For three days, Caitlin Stratton had to keep her general mathematics result under wraps.
She found out she had come equal first with two other students in the subject last Friday while out with friends, and had to pretend she hadn't received any exciting news.
This is the second year in a row an Illawarra girl has dominated a maths subject, with a Smith's Hill High School student coming first in mathematics last year.
Caitlin, a Corpus Christi Catholic High School student, said it was good girls continued to do well in subjects once thought of as male domains.
"I think it's becoming more the norm that girls are getting more opportunities in that area, like female-specific science camps and things like that," she said.
The 17-year-old initially pursued mathematics in year 11, but switched to general at the start of year 12 to ease her heavy workload, which included three sciences. Although this means she will likely need to do a maths bridging course if she gets into her preferred double degree of a Bachelor of Science and of Arts at the University of Wollongong next year, Caitlin said her decision had certainly paid off. She said while she could understand why not all students continued to study maths in the senior high school years, she had found the subject valuable.
"I really enjoyed the class and it made sense to me. I enjoy the subjects where you can connect the dots and work out how things fit together," she said.
Meantime, George Lysandrou has been working towards a career in engineering since he started pulling apart and repairing remote control cars as a child.
The 18-year-old Edmund Rice College student was yesterday awarded first place in the Higher School Certificate metal and engineering examination.
Although he thought he had gone well in the exam, he was ‘‘dumbfounded’’ to have received the top mark, at first thinking the Board of Studies was calling him because something bad had happened with his results.
‘‘I had tried my best, but I honestly never thought I’d get this kind of award,’’ he said.
His passion for the field is evident in the way he describes the work experience he has already completed through school, and how much he is looking forward to starting a fitting and machining apprenticeship at a Unanderra company in January.
Although George eventually plans to study engineering at university, he said developing his practical skills on the job was just as important as understanding the theory if he wanted to achieve a job as a mechanical engineer in the future.
‘‘Anyone can be the best at theory, but until you get into the workforce you don’t know as much. You have to think for yourself, and you get that from experience and actually putting in 100per cent.’’
Board of Studies president Tom Alegounarias also recognised the importance of subjects with a vocational bent.
‘‘Among the high achievers today are brilliant people not only in maths and science and literature, but in vocational areas,’’ he said.
‘‘There are people who will be brilliant chefs, people who will be fantastic electricians and engineers.’’
George said the secret to his success was choosing a subject he was interested in, so much so that he was willing to stay back after school most days to hone his skills and further his knowledge.
‘‘You can’t sit back; you have to try your best. You know your abilities and you have to use it.’’
See Thursday's Mercury for a list of students who have excelled in all their subjects, plus the Distinguished achievers list. Friday's edition will feature our students with outstanding ATAR results