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Beyond an ATAR

With exams around the corner, here is a timely reminder (initially written this time last year when my daughter was about to sit her VCE exams) of how understanding our mindset can ease the pressure of the final weeks. Good luck to all those who have their heads down and bottoms up!

November 1, 2014

As a parent of a VCE student, I thought it timely to share some thoughts I was introduced to by a highly respected Professor of Psychology, Dr Carol Dwek, in her book 'Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential'. We all have the capacity for lifelong learning and brain development, we are all born with the innate drive to learn (eg learning to walk and talk) yet the world is divided into learners and non-learners based upon our mindset. Just by knowing about the two different mindsets, we can start thinking and reacting in new ways.

Do you have a FIXED MINDSET whereby you believe your qualities are carved in stone and you only have a certain amount of intelligence which limits your achievements? Are you always having to convince yourself and others, whether its in a classroom, at work or in a relationship, that you are good enough?


Do you have a GROWTH MINDSET and believe your basic abilities and qualities can be developed through your efforts? Do you have a passion for stretching yourself, persevering and becoming resilient?

The fixed mindset can put an end to our learning by making us afraid of a challenge and afraid of not being smart enough, whereas for those with a growth mindset, success is about stretching ourselves and becoming smarter, it’s about confronting a challenge and making progress.

We’ve heard it before, don’t let your ATAR define who you are. Do you have a fixed mindset and believe it will show how smart you are and what you are capable of in the future, or will you use it to continue to grow, stretch and learn no matter what? Will you travel through life with the growth mindset and see failures as problems to be faced, dealt with and learnt from or will you try to repair your self esteem by assigning blame and making excuses, becoming depressed and believing you are incompetent or unworthy, filling your head with limiting thoughts? A fixed mindset can rob us of our coping resources.

Mindsets are powerful beliefs, but they are just something in our mind and we can change our mind. The good news is that the growth mindset can be taught. We have a choice. When we make sure we take up the challenge, learn from failures and continue our efforts, the failures may still hurt, but they don’t define us. If we believe that abilities can be expanded then there are still many paths to success.

So, when our kids are faced with their ATAR, whatever the score, we should encourage them to use the growth mindset and ask “What can I learn from this?” and “How can I use this for a basis for growth?"

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