This week thousands of students across Australia begin their final year of schooling. The certificate they receive will vary from state to state, and their post-secondary plans may be university, an apprenticeship or paid work. Whatever the aim, Year 12 is likely to be one of the most difficult years they've encountered in their short lives, so it's important to know how to prepare.
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Be realistic about your expectations
The most important piece of advice I would give to all Year 12 students is to select the subjects they want to study in Year 12. During the senior years of schooling students may feel they are being pushed down particular educational or career paths.
For example, "high achievers" may feel pressure to attend university and to apply for "high status" courses, like law or medicine, even if they have little interest in them. While it's good to carefully consider any informed advice they are given, students shouldn't be persuaded to do something that doesn't really meet their interests or talents.
It's also important students are realistic about what particular jobs and university courses are really going to be like, as well as about their own aptitudes and interests (for example, if they loathe writing essays and are really crap at it then an arts degree probably isn't appropriate).
All the money and admiration in the world will not compensate for spending years studying or working in a field for which they have little genuine interest. Success in a job is also less likely if it doesn't suit their interests. They could find themselves working in a "high status" field for an average salary because often the more interesting and/or higher-paying positions in that field are very competitive and go to the most enthusiastic and talented candidates.
There are plenty of bored, mediocre lawyers out there with average salaries. Despite what's on TV, lawyers don't spend all their time fighting gross injustices in dramatic courtroom showdowns – many law graduates never make it into the courtroom at all.
Get familiar with the curriculum
Another thing that all Year 12 students should do is familiarise themselves with the official curriculum documents for the subjects that they intend to complete. These are all available online at the state curriculum authority websites (NSW, Vic, QLD). These documents list the content and skills that students will need to demonstrate throughout the year (including on any exams) in order to satisfactorily complete these subjects.
Before the internet, access to such materials wasn't so easy to come by. Students just hoped that their teachers were thoroughly covering all the essential skills and knowledge. For whatever reasons, some teachers may miss key content or just not teach it in a way that meets the needs of particular students.
This can result in some students showing up for exams to find they don't know how to answer questions, despite having thoroughly revised their class notes. If students familiarise themselves with the formal curriculum materials and are concerned that they still haven't grasped some key aspects of a topic they can always raise this with their teacher or take the initiative to study the material in more depth themselves.
It's not just about exams
There is a lot of focus on preparing for graded assessments in Year 12, but there are other course and job requirements that students should consider. Many courses require prospective students to complete pre-requisite courses to a particular standard.
For example, a C in English and/or a maths subject is a common requirement for many courses. Many visual and performing arts courses require students to present art folios at face-to-face interviews or to audition and these things may be given more weight than your overall Year 12 performance. Folios and auditions need to be prepared for throughout the year.
A large portion of students intend to complete their formal education at the end of Year 12 and enter the workforce or pursue further education in the form of apprenticeships or on-the-job training. These students may want to spend Year 12 acquiring specific vocational qualifications, experience and skills. Future employers may consider these things much more important than a student's result on the English exam.
Many vocationally orientated Year 11 and 12 courses enable students to complete a unit towards their senior school certificate, while simultaneously completing a vocational qualification (for example a Certificate II in multimedia art or hospitality).
Victoria even has a whole senior certificate called the VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) designed for this purpose. The benefit of this is that you can finish school having already completed some of the modules of an apprenticeship or vocational diploma, which will save both time and money and may help secure desired post-secondary positions.
Don't stress too much
Year 12 doesn't determine the rest of your life. Once you have completed some post-secondary studies, Year 12 results are not so important. Potential employees will be more interested in more recent educational achievements (hence, don't slack off at uni just because you got an ATAR of 99.95).
There are multiple pathways into tertiary education for people of all ages. Changing courses (or dropping out altogether to pursue other avenues) is relatively common. That said, it's best to do research and think carefully about what you want to do so as to minimise the disappointment and expenses that may result from having to make such changes later on.
Jennifer Bleazby is Lecturer, Faculty of Education at Monash University.