Dear Young Adult,
For me high school was quite a while ago (class of 2002). Things were different back then, there was no NCEA and internal assessment was only a small component of our final year – everything else was externally examined. Great for kids like me who excelled at memorising information for exams and then immediately forgetting it, and terrible for kids who struggled with rote learning. My year was the last year to have this system; NCEA was introduced the following year.
From my understanding of recent media, one thing that doesn’t appear to have changed is the pressure put on high school students to perform well in assessments/exams as part of a wider fear that your entire life hinges on your ability to score highly at school.
I promise you; your life does not depend upon how many “Excellents” you achieve in NCEA. This is something that school does drum into you subconsciously, but the amount of people out there in the world who had their life plans actually derailed by average school marks is incredibly minimal.
I’m going to assume that the stress people are feeling is because they want to get into university, as literally nothing else takes any school grades into account (trust me, no employer gives a flying fuck how you went in Year 13 art history).
Did you know that New Zealand universities have avenues to welcome almost everybody? Universities are a business and trust me; they want your money.
Achieving Level 3 NCEA is not the only way to get into university. It’s merely the fastest. If you passed Level 2 but bombed out in Level 3 (because let’s face it; the school system is not the most effective learning environment for everyone) yet are a motivated student, you can gain entry to university through completing a foundation year. This will allow you to enter any first year program, including those notorious health sciences.
Perhaps you didn’t do so well in Year 12 either. No biggie – once you are 20 years old, you can apply through special admission – again, if you are the kind of person who really wants to attain that tertiary education, they will most likely accept you. Not only that, but you can use the time in between to save money, go travelling, get life experience and just give yourself a motherfucking break from academic learning (seriously, you’ve been at it for 13 years in a row)!
I’m not advising you to abandon your efforts in high school, because obviously it’s important to challenge ourselves, and passing your Level 3 is the fastest route into university – I just want each and every one of you to know that failure to perform in a system that was designed for the masses does not in any way pertain to your worth, or ability to succeed in achieving the things you want out of life.
I’m a 31 year old who is studying a bachelor of science, involving maths and chemistry papers – I didn’t take any science in high school after 6th form biology, and I scored 23% for Bursary (Year 13) calculus. Yet here I am, studying science, after a solid decade of partying and forgetting literally anything I ever learned at high school. And guess what – I’m (more or less) an A student. Why? Because:
a. I want to be there; and
b. Universities have systems in place to assist people like me – they have papers like “general maths” and “concepts in chemistry” (which are still 18 point papers that count toward your degree) that consolidate the high school syllabus to prepare you for the harder papers.
Universities kind of realise that when we are 15 years old and are expected to know what we want to do with our lives in order to pick the correct subjects for NCEA, we might choose something totally inconsistent with what we end up wanting to do later in life. On that note; do not go to university unless you have a really clear plan of what you want out of your study there. It’s a huge waste of your money if you are just going because your parents expect it, or because you feel like you “should”, for lack of any other ideas.
The decisions you make, and the results you achieve while you are a high school student, will not haunt your future – no matter what your teachers and parents tell you (I promise!). What’s more important is the adult that you are becoming at this stage in your life. A student who might have to work their ass off to achieve a “Merit” is immediately going to be more prepared for tertiary education or the workforce, than the student who is naturally well-suited to exams and rote memorisation, who sails through school without learning about work ethic. Almost everyone I know who got to uni on the latter (myself included), got a very rude awakening and ate a bunch of humble pie when the “Credit/Merit” level students from school were the ones casually beating us out in the competitive programs like law and health sci.
So try to forget the end marks and instead focus on the process of learning. Practice time management and effective study habits – not in order to get the highest grade, but for their own sake – to prepare yourself better for adulthood, whether that involves tertiary education, working, or travelling. Learn at a young age how to sensibly overcome setbacks and perceived “failure” without emotional meltdown – because resilience is one of the most valuable things that money cannot buy. Things will happen in this life that you cannot predict nor change, and being able to deal with obstacles and failures in a way that keeps your stress levels steady and your self-esteem intact is probably the best marker of a great mind. Those are the real-life exams you want to be prepared for.
You have so much to offer the world, but don’t forget just how much the world has to offer you in return. We only get one life, and to spend any part of it getting unhealthily stressed about smaller things within the bigger picture is a real disservice to the wonderful human that you are. Celebrate the great things about yourself and your friends, 99% of them won’t have anything to do with your academic prowess. Enjoy weaving what will be a long and winding path – make it one filled with abundance, and don’t let fear become a motivator.
Love, Chelle xoxooxoxoxooxoxoxoxxo