University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence has written an open letter to Australia’s senior students, urging them to keep the upcoming final exam season in perspective.

Queensland’s Year 12 students will undertake their external assessments in a block from 26 October – 17 November, 2020, with the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) to be released at 9am on 19 December 2020.

In his candid opinion piece, published on August 30, Dr Spence acknowledged 2020’s Year 12 students were sitting exams “during some of the most extraordinary circumstances in living history”.

But he reminded them that universities were making allowances for the unprecedented turmoil and disruption caused by COVID-19 – and that their ATAR won’t define the rest of their life.

“We know this is a tough year,” Dr Spence wrote, “and most institutions are taking that into account. At Sydney we’re in the process of adjusting our pathway programs to acknowledge the impact of the bushfires and pandemic.

“We want to support students who’ve done it hard and continue to do it hard so that they have the opportunity to join us next year.”

An ATAR won’t determine your future

Dr Spence acknowledged a university pathway wasn’t for everyone, but he had a simple message for those students pursuing one.

“Your ATAR is not going to follow you around for the rest of your life,” he wrote. “It is a measure of how you performed academically over 18 months but that is all.

“Students often get stressed about their ATAR because they think it determines what they can do after school, and therefore what career they will eventually have. But that is only very partially true, at best.

“The ATAR can of course, help you to get into your first choice of course. But if things don’t do as well as you had hoped – and there are many reasons why they may not – there are multiple other pathways to a degree and a rewarding career.”

He also reminded students that an ATAR also “doesn’t measure all the wonderful things that make you who you are”.

“There are many things more important than the ATAR can capture, and every parent is proud of their son or daughter … for far more important reasons.”

Choose a course that matches your passion and interest

On course selection, he urged seniors not to choose a course based on parental or self-imposed pressure, but rather to choose a course “that you are excited and passionate about or that intrigues you”.

“I’ve taught many miserable law students doing the degree just because they (or their parents) thought that it was the “right” thing to do,” he said.

“And if you don’t know exactly what course you would like to take, or what career you would like to pursue, make sure you choose a course that keeps your options open.

“Few people know exactly what kind of career they would like when they join the university.”

Prioritise self-care during exams

Dr Spence also highlighted the importance of students looking after themselves during the final stretch.

“Take regular study breaks. Eat Well. Sleep. Give yourself some time each day to regroup or exercise….even a little study is better than no study at all, so keep going and try as hard as you can for the whole year. Don’t let early offers stop you from achieving your best.”

He concluded with a suggestion that students also acknowledge the hard work of their teachers and parents.

“We often forget to acknowledge the important role they play in year 12. They’ll be feeling the disruption of this year as much as you all are.”

Read Dr Spence’s opinion piece in full.

More information on university early offers

Some universities have been advertising early offers and guarantees, in a bid to provide reassurance to anxious students and parents.

The University of South Queensland and Queensland University of Technology are among many universities advertising early offer systems. The Australian National University also accepted applications earlier this year from students based on their Year 11 results, with offers to be made in August 2020. Swinburne University of Technology is advertising a similar pre-ATAR offer system, with applications closing on 11 September, 2020.

Further reading on ATAR for students and parents

The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority has released the timetable for Term 4 External Assessments as well as a list of what equipment students are allowed to take into assessments. Fact sheets for students, sample papers and answers to other FAQs can be found on this general QCAA page. External assessments will take place from 26 October until 17 November.

Freqently asked questions about ATAR are available on the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre website. The 2020 ATAR will be released at 9am on 19 December 2020.