With exams looming at the other end, it’s implied that school holidays in VCE years shouldn’t be a complete vacation away from the textbooks. But what exactly should they be?
Remember the absolute, overwhelming sense of freedom that came with the sound of the final bell on Friday afternoon that signalled school holidays? In VCE, the same bell rings somewhat bittersweetly: although it’s a welcome relief from the high-pressure cycle of classes, SACs, co-curricular activities and otherwise jam-packed structure of the school day, there’s an understanding that in the final two years of high school, holidays will look quite different to what they did back in the day. And one of the most difficult things we face as students is figuring out where to draw the line between hitting the books and hitting the beach. Or, rather, finding the right balance of both.
On one hand, it can be tempting to use the lack of structured classes to fill the always-too-short days catching up with long-neglected friends, binge-watching all the shows Netflix’s algorithm has cherry-picked just for you into the wee hours of the night and trying your hand at becoming an amateur chef courtesy of TikTok baking tutorials....
...but on the other hand, a school-free two weeks could just as easily be a time to cram every single ounce of information there is to know about cellular respiration that you missed in biology class while studying for that legal studies SAC, and once that’s done, it’s on to three straight practice exams for maths - your bladder will just have to wait.
So which one is it going to be?
Based on my own VCE experience and those of countless people around me (we all have to go through the ordeal eventually), finding the sweet spot will require a bit of discipline and planning. But it doesn’t have to be all military-style; just starting off with a flexible daily schedule that can be adjusted if and when life gets in the way worked a charm for me. Here are my top tips for getting the most out of VCE school holidays, from both a study and personal sanity perspective:
1: Map out your daily schedule on paper.
As I said, planning a schedule need not be something that keeps you accountable to the minute, but having it down on paper helps you understand exactly what the end goal is in terms of study progress at the end of your two or three weeks away from the classroom. Business leaders love to yap on about how you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down, and the same goes for VCE. For those on the tech-savvy end of the spectrum, feel free to spice it up in a colourful, exciting virtual form on a platform like Canva - whatever works to keep you motivated.
Most importantly, make sure you intersperse time doing what works best to keep your physical and mental health in check: walking the dog, movies with a friend, even a two-minute intermission to meditate can be all you need to feel energised to smash out the rest of the practice SAC before you call it a day.
At the end of each week, and ideally midweek too, check in with yourself to see how you’re tracking against your goals: are you getting through as much content as you’d like? Did you get enough time outside to soak up some much-needed vitamin D? By constantly reviewing your schedule, you’re more likely to return to school feeling positive about how you spent your holidays and positive about the rest of the year too.
2: Maintain a regular sleep pattern.
Usually, my rule is to go to bed by midnight, but I also understand that we all sit somewhere on a wide spectrum of sleep-wake cycles. For some of us, a regular sleep pattern can go from 9pm to the crack of dawn, and for others, it’s quite some hours behind that. Regardless of whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, however, it’s super important to make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep over the holidays. Ideally, don’t veer too far away from the sleep schedule you keep during term, as it can be a big shock to the system when you go back and you’ll need your sharp mind and your body to be on your side when tackling VCE.
3: Find creative ways to study.
Even if you set out with the intention to smash through countless hours of essay writing and practice exams, chances are you’ll burn out sooner rather than later if you don’t mix it up a little. One way I did this was studying biology through making and then quizzing myself with flashcards that were colour-coded by topic, so I could make sure I was ticking all the boxes off the study design and not forgetting things I had learned earlier in the year. I made it more enjoyable for myself, whilst aiding my study, by making up a story that linked all the flashcards in a particular topic to a TV show. For example, the topic of cellular respiration was SpongeBob SquarePants, with Mr Krabs representing the Krebs cycle, and so forth… corny as it may be, for me this certainly beats drilling a long list of terms with often archaic Greek names into my brain.
4: Start doing practice questions, but don’t go too hard on the trial exams just yet.
One of the most valuable things for your VCE study will be sitting down towards the end of the year and doing trial exams (past VCAA papers and otherwise). However, I would caution against smashing these out too early in the year, as the past papers are most useful when you’ve covered all the learning objectives and can really go into the trial paper as if it were a real exam. Starting to do some exam-style questions, MCQs and the like, can be useful mid-year, but your time is probably best spent at this stage revising all the topics from semester one to have them down pat before you go on and learn a whole new chunk of content.
You could also do some research on the scaling of each subject you want to do - here is a quick scaling report breakdown for 2022.
Of course, these are just my two cents, and different study patterns will work for different people. Regardless, use the opportunity to take a break from the physical environment of school, and find what works best for you to feel comfortable and motivated to study at a sustainable pace. Consider booking in a free 30-minute study skills consultation to discuss your holiday study strategy with an experienced tutor, so you can set yourself up for success in VCE and beyond.
Written by KIS Academics tutor Dee Tomic. Dee currently offers tutoring for VCE Maths Methods and Biology. Dee is completing her PhD in epidemiology with Monash University. If you have any questions for her or would like to request Dee as a tutor, feel free to reach out through her profile here.