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  • Writer's pictureInlight Psychology

Survival tips for the HSC - for students and parents

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

By Dr Liza Chervonsky, Clinical Psychologist and Director of Inlight Psychology

HSC exams are fast approaching and it’s at this time of the year that students and parents really start feeling the pressure. It can start feeling like life is just one exam after the next, day after day. It can feel like time is running out and there's just never enough time to prepare. It’s no wonder that emotions often run high at this point in the year. Understandably, students can feel a variety of emotions, including stress, anxiety, panic, anger, frustration, disappointment, and guilt. Parents are also not immune to these emotions. They want the best for their child’s future and often struggle with their own worries and frustrations.

Although it can feel completely consuming, it is important to find a way to get some relief from the stresses and worries of the HSC. Below are a number of tips for students and their parents to survive one of the most stressful years in a child’s life.


It is common for students to feel guilt and worry that they aren’t studying enough. Although it may seem like all your time should be dedicated to exam preparation, it is important to remember the following few things:

  • The human mind is not a machine. It gets tired and needs breaks.

  • While the HSC may not be particularly enjoyable, it shouldn’t be intolerable either. Your happiness is important and doing things that make you happy is key to maintaining a more positive mindset throughout the HSC.

  • People are more likely to feel motivated and energised if they are happy.

  • If you feel like the HSC is taking over all your life and taking you away from everything you enjoy, you will feel more resentment and anger towards study and exams, and will be less motivated to do the work.

  • Your health must remain a priority.

Maintain balance

Bearing the points above in mind, it is essential that students maintain a healthy balance in their life. Of course, some compromise may be needed, but not everything should be given up. The following areas are very important to maintain during the HSC year:

  • Social - Keep up regular contact with friends and family. Give yourself permission to talk about things other than the HSC.

  • Exercise – Exercise is known to boost mood and reduce anxiety, which will likely help you keep a more positive mindset during your HSC year.

  • Getting out - Get out of the house and away from any study environments. Enjoy the fresh air.

  • Fun activities and hobbies – It’s important to keep doing the things that you enjoy.

  • Relaxation and leisure - Do something nice for yourself and let yourself relax. Get a massage, have a bath, listen to some music, really anything that makes you feel more relaxed and helps take your mind off the HSC just for a little while.

  • Breaks and doing nothing in particular - Take breaks and let your mind recharge. Give yourself permission to do nothing once in a while.

Parents, it is important that you encourage your child to maintain this balance. Imagine if you were forced to do your job from morning to night, every day, and you weren’t allowed to do anything else. You’d be feeling awful pretty quickly! You wouldn’t expect this kind of imbalance in yourself, so remember not to put unrealistic pressures on your child to do the same.

Have a routine and schedule

Maintaining a routine and schedule can go a long way in keeping you on track. It can also help you feel more in control and on top of things. Below are some tips to maintaining a good schedule:

  • Use a calendar that subdivides your day into hours (e.g. 9am, 10am, etc) or parts (e.g. morning, afternoon, night).

  • Before planning your week, block out all the times you are unavailable. Don’t forget to block out time for sleep, getting dressed, eating, and travelling. Then, ensure that you have put in some times for exercise, friends, leisure, relaxation, and fun. You will realise that you don’t have as much time as you thought you did. This can create more a of a time pressure by tackling the common and deceptive thought "I have plenty of time”.

  • Assume everything will take longer than it will.

Parents, help your child put together a realistic schedule and routine. Don’t nag them constantly to do things but rather, encourage them to take responsibility of their own time management.

Develop study skills, and learn procrastination and time-management strategies

Study is not just something you do. It is a skill that can be developed over time and with practice. There are a number of strategies that can be learned to improve study skills and time management, and reduce procrastination. Take the time to learn these strategies and find something that works for you.

Don’t forget your health

Your health is incredibly important during this time.

  • Sleep - A good night’s sleep will go a long way in helping you feel refreshed, positive, and more motivated to study.

  • Diet – You need to keep eating well so that you have enough energy throughout the day to do the things that are important to you.

Parents, encourage your child to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Also, encourage your child to eat regular meals. Having a regular family meal time can also help your child maintain regular and healthy eating patterns. There is also the added benefit of your child being able to spend some positive social time with his or her family.


