Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has more than 100 mastheads across Australia. Today's is written by Area News journalist Cai Holroyd. Over the next few weeks, underneath the graduation celebrations and muck-up days, Year 12 students will be pulling their hair out as they await ATAR results. It's no surprise that Headspace has reported an influx of anxiety and panic attacks, when we tell 17 and 18-year-olds that 13 years of schooling never actually mattered and the only thing that counts for their future is one exam season. So with that in mind, I thought I would share my Year 12 experience. I grew up in the ACT, which means I never actually took the HSC. The equivalent in my school was the Senior Secondary Certificate - essentially the same thing, but with an added layer of confusion. Personally, I tanked my SSC exams for a number of reasons. It already didn't look good for me, considering all my chosen courses scaled incredibly poorly - another symptom of Australia's lack of appreciation of the arts and writing. And then, just over a month away from testing day, my mother's partner died in a motorcycle accident. While I was not personally close with the man - studying and schoolwork was suddenly the last thing on my mind as my days were taken up with funeral preparation and trying to console my mother as she moved through her own grief. Just three weeks later, one of my mentors and a personal role model for the better part of a decade also died suddenly. Needless to say, it was a difficult year so when it came time to take the SSC tests, I hadn't studied - I couldn't focus on the test and I certainly couldn't remember the content I had hastily tried to cram into my head on the bus trip. So, even knowing that I had done poorly, I was devastated when I opened up the slip of paper with my ATAR on it at my graduation ceremony. It was too low to get into any course I wanted to study, so while my cohort went out to celebrate the miraculous survival of high school - I simply got on the bus and went home in mortified silence. But while I sulked at home and told myself that my life was over, I learned that a degree in advertising was interview and task-based. My ATAR didn't matter. I was never good at testing, but I could do assignments. I got in, and the hard work of hitting up my parents for money began. While I poorly pretended to be passionate about a future in advertising, I built up a portfolio of work and asked around campus about transferring to journalism. To this day, I don't know what my two interviewers saw in my stuttering attempts at explaining why I wanted to switch to a degree in journalism, but three years, two mental breakdowns and one pandemic later - I had the very same degree that in 2016, I was 100 per cent convinced was out of my reach. So while I certainly hope the youth of today get the result they're hoping for, it is inevitable that some will not. This is for those students. My fellow 'mystery marks'. Maybe you were having a rough week, or your classes just don't scale well, or maybe you just don't do well with tests. It will be okay. I promise. It's been seven years since I took my Secondary School Certificate tests. In that time, not once has anyone asked about my ATAR. The things that matter can't be tested for. The things that people care about can't be put into a number. No matter which direction you want to go - passion, kindness and hard work will take you there.