When was the last time you think I looked at my textbook to learn? Not to study for an exam or to complete homework, but simply to expand my knowledge, broaden my understanding or fulfil my curiosities?

As a senior secondary student, many of my peers and I are entirely focused on our grades - getting the best possible marks and competing - to receive the top rank within our class. Our perception of "learning" is shaped by our ATAR, our rank in the school we attend and other factors such as employment opportunities available to us in the future. This is what we’re often told success looks like - but is it? And if not, what is the key to success?

The way I see it is, the concept of learning for seniors has become a dilemma - do we choose to learn to grasp the understanding of the content? Or do we choose to learn to gain the best possible marks?

These are some of the questions that, as a senior student, I have asked myself throughout this stressful year. Learning has become so competitive for many of us - driven by the need to succeed, that our aspiration, joy, and willingness to learn has become rare.

As I walk to school, I observe little joyful souls full of laughter and energy that somehow bring a smile to my face—the juniors.

As I enter school, I see sunken eyes, faint voices and aggravated expressions envying those joyful little souls - the seniors.

How did I choose my subjects?

At different stages of my learning I have been focused on my marks and often opted for ways that will help me get that 90+ ATAR, a “dream” result among my friends and I.

Initially, to help choose my subjects, I visited ATAR calculator platforms more than a million times, each time with different subjects to find out which combination would scale the best to get me the highest rank. I also spent time with my peers discussing our subject selection, making me more confused. We had differing ideas of what that one Extension subject would be that would raise our rank and bless us with that "dream ATAR".

I didn’t give any thought as to what mattered to me or my interests in any particular subjects until Taster week when I reconsidered and aimed to pursue what I like and what brings me joy through learning.

Taster week is a week where you get to trial the subjects you are thinking of choosing for year 11 and learn about them and the courses. I realised that choosing subjects doesn’t have to be all about scaling to receive exceptional results, it can be about pursuing and putting effort and dedication into what I am interested in to still get great results but also be satisfied within myself.

Social and personal expectations

There are many expectations of students coming from different directions. We put pressure on ourselves and of course there is the pressure coming from our parents, peers and the world around us.

We know that a number does not define our creativity or intelligence, however we put expectations on ourselves to do well and achieve results that will gain us admission to our preferred tertiary courses.

Some of us have higher expectations too - to not only to do well but also to excel throughout all of our subjects. This can lead to a competitive situation where we tend to strive for "good grades” instead of to learn and appreciate our efforts despite our results.

My parents are very supportive in encouraging my goals and by believing in me and my ability to achieve success throughout my life. I know this is not the same for everyone, as I have friends and relatives who do not have the same experience as me. Even though I have high expectations, they provide me with the assurance and confidence to believe in myself. They support me to grow by continually learning and developing as an individual rather than competing for a numerical value. "Marks are not permanent; however, education is, learn and gain knowledge, not for the sake of good grades," said my mother.

Success is happiness

It may sound simple, "Do what makes you happy" however it is not always what we aim for. We search for success is our employment status, level of education and the education institute we attend. Success then becomes materialistic and we tend to abandon our creativity and uniqueness by fitting into a structured routine, whether it is our schoolwork or aspirations the ability to "think outside the box” disappears.

I believe that success is not the key to happiness; happiness is the key to success. Success is always within me, I just need to pick the right key: happiness, where my values and morals matter in shaping my overall success. Finding contentment with what I want to pursue is vital in influencing my decisions and search for success.

I strive to pursue happiness, the key to my success. What do you strive to pursue?


Farahnaz Asad Ullah is a year 11 student who will be completing their HSC in 2021. They enjoy reading and expanding their knowledge and perception about the world and the society we live in. She is interested in studying business and communications to pursue a career of interest in that particular field, loves learning about different cultures and speaking many languages as well as travelling around the world.