For Phoebe Johnston, winning dux was the last thing she expected.

But as the awards whittled down at her school prizegiving and dux was all that remained, her heart began to pound. Then her name was called.

"It was weird. It didn't sink in at first, all I could think was 'don't trip, don't trip'. I didn't, thankfully.

"My dad was overseas at the time but apparently mum jumped up from her seat and was cheering."

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The Western Heights High School student is the latest to have her name etched into the coveted trophy awarded to the top scholar.

She is one of five Year 13s in Rotorua to receive the honour this year.

"There's always a bit of competition among students and while getting dux was something I had always thought about, it wasn't something I was expecting to get.

"You always strive for the best you can do but for me, getting good grades was about getting into the uni I wanted, not getting dux - that was just a nice addition."

Phoebe said next year she would be at Otago University studying to become a doctor.

"I didn't do science until I started high school but found I really enjoyed it. Then through medical gateway, I was able to watch a few surgeries up at the hospital and thought 'yes, this is what I want to do'.

"Eventually I will become a qualified doctor and when that happens I hope to travel overseas because you can do a lot more cool stuff outside New Zealand."

Her advice to other students striving towards dux was to stay motivated, have clear goals and always put in 100 per cent.

Other Rotorua duxes:

Tristan Thomas: Rotorua Boys' High School

What does winning dux mean to you?

I really wanted to win it actually. For me, it was the most honourable award to win at prizegiving and it has been something I've worked towards for years.

What is your secret for academic success?

Always work hard. You can't afford to slack off for a year or not try as hard in one of your subjects.

What are your plans for next year?

I am going to the University of Auckland to study bio-medical science. Eventually I would like to be a doctor.

What would you say to others striving for dux?

Stay focused and sort out your priorities. While being smart helps, you do have to make sacrifices and be willing to put in the time and effort as well.

Christian James: John Paul College

What does winning dux mean to you?

We have a really competitive year so I didn't think I would be able to do it. When I found out it was a massive surprise but I was so pleased.

What is your secret for academic success?

Take every opportunity that presents itself - you can learn from every experience.

What are your plans for next year?

I'm going down to Christchurch to do a Bachelor in Engineering at Canterbury University.

What would you say to others striving for dux?

Keep trying because you can succeed at anything you put your mind to.

Chantelle Cobby: Rotorua Girls' High School

What does winning dux mean to you?

It came as such a surprise and it was the perfect way to end high school. It has been an amazing five years at Girls' High and to go out on such a high note meant a lot. It was a huge honour.

What is your secret for academic success?

Find yourself - the subjects you like, the best way you study, how you work in class, then stay determined, focused and work hard.

What are your plans for next year?

I'm going to Waikato University to study a Bachelor of Social Sciences.

What would you say to others striving for dux?

Find what works for you and don't be afraid to work towards it. Always strive for the best and set goals.

Sasha Cox: Rotorua Lakes High School

What does winning dux mean to you?

It was quite amazing. There was two of us who have been battling it out for the award so it got a bit tense in the lead up.

What is your secret for academic success?

Doing what the teachers tell you to do is a good start and working hard.

What are your plans for next year?

A Bachelor of Engineering at Canterbury University.

What would you say to others striving for dux?

If you are serious about going for it, put the hard yards in at the start of the year because by the time you get to the middle of the year, it's a bit too late.