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Year 12 'guinea pigs' face final 2020 hurdle as ATAR tests begin

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More than 37,000 Queensland Year 12 students are embarking on crucial external exams for the first time in the state, rounding off a senior year dominated by COVID-19 chaos.

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The so-called “guinea pig” cohort will join graduates around the country in receiving an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) instead of an OP score.

Navigating the new system and its standardised exams has been an added challenge for students already facing the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic.

“I think everyone is a little bit nervous and stressed going into it because there’s a lot of unknowns,” Coomera Anglican College student Kyrra Wilks said.

“You look forward to [Year 12] for a really long time and then obviously with COVID-19, a new system … it was pretty chaotic.”

The class of 2020 was the first full cohort to attend Prep, the first Year Sevens at high school and now the first to graduate with an ATAR during a health crisis.

“We’ve always been the guinea pigs going through so I guess we’re kind of used to it by now, and with the year we’ve had we’re definitely a very resilient group,” Wilks said.

Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) chief executive Chris Rider said he was confident that students were ready for exams.

“I think we’ve done everything we can to prepare the Year 12s for the new system, but it has been difficult because of COVID,” Rider said.

Earlier this year, the QCAA removed a piece of assessment from each subject syllabus to ease pressure on students during the pandemic.

“We have 81 subjects that are going through external exams over just over a three-week period,” Rider said.

“You can have confidence that the result you got in one school is exactly the same as the result you would get had you gone to another school.”

It will take 4000 teachers about four weeks to mark all the test papers online, with results released on December 19.

‘They’re great survivors’

COVID-19 has forced schools to cancel or modify big events and rites of passage for Year 12 students.

Griffith University’s Dean of Education, Professor Donna Pendergast, said that had taken a toll on graduates who missed out on important milestones.

“For some, that has meant a sense of loss and a sense of grief, and for others it’s been an opportunity to do things differently,” Pendergast said.

“They’re great survivors.”

With overseas gap years off the cards, Pendergast said university applications were on the rise.

“Universities have changed their entry processes so there have been a lot of early entry offers,” she said.

“That’s given students confidence as they enter into their external exams.”

Ipswich State High School Student Mandie Horrocks has been studying hard to secure a scholarship to study engineering next year.

“My Year 12 experience has been quite hectic — it’s been a lot to deal with, but I think it really teaches us the importance of being independent,” she said.

“[Learning from home] was challenging because we had to put up with technology issues and malfunctions.

“I just have to have faith in myself and all the work and effort that I’ve put in throughout the year that I’m going to get through it OK.”

– ABC / Lily Nothling

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