Exam results do not measure success in life

Q  My son Jack has completed his first term of Year 12 and his anxiety levels are climbing. He has set himself high standards and wants to proceed to university. I want to support him and would appreciate some strategies, including how best to prepare him for the HSC exams.

A Year 12 is certainly a stressful year for students and families. It’s a time of high anxiety and fear, but also exciting as students move closer to the next stage of life. Learning to manage stress levels is vital to performing well. Some anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing, as it keeps us alert and spurs us on to achieve our goals.

There are many practical strategies you and Jack can put into place throughout the year and during the exams to balance study with relaxation, provide emotional support and reduce stress.

A lot of Jack’s time will need to be spent on completing assignments while developing good study habits. It is important to create a space where he will be free from distractions.

  • Download a study timetable to begin scheduling study and relaxation time. It’s vital that Jack makes time to do things he enjoys. Studying day and night with little downtime will not help concentration and energy levels. Monash University has a simple template.
  • For ideas on creating a study timetable, Reachout has excellent resources
  • Plan to study in blocks of 50 minutes with short breaks. Leading up to exam time, it might be useful to focus on two subjects per day. Begin studying for the HSC exams approximately 10-12 weeks before the first exam. Prior to this, completing assignments with some exam study early in the evening is recommended, ensuring some relaxation time before bed. Study should not be the last thing Jack does just before going to sleep.
  • If there are subjects Jack finds less engaging or more challenging, he may consider study groups.
  • Communicate with his teachers to help structure his study schedule. Know what he’s studying, his strengths and weaknesses.
  • Encourage Jack to maintain good sleeping and eating habits and avoid using substances such as caffeine. Stay alert to potential use of illicit substances, as this can be a risky time for many teens.
  • If Jack has a part-time job, he really shouldn’t work more than 10 hours per week. Teens who work during their HSC year tend to focus more on work than study.
  • Encourage regular – but not prolonged – study breaks.

Students preparing for the HSC need to know that they can only do their best. As a parent, you can be your son’s voice of reason during tough times, especially when he is overcome by fear or excessively worried. Help him to put his concerns into perspective and remind him that the HSC exams reflect only his performance in those exams on that day. They do not measure success in life. Remind him that no matter what, he will be fine. There are always options for future study. Also remind him that you are proud of him and refocus his worrying thoughts on to the tasks to be completed. Ask, “What advice would you give your friend in this situation?”

Come up with relaxing activities together – you might introduce him to mindfulness and download an app such as Smiling Mind. Does he like listening to music, have favourite TV shows, play sports, hang out with his friends? Encourage regular exercise, daily or at least a few times a week. It is important to keep doing these things and remain connected with family and friends. Stay focused, one day at a time and revise study schedules to fit his circumstances. If you are worried that his stress and anxiety levels are too difficult to manage, suggest he sees a counsellor. All the best for an exciting year ahead!

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Counselling Team Leader and a registered psychologist.

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