Your mindset is absolutely crucial during the HSC year. The kinds of thoughts you have about the HSC, yourself, your friends, your family, your future, and your abilities, can play a significant role in how you feel throughout the year. If you have healthy and positive thoughts, you will be far more likely to be happier, less stressed, more motivated, and more confident. Unhealthy and negative thoughts are strongly related to low mood, anxiety, panic, distress, low motivation, and a loss of confidence. Below are some key things to bear in mind, for both students and parents.

Maintain perspective

During the HSC year, it can start feeling like this year is the only thing that will determine the rest of your life. A good mark means success, uni, a good career… money, house, family, … look how far we’ve suddenly projected in the future. A bad mark on the other hand, means failure. Absolute and utter failure. There is no life after. Nothing after. No uni, no success, no money. Might as well just be out on the streets. But is it really this simple? Of course not.

Here are a few things to remember to keep yourself in check:

  • While a good mark in the HSC is one way to start your journey towards a career and success, it is not the only way.

  • There are many different universities, some closer and some further away, which can vary greatly in the entry requirements.

  • There are many other ways to develop your career - TAFE, apprenticeships, colleges, and bridging courses are just some of the options out there.

  • Not every job requires a university degree.

  • The word “mature” age entry into university is very deceiving. To attain mature age entry into university, you usually only need to be 21 years of age.

  • A year off study means you can get full-time work, gain experience and begin saving money. If you do go to uni a bit later, you may really appreciate having the extra cash saved up that a lot of other students around you may not have. You can also travel the world and work on your personal development, which can help you feel more sure of what you want to do when your focus returns to study or career development.

  • Your mark does not and will not define you. You will be surprised by how little it comes up ever again.

Parents, of course you may want your child to go to uni straight away. You may have a certain career that you want him or her to get into and you might have always dreamed of a certain kind of future for them. However, it is important that you keep in mind their capabilities, interests, and limits and see them as a separate individual. Pushing your child into a career that just doesn’t feel right for them and will cause them endless stress is just not worth it. Try to remain supportive and prioritise maintaining a calm environment in the home.

Manage expectations and keep perfectionism in check

If you are constantly setting yourself goals that you can’t achieve or if you feel that you are constantly falling below your standards, it may be more helpful to reduce your standards and expectations. There is nothing more unmotivating than constantly feeling like a failure. First, set yourself some goals that are easier to achieve. Once you experience a number of successes, you will find that your mood and motivation will improve. Only then, consider raising your standards (and only if it is necessary and manageable).

Parents, it is important you don’t place unrealistic expectations onto your children. If you set standards your children cannot achieve, you will feel disappointed and it will show. You will likely be more likely to criticise and nag, neither of which will help your child build confidence and motivation.

Keep a check on negative self-talk

Watch out for the following negative self-talk, which will likely reduce motivation, lower mood, and increase procrastination, stress, and frustration:

  • Self-criticism – Constantly bullying yourself, calling yourself names, focusing only on your shortcomings, magnifying your flaws, ignoring the positives and telling yourself you are a failure.

  • Catastrophising – Assuming the worst-case scenario will occur and assuming this outcome is highly likely (e.g. I’m going to fail this exam and the whole HSC).

If you can, try to be kind to yourself and to keep yourself in the present. You just don’t know what will happen in the future. You aren’t a fortune teller.

When to get help

If you are finding that negative emotions and thoughts are starting to really get in the way of your life, it may be useful to get some additional support. Some of the most common problems that present themselves during the HSC year include: panic, anxiety, stress, procrastination, poor time-management, low self-esteem, relationship difficulties with friends and family. If you are experiencing any of these difficulties, know that help is out there and treatments exist to help people get their lives back on track. If you would like to know more about clinical psychology treatments available at Inlight Psychology, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 8320 0566 or


Dr Liza Chervonsky is a clinical psychologist and the director of Inlight Psychology, in Bondi Junction. She provides psychological treatment to children, adolescents, adults, and parents, using a number of different therapeutic modalities, including CBT, DBT, Schema Therapy, ACT, and Mindfulness. If you would like to book an appointment with Dr Liza Chervonsky, please contact 8320 0566 or

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