September 24, 2020


With language and oral HSC examinations already underway in many states and the written exams kicking off in October, the end to a tough year is in sight for the class of 2020.

However, these last weeks of the HSC exams can be a very stressful time for most year 12 students, even without the disruptions of a global pandemic and added difficulty of adapting to zoom classes, online tests and being unable to enjoy many of the usual social send offs enjoyed by the years before them.

This year’s disruptions have meant that many year 12s are now experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, so it’s important that students are equipped to manage the stress, and that families know how to support their children practically.

To provide some helpful tips to both students and parents during this tougher than usual exam period, Mental Health Counsellor and Head School of Counselling at Excelsia College, Associate Professor Ebi Cocodia has shared her top five pieces of advice to help equip HSC students with effective strategies, and parents with the tools to encourage and better support their teens through this academic rite of passage.

1. Prioritise a study/life balance

For many, the HSC feels all-encompassing, and students are often tempted to spend all their waking hours studying for upcoming exams. However, Cocodia says it’s important to maintain a good balance between study and life.

“Even though we have the HSC going on right now it’s important to maintain a level of normality. To help make sure the HSC does not become a lifestyle, try to ensure you prioritise a healthy balance between studying and what would be your normal, everyday routines and activities. Ensuring students have that stability and variation in their day will prove invaluable to using their time productively.”

2. Structure your days

When stress levels are peaking, implementing some structure into your day is important. This can mean the difference between having a healthy and positive study experience or burning out early.

“A simple trick is to make sure you wake up and go to bed at the same time every day and maintain a regular meal pattern and balanced diet that works for you. Taking the time to work things you enjoy into your day is also an important part of a study routine. If you find that you’re stressed or anxious, try doing an activity that brings you joy as a study break. This will help you to feel less anxious, give your mind a well-earned rest, and make you more confident in your ability to cope with the pressure of exams.”

3. Have a plan A and plan B

While it is great to have a strong idea of what you’d like to do once the exams are over, Cocodia advises students and parents to think about having a backup plan when it comes to your chosen career path or higher education provider. That way, even if it takes a few extra years or ‘plan A’ doesn’t work out, it won’t feel like such an impossible task to achieve your end career or education goal.

“Failure is simply a stepping-stone to improvement. What’s your backup plan? Ensuring you have a plan B around what’s happening after the HSC helps to take the pressure off students worried about numbers and results and can help give you much needed peace of mind. That way you are not focused on one specific outcome, and it isn’t the end of the world if it doesn’t go the way you first envisioned.”

4. Focus on time management and trust your tools

Most HSC students are probably feeling that there are not enough hours in the day. But Cocodia contends that completing study on time – and well – doesn’t have to be a constant race against the clock.

“Following the strategies that you have already been given over your schooling career by your mentors or teachers is the best approach to ensuring you make the most of your time. It is very tricky to change routines now, so maintaining strategies that have worked for you before is important. If you are struggling, always go back to the person who has been your mentor or guide for help. This could be a family member, teacher or career advisor, and they have already given you the tools to get through this, so trust them. Changing things up at the last minute is not advisable.”

5. Exercise and eat well

It’s been said before, but for good reason. Studying and sitting for final exams can be a stressful time so it’s important to have the right fuel for your brain and body to help you perform at your optimum. Cocodia also highlights the importance of exercise to elevate your mood and learning.

“We have all sorts of noises in our head when we are worrying. To control these thoughts, I encourage students to go for nice long walks daily. Regular exercise and access to bright natural light will also help to improve cognitive function. Also, be mindful of what you are eating. It’s good to always eat a healthy balanced diet and this will help keep you focused for long periods of time when studying or sitting exams.”

Always remember that whether you or your child is part of an independent or department of education school, there is always access to someone who can assist them with their welfare. Associate Professor Ebi Cocodia recommends the following external platforms for anyone who feels as though they need support:

What tips do you have for this year’s HSC students? Tell us in the comments below.

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  • Keeping them healthy both physically and mentally.


  • Great advice. I do hope employers and unis take into account the terrible year these poor kids have had in trying to learn.


  • Very good advice for our teenagers.


  • Very timely but also let them know great careers and lives occur even if disappointed and also great results don’t mean everything is going to be easy. Lots more work opportunities and many career paths.


  • It’s going to be so difficult for all the students this year. These helpful tips will hopefully lead to a less stressful time than normal. I wish all the students the best of luck.


  • I really feel for them, and especially for the many Victorian VCE students I know. Some have flourished at home away from all of the bitchiness etc. and some have struggled. I’m sending my dear friend’s daughter a Study fragrance as a reminder to keep calm and some personalised cookies to know she’s loved and being thought of.


  • Year 12 is hard enough let alone having to deal with Covid. All great tips. It is such a pressure filled year anything that helps kids relax is good.

    • Yes the impact of Covid on learning has been quite significant


  • Structure your day is important.This will help study and reduce stress.


  • In SA much has gone back to normal so our HSC kids should be ready to go.


  • wow it is so tough for these students at this time


  • VCE has been a total mess for Victorian students this year.

    • Covid has made life during 2020 so different and at times challenging for so many.

      • Yes I really feel sorry for Victorian students, Covid’s impact is massive.


  • Exercise, eat well and manage time are terrific tips for exams and for all stages of life!


  • Tough for all the kids right now especially in VIC


  • I imagine this is just in Victoria as the rest of the country has returned to school as normal?


  • My daughter will be in yr 12 next year, we’ll see how she copes then. From one thing I’m convinced; she won’t be tempted to spend all her waking hours studying for upcoming exams, lol !


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