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Forget the 50: Why VCE students can be proud without the top score

Yesterday, as I sat down to write my daily practice essay for VCE English Language, I was struck by the topic: “Language has the power to both influence and reflect community attitudes.”

I looked down at the page, considering what to write and looked up to see my personal VCE countdown wall (20 days left!), and all I could think about was the language that we, as a community, use around the VCE, and how it both influences and reflects our attitudes.

The 50 study score is an elusive and haunting number.Credit:iStock

I recently read an article by The Age titled “How these students got 50 in science”. In the lead-up to exams, I was feeling stressed and emotional, and this article, while well-intentioned, infuriated me – not because the advice in the article was bad (in fact, it was very helpful) but because of its headline.

The 50 study score is an elusive and haunting number. It is a badge of achievement – and rightfully so – for those who have worked incredibly hard and excelled in their subject all year. But it says a lot about community attitudes when newspaper articles, advertising and forums constantly shove this number down the throats of year 12 students who just want scores high enough to get them into their tertiary course of choice.

Constantly referring to this number, and using it as clickbait for well-meaning parents to send to their teenage children, who are already precariously juggling study, an existential crisis and their mental health, influences our society to care about numbers that are futile in three months and reflects attitudes around success: your best isn’t good enough unless you are THE best.

Aiming for a 50, while admirable, is like running 4000 kilometres across Australia – as much as you try, there is only one Nedd Brockmann who can do it.

VCE student Ahelee Rahman: “Getting a 50 isn’t an Oprah Winfrey situation.”Credit:Joe Armao

Contrary to popular belief, study scores are rankings. There is no conceivable way for everyone to get a 50, purely because the system doesn’t work like that.

Getting a 50 isn’t an Oprah Winfrey situation, with Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority shouting, “You get a 50! You get a 50! Everybody gets a 50!” to anyone who puts a minimum amount of effort in. So why do we keep talking about it? Now, I am not trying to diminish the immense achievement of those who do manage to capture this elusive number; but I want to make it clear that the social pressure that has been created around achieving the top score is wholly unnecessary and reflects a rather hypocritical attitude.

When you Google “does the ATAR matter”, there are pages and pages of articles and websites that aim to remind year 12 students that it doesn’t. I, and all the other VCE students, have spent the last two years hearing that once you get where you are going, no one ever asks you about your ATAR again, that it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of life, and that your ATAR doesn’t define you.

We don’t see articles titled “How to get a 99.95 ATAR” because that doesn’t align with attitudes towards the VCE and the overall examination process. So why is it OK to put so much focus on attaining a 50 study score?

As exams approach and the stress levels get higher and higher, I would like to ask our community to stop talking about the 50. Achieving the top score is impressive, but no one needs a 50. In fact, 99.7 per cent of people can’t get a 50, and many VCE students simply don’t want one.

Sure, we won’t be unhappy seeing a 50 on our scorecards at the end of the year. But let’s stop this unnecessary push to get a perfect score.

So, as the start of exam season approaches, good luck to my fellow VCE students. In less than a month, we will have closed this chapter. In the future, when our children complain about how much they are struggling, we can tell them that no matter what scores we achieved, we got through year 12 during a global pandemic, devastating floods and a looming recession.

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