Interview with St Mark's 2021 Dux - Rhianna Hepburn

We were lucky enough to chat to Rhianna Hepburn, Dux of St Mark's for 2021. Rhianna is quite the all-rounder achieving in both academic and sporting fields. She attained Academic Excellence Awards in Years 7 to 9 and Dux for Years 10, 11 and 12. Rhianna is also an accomplished athlete with many Sports Awards under her belt including St Mark's 'Sportsperson of the Year' for Years 7 to 12 and ACC Letters in 2019 and 2020. She achieved Top Female Athlete in the Australian Youth Triathlon Championships in 2019 and was Point Score Champion Female for the Youth B Series in 2018.

Rhianna had some tips for students coming through Years 11 and 12. We thank her for giving up her time to share advice with other students.

What year did you join St Mark’s?


Do you know why your family chose St Mark’s?

My parents’ primary reason for choosing St Mark’s was the pastoral care available at the school.

What feeder school did you come from?

Marmion Primary School

Do you have any other academic achievements you are proud of?

I am proud of receiving the AMPOL All-Rounder Award at the end of Year 12.

How would you describe the Academic Extension program at St Mark’s?

I found the program beneficial, fun and interesting. It also helped me find a group of friends who were like-minded and academically focused at the beginning of my time at St Mark’s.

Did you have any hobbies outside of your studies?

Sports – Triathlon

Creative – I played piano up until Year 11

How much time per week were you involved in other hobbies?

For the first semester in Year 12 I trained around 10-12 times per week for triathlon, and then dropped it back to 7 or 8 during the second semester

Do you have any achievements you are proud of outside of the academic side?

I am proud of my Triathlon achievements, competing and winning National races.

How do you balance other hobbies with your study load?

I balanced them throughout my schooling career through deciding which was my priority for that year, and planning my days effectively.

What are the highlight experiences of your time at St Mark’s?

Canberra camp and the Philosothon trip.

What have been some of your favourite subjects you have studied whilst at St Mark’s?

History, Chemistry and Philosophy

What were you ATAR subjects?

Mathematic Methods, History, Chemistry, Business Management & Enterprise and English

Why did you choose those subjects?

I chose my subjects based off both my prior success and grades in those subjects, and my enjoyment of each subject; luckily these two factors aligned closely for me.

Was there another subject you wish you could have also chosen to study?

Philosophy, which I dropped beginning of Year 12, and Physics.

Do you work in a casual job as well?

I worked in a casual job during school holidays in Years 11 and 12.

How old were you when you started employment?


Did you follow a study regime in Year 11 and 12?

No, trying to follow a strict study regime didn’t work for me while I was trying to fit in so much training. I mapped out what I needed to do each week in terms of assignments and revising, and found blocks of time to work where I could.

What recommendations can you offer to other students coming through to help them succeed?

-Don’t focus on what you can’t control. So many students get bogged down in complaining or theorising about scaling, exam timetables or who has it ‘worse’. This can get very draining and demotivating, so just take each challenge as it comes, accept your situation instead of trying to fight it and focus on doing the best you can in your individual situation.

-Lead a balanced life and centre your worth outside of academic success

-Have a big picture mindset. In the grand scheme, Year 12 is a small amount of time which can make a big difference, so use your time wisely and remember it will go by quickly. Find something to work towards which will motivate you, whether that be a specific university course, apprenticeship or career.

-Use your teachers and all the support given to you. This is my biggest tip, and something I consider a key part of my success. Get as much feedback as you can from your teachers on assignments, practice tests and even class work.

-Practice exams are very beneficial, especially for STEM subjects. Complete as many as you can, but make sure to keep track of what you need to improve on. Use the marking keys for revision as well, for example memorising key phrases or patterns in the marking keys.

-Surround yourself with people with similar aspirations. Try find people who you can learn from, and whose mindsets and attitudes don’t drain you.

How do you learn best and remember all the content?

