High marks aren’t everything

I went to an all boys school with a good reputation for high academic performance. I enjoyed learning but I wasn’t in all the top classes. My favourite subjects were Science and Maths and I was in the 4 unit Maths class which only had about 16 boys.

The other boys in this class were very clever and most were taking the advanced level of English (I wasn’t!), Economics or History. I struggled a lot with the mathematics and had tutoring (coaching) right up to the Higher School Certificate (HSC). I thank my tutor more than my maths teacher for my HSC result!

So how important is a high HSC mark in ensuring you study the right course and choose the most suitable career?

During my last year at school I was motivated to study Medicine after being inspired by a close neighbour who used to work as a pathologist. I worked very hard during my final school year and made improvements in my assessment tasks and exams. Although my HSC result placed me in the top 5% in the state, I did not get the required marks for medicine. I chose to study Science and focus on my interest in computers.

One of my classmates, John came first in the state in Mathematics. He started a degree in Medicine at Sydney University. At my school it was assumed that your first career choice would be Medicine then  Law (at Sydney University) as these two degrees required very high marks. I think at least 4 boys in my class did Medicine, another did Dentistry and a few did Law.   Half way through second year university, John dropped out of Medicine and switched to Science as he said he never wanted to study Medicine and felt forced to do so by parents and peer pressure.

Recently I met someone who had completed school last year. As a conversation starter I asked her how she went in the HSC implying “What mark did you get”. I might as well have asked for a complete academic transcript. I realised that my question was inappropriate and no matter what mark she got it was none of my business to know.

Nowadays school leavers are often judged just on their final mark. A person is not defined just by academic performance. There are many attributes that contribute to a person’s future success – qualities like determination, passion, drive, creative thinking and risk-taking. I think back to the boys in my school year and how some of them I would have described as not very smart are now successful business men and have achieved a lot more than I have. Their HSC mark had little to do with their current success.

There are many famous and highly successful people who did not perform brilliantly at school. Richard Branson for example – a school teacher said he would either become immensely rich or go to jail.   Bill Gates dropped out of college. You can find many examples of people whose success did not depend on very high marks.

I have another story about the two sons of an old colleague of mine. His older son got a very high mark in the HSC – above 99. He got a university scholarship in Computer Science, has worked at Google and is now involved in a new startup company.   His younger brother always wanted to work in animation. During Year 12 he enrolled in a drawing class at TAFE (technical college). He did not go to university but studied the leading animation software and was peristent in finding freelance work. Eventually he was employed at a leading Visual Effects company in Sydney and I was delighted to see his name appear on the credits of the Happy Feet film.

Many people change career after completing a course. I used to work with a man who had a Medicine degree and decided during his intern year he would rather work in software. I told him I would gladly  swap with him as I want a change from the software industry.

In conclusion, high marks are needed to get into some courses, but they are not everything. They give you more options but your success and career path are determined by many other factors. It is important not to place unnecessary emphasis on how you performed at school but to seize the opportunities you have now, and continue to explore the many options you have available to you now.   I have seen many people switch courses as they discover their true vocation.  It is up to you to find your vocation – explore, be courageous and work hard!

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Author: charuzu

I live in Sydney and interests include music, piano playing, technology, cooking, English language, public speaking, Toastmasters, Asian culture (especially Japan and Korea), cinema, personal development, productivity and making friends with people from around the world.

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