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How to Overcome Anxiety for the Higher School Certificate and After It

The Higher School Certificate exams are commencing in a couple of months, and I want to share some advice for the students are currently preparing to undertake it. It is a time where feelings of stress and anxiety could be present, but I want to share some advice and encouragement to help students maintain their mental and physical health throughout this event and after they complete it.

I remember myself being in Year 12 (almost a decade ago) and stressing over the HSC, being afraid of the outcomes I exaggerated on if I did not perform well in it. I pulled all those all-nighters compiling all my notes together, drinking instant coffee to stay awake, revising them on and on, and had times when I skipped important meals like breakfast and dinner.

I am really annoyed at the media for portraying and boasting of those students who received all-rounder distinctions, came first in the state for electives, and so forth. This does nothing much but make those students seem more superior to those who didn't receive scores like theirs, which can lead to feelings such as helplessness, low self-esteem, anger, and depression. It prompts comparisons of students against other students, causing rifts in friendships and relationships. I felt ashamed of myself when I received my ATAR (which didn't turn out to be as good as I expected), but looking back, I wish somebody would tell me in the beginning that it isn't the be all and end all.

Photograph: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock

For those who are preparing for the HSC, I would like to provide you some helpful advice to help calm you down during this event.

While preparing for the HSC

  1. Eat well and drink plenty of water. Keeping yourself nourished and hydrated will provide you with optimum mental and physical energy to get you through the day. Skipping meals will affect your concentration and mood, as well as your overall health. Try and avoid junk food, energy drinks, and fizzy drinks.

  2. Manage your time well. Aim to sleep before midnight and get ample sleep. If you don't get enough sleep, you will feel grumpy and lethargic the next day, which also affects your concentration.

  3. Reach out for help if needed. Whenever you have feelings of anxiety and doubts, don't be afraid to seek help from someone who you can trust to give you ongoing support, such as a school counsellor, favourite teacher, psychologist, friend, sibling, or parent.

  4. Don't listen to those who are boasting about their grades. Refrain from exposing yourself to hearing about those who are showing off their grades and instead, focus on yourself and what you want to pursue. If someone is giving you negative emotions, don't take it personally, and ignore them.

  5. Keep yourself organised. Write down every exam date in your diary and on the calendar. Make sure you reserve enough time to dedicate yourself to preparing for each exam. Try to write or type up your notes neatly and organise them in a way that makes it easy to look back and read. Switch off distractions such as social media and games, to make it easier to stay in focus of your studies.

  6. Stay positive. Having a positive mindset makes something that you initially found scary, not as scary as it seems. Encourage yourself with positive talk such as - "I can do this!","I am doing my best!","I am doing so well, and I know I will put in my 110% in this!", etc.

After completing the HSC

  1. Congratulate yourself. Accept yourself for doing your best in your exams and give yourself a pat on the back. Celebrate this!

  2. Don't pay attention to boasters. Avoid paying attention to the media and those who are boasting about their results.

  3. Look for options on what you can do after the HSC. You can choose to go to university, TAFE, or even take some time off (gap year) to discover yourself. If you want to apply for tertiary courses, make sure you are aware of the application dates, and stay updated about any notifications you receive from the institutions you applied for. You can transfer from one degree to another degree, if you do not feel satisfied with the current degree.

  4. Continue avoiding the comparisons. Don't compare with others about what universities or colleges you are going to attend. What really matters the most, is that you are satisfied with the options the institution has got to provide for you in terms of your tertiary studies.

  5. Stay positive. Love yourself and practise self-care.

For all the amazing students out there - I wish you all the very best for your HSC exams, and good luck!


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