I learn best by using active recall. I would type up all my notes for content-heavy subjects, and revise by looking at the topic heading, and then writing down or speaking everything I could remember on the topic. I would then go over my notes and focus on any areas I missed.

Do you have any exam tips?

-Having confidence in yourself and your preparation is so important in overcoming nerves and self-doubt.

-Don’t feel overwhelmed by what others are doing. I remember freaking out when I overheard what other people were studying or how they were preparing, because I thought what I was doing was inadequate. It’s important to find a balance between learning from others while also sticking to your own plan and being confident in what you are doing.

Are you a goal setter?

I’m not a huge goal setter. While I had a clear idea of the ATAR I wanted to achieve during Year 12 and the course I wanted to get into, setting specific targets and focusing on numbers, grades and averages worsened my anxiety. Instead, I just focused on achieving the best I could for each test and assignment, and centred my goals around improvements I could make rather than specific scores.

Did you have a study plan?

My study plan constantly changed throughout the year, depending on my assignment load and training schedule. Generally, during the week I would train and only do school work during my study periods, and I dedicated the weekends to fitting in as much study as I could.

Did you perform consistently across all of Year 11 and 12? Was this important?

Yes, my grades and predicted ATAR were consistent for both Year 11 and 12. I think my success in Year 11 was important, it helped me understand how to study specifically for each of my subjects, and gave me confidence in my abilities heading into Year 12.

Do you follow any of the typically recommended: Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep?

Definitely, I never pulled an all-nighter or got less than 6-7 hours of sleep during Year 12. I made sure I maintained my wellbeing, training and health as best as I could, because as soon as that became compromised I would start to get burnt out.

What were some of your biggest distractions to your study?

My biggest obstacles and distractions to studying was training, dealing with fatigue and burnout, and social media.

How did you overcome these?

During exam periods, I reduced my training load. In terms of fatigue and burnout, I never fully overcame this and struggled with it throughout the year. I did find ways to reduce my fatigue/burnout however, and this involved not being so harsh on myself, taking breaks when I needed to without feeling guilty, and asking for help/extensions from my teachers when I wasn’t coping. In terms of social media, I set timers for apps like Tiktok or Instagram to moderate the time I spent on them.

How have you been supported at home by your family?

I was very lucky to have supportive parents, who understood the stress I was under and helped me out where they could.

How have your friends supported you?

My friends were all academically focused and we helped each other out a lot, and learnt from one another. We would ask each other questions constantly, and shared tips and notes to help each other have a full set of content. Also, my friends and I knew when to stop focusing on ATAR and schoolwork to give each other a mental break.

How have teachers supported you?

All my teachers were supportive and helpful. They were always happy to provide feedback on my work and answer questions, which contributed to my success greatly.

Did you attend the Career Expos?

I attended a few Career Expos at the beginning of Senior School, but Mrs Whiteside was the most helpful in suggesting suitable university courses for me.

Did you feel supported by St Mark’s along your ATAR journey?

Yes, all my teachers and Head of Year did what they could to support us. This was done through providing us with exam booklets and tips, running revision sessions, and giving us advice.

How have any St Mark’s leaders supported you?

My Head of Year, Miss Mlinar, was supportive and provided space to take a break when I needed to.

How would you describe your overall experience at St Mark’s?

Overall it was a positive experience, I left St Mark’s having achieved my academic and sporting goals, and with a great group of friends.

How have you celebrated your ATAR success?


What are you hoping to study in 2022?

I am undertaking a UWA Bachelor of Philosophy Honours, majoring in International Cybersecurity, and am on an assured pathway to study a Jurisdoctor of Law as my post-graduate degree.

What career goals do you have?

I’m uncertain of what field I will end up working in, but I have some broad goals for my career. I aim to work in a range of environments, countries and industries, and am interested in working in Cybersecurity, Legal and Intelligence roles.

Thanks so much Rhianna for sharing your insights with our community! We wish you all the very best for a happy and successful future!