alarms early and eagerly waiting in anticipation, Smith’s Hill school leavers joined more than 67,000 others across the state in receiving their HSC results. The local selective school secured spectacular results from some of its most passionate and hard-working students across a vast range of subjects.
Zac Thompson found out he was first in the state for one of his HSC subjects almost a week ago, but even after five days of secrecy, a state ceremony and a lot of media attention, it still hasn’t quite sunk in.
“It feels surreal, even still,” he said.
Zac had been interested in science all throughout his schooling and had already decided on pursuing physics and chemistry for his HSC when he was approached about the relatively new subject, investigating science, which is only offered at the school based on student interest.
“It was actually Mr Smith’s recommendation because I was looking at doing three sciences and he suggested it would be a good accompaniment to the others,” Zac said.
“It’s more process-based based and it’s more about scientific inquiry and the process as opposed to content like other sciences.”
It’s only the third time the school has offered the course taught by head teacher Andrew Smith, but it’s already paving an incredible track record. Students from the class have topped the state two out of the three years.
“We’ve always had students in the top 10 every year we’ve run [the subject],” Mr Smith said.
“Very often it’s students’ best subject, and we normally get students packed up in the bands 5 and 6.”
Mr Smith said he was incredibly proud of the results, and put the success down to building on the students’ existing enthusiasm for science and humanities.
“The success of the subject gives you confidence that the way that you’re teaching is the right way,” he said.
“I think that way is knowing your students, knowing what they’re interested in, using what they’re interested in to teach more but also you’re teaching students, not a ‘subject’.
“It’s really the passion and the interest that drives success.”
Zac said that he actually felt he studied the subject less than his others because his fascination with the content made it so much easier.
“Do it if you’re interested in it. I think that’s what helped me the most and that leads to working harder but also you don’t need to put as much effort in when you are passionate about it,” he said.
Choosing subjects based on personal interests and strengths is something relieving principal Nicole Kaiserfeld said the school encourages when students select their subjects.
“It’s super important that kids do things that they enjoy, not that their friends like or their parents want them to do, or they think by some myth scales better, do what you love,” she said.
“I think if you’re not self-motivated and you’re relying on parents and teachers to drive you, you’ll run out of fuel. You need to run things, you need to motivate yourself otherwise you can’t keep it going that long,” Mr Smith said.
And it’s proven to work, with students achieving in almost every area.
“Our results are across the board from creative arts to visual arts to sciences to maths to the humanities to English, we will have kids with 99 ATARs doing really diverse subject selections,” Ms Kaiserfeld said.
“It’s not those traditional subjects that people think you have to do, they might get you the mark, but so will the humanities subjects, so will the creative arts if kids do well at it because they are passionate about it they will do well.”
Twelve students, including Zac, were honoured on the All-Round Achievers list, which is for students who score the highest band across at least 10 units.
One of those all-rounders, Katie Short, saw first-hand how choosing subjects you like can make a difference to your studying and ultimately your marks.
“In my preferences, I had economics, which I would have been miserable in, I would have been so bad,” she said. “I dropped maths so economics would not have been my forte.”
“I had always kind of been interested in drama but I’d been too scared to try it so my mum convinced me in year 10 when I was picking subjects to put it as my last reserve and then I got it.”
It ended up being her highest mark.
“I think that if I hadn’t put it in that reserved spot, not only would I have had a lot less fun over the past few years, I wouldn’t have made some of my best friends today and my ATAR probably wouldn’t have been as good.”
She said a key part of her success was also the support of her classmates and teachers, as well as her family.
“My mum was the biggest support the entire time, she was incredible. If I was too busy or too tired I’d walk out and find a bowl of salad or something sitting there for me,” Katie said. “She was just constantly doing little things that meant a lot.”
And staying connected with her friends was also crucial.
“I think that the social connection is really important for me because I’m a very social person so even if it was just staying up an hour later just texting someone one night, I think that’s what kept me sane the entire time.”
That social aspect was also something the school’s vice captain (and another all-rounder) Jaquiline Jogen found.
She’d study with friends almost every day, and also expanded her horizons through connecting with others from various extracurricular outlets.
“It was so important to be honest,” Jaquiline said. “I think having different support networks not just the same friend group was the most important, I had my group I hang out with at school, then my SRC friends and people I’d study with, and just being able to talk to different people and being able to share our stress was so worth it.”
For Euan Christopher, health and fitness was an important outlet to keeping him at the top of his game.
“I, of course had a lot of support from my family and my sister, who has supported me all throughout my schooling especially these two years,” he said. “And I balanced my time and made sure I had enough time in my day to exercise because that was a big stress reliever for me.
“It helped me keep a clear head, if I was fuzzy or anything I would just go to the gym for an hour and that would clear me up so I could be focused for study.”
Euan took on 14 units of study, despite only 10 highest units going towards the ATAR.
“Honestly as a bit of a safety net in case something went wrong on one or two subjects,” he said.
But the extra wriggle room wasn’t required, as Euan scored band 6s in all 14 units.
“I feel amazing, I was very nervous waking up early at 5:30 waiting for the text but I feel amazing and got an ATAR of 99.85 which I’m very happy with and that opens a lot of doors,” he said.
And as a lot of students are able to start planning for their next steps after school, Ms Kaiserfeld was confident of their success, and incredibly proud, regardless of the numbers they received.
“The overall results are exceptional but it’s not just about this mark, it’s about years of hard work, dedication and resilience,” she said.
“There is not a kid at our school, based on their results or what we know about them and who they are, that won’t achieve.”
To see the full merit lists of top achievers, all-rounders and distinguished achievers, visit the NESA website.