Kiama High School's Sally Carney felt good after her HSC earth and environmental science exam, but she never expected to end up among the cream of the crop.
Sally, 17, came fourth in the state for the subject with a score of 95 and only became aware of the achievement after her boyfriend spotted the result on the Board of Studies website.
"I was really surprised. I didn't believe it at the time, but I was very excited about it," she said.
"I felt pretty good about [the exam] and I felt confident, but I never expected that, just to go so well."
She also achieved 93 in Italian.
With an ATAR of 95.6, Sally hopes to study an International Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Wollongong.
"I know I want to do something that helps the environment and makes it better and more healthy for the future," she said.
Her school's overall performance improved on 2012 results - 67 students achieved a band six in at least one subject, with 38 of them achieving the top range in multiple subjects.
Bella Worner-Butcher (96.55), Lachlan Hall (96.45) and Kate Mikilewicz (96.2), also 17, were among the students to reach the distinguished achievers list.
Bella has already been accepted into early entry at the University of Wollongong for Law and International Studies and is considering a career as an international human rights lawyer.
"My mum does a lot of social work and I've grown up around that, I guess, and I've always been interested in women's rights and refugees and environmental issues," she said.
Kate has also achieved early entry to study Health and Medical Sciences at UOW.
"There's not a lot of jobs in science, so I might see if I'm smart enough to be a doctor," she said.
Lachlan said he was interested in science, but would look at his options.
The students said it was great to be finished for the year.
"I was worried I was going to get a bad mark and be really sad and disappointed over Christmas," Kate said.
Sally added: "A lot of people from our school seemed to go really well, which is exciting to know they'll be able to do what they want to do."