For many Victorian senior students, sitting their Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) exams is the final hurdle in their secondary schooling – often providing them with a sense of closure.
Despite all the COVID-19 disruptions 2020 has thrown at our school communities, which have forced them to adapt and be flexible, the end-of year-exams will go ahead and Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks (ATARs) will be received.
While society might look and feel a little different to what students envisaged in January, these exams provide a means to an end – the completion of Year 12.
But that doesn’t mean they have to prepare for their exams alone.
There are steps parents, carers and students themselves can take to get through the final peak of their secondary schooling.
1) Acknowledge the journey so far
There is literally no rule book for how Year 12s should be feeling right now.
A once in a life-time pandemic just so happened to coincide with their final year of secondary school, that’s the definition of disruptive.
Ruminating on things that can’t be controlled, like certain lockdown restrictions or rules, will make any anxiety about the exam period worse.
What’s more beneficial is for the focus to be on what they do have influence over like prioritising their health and wellbeing, practicing good study habits and developing goals for the future.
Acknowledge how far they have come and be proud. Each day of study and every completed piece of school assessed coursework (SAC) has brought them closer to completing the year, and the finish line is in sight.
2) Set yourself up for success
Looking after our wellbeing has never been more important, especially for Year 12 students.
It’s not always easy, but applying good sleeping, eating and exercise habits can help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that many students would ordinarily be feeling, regardless of a global pandemic.
Stress can have a significant impact on our functioning, so it’s essential that students look after their mental health and wellbeing during this time.
Eating a balanced diet at regular intervals, staying hydrated, going for a walk, run or playing sport and getting adequate sleep (research typically recommends eight to 10 hours a night) helps our bodies function optimally.
Other research has shown sleep is also important to consolidate learning and helps retain information acquired during study.
3) Practice, practice, practice
Where possible try to imitate the exam environment when completing practice exams. This helps students feel more prepared to cope with the conditions of the actual examination experience.
Doing things like setting a timer to complete the practice exam, sitting up at a desk instead of slouched on your bed or couch, and working during daylight hours will help mimic exam conditions.
4) Plan for Plan A – but consider Plan B, C and D as well
Many students will receive the final score they are aiming to achieve or a career pathway they are hoping to pursue following their final year exams.
Pressure to meet expectations can create considerable stress and anxiety but there can be more than one way to achieve your career goals.
Plan ahead and create meaningful goals but try to keep things in perspective. Take each exam at a time; focus, study, sit the exam and then refocus.
Don’t panic if you feel you didn’t perform as well as hoped in an exam or you stumbled on a question, you cannot change the situation once the exam is over, so focus on the next exam and return to practicing good study habits.
5) ‘Bring the calm’
As the exams creep closer, parental worry and anxiety over ATAR scores may increase too.
Parents and carers need to ‘bring the calm’, not join the chaos. Parents can help by creating an environment of support, listening and validating the student experience.
Statements like “I hear you”, “I’m here for you” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” are more helpful than trying to smooth over their concerns – “don’t worry everything will be fine” can end up being untrue.
Have a conversation about their plan to manage the exam period and ask what you can do to assist. Avoid adding unnecessary pressure to the house by over-exaggerating study conditions, this will just increase anxiety.
It isn’t necessary for the whole house to go into a ‘cone of silence’, but ensuring your Year 12 student has a quiet place to work and that others respect their need to study is important. The house should continue to function as normally as possible.
Students have already shown how resilient they can be this year. Children, parents and teachers have all been tested by the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, it’s vital that students are compassionate to themselves, and each other, during this final chapter of their secondary schooling.