As our students commence the final days before their HSC examinations, it’s a very prudent time to reflect on some key strategies and tips that may help their families support them through this rollercoaster of a time.

  1. Keeping a Balance

One of the biggest support mechanisms and structures that a family can put in place is helping the HSC student keep a balance between their studies, family time, relaxation, exercise and social time commitments. All of these important elements of an HSC student’s life can be managed – provided they are in the right proportions.

So what is the right proportion of each? That will vary depending on the student and the family. The key is to talk about observations, such as, ‘I think you are spending too much time focusing. How about we have a milkshake down at the shops?’

2. Constant Positive Reinforcement

Do not overestimate the power of giving positive reinforcement and encouragement to an HSC student. By giving specific reinforcement, such as, ‘It was great how you wrote that essay in 45 minutes. See, you can do this’, provides an external voice and trust for times when the HSC student may be doubting themselves. This is a very subtle way of letting the HSC student know that you are thinking of and caring for them and helps restore some well-needed balance in thinking.

3. Quiet Learning Places

The HSC examinations will be conducted with minimal noise, no talking and no music in the ears. The best way to prepare for this is to complete practice papers under those same conditions. Encourage your HSC student to replicate the HSC conditions so as to optimise their performance. The closer they practise to the conditions of the HSC examination, the better prepared they will be for the examinations.

4. How to Approach Conversations

The emotions of teenagers are often erratic and sometimes unpredictable, but the HSC student has to deal with those emotions as well as the pressures of the HSC. Central to supporting them is carefully constructing the conversations at home to convey the purpose of your message without igniting the fuse to the emotions. A supportive and encouraging tone, pitched at the right time, will often get the best response.

5. Food and Sleep

It is no surprise that food and sleep are two elements that need your attention. Having a healthy diet with foods that will sustain the energy levels required is important. So too are the special treats after an examination. It is amazing how much energy can be consumed after a three-hour mathematics examination. Arriving home to one of their favourite treats or meals for dinner can make a world of difference.

Sleep is really important – perhaps the most important of all of these tips and strategies. Getting the right number of hours in the right conditions is important, monitoring not just the quantity but also the quality of sleep. I used to use a bulls-eye star chart – I would draw a bulls-eye and have students use stars to label each night’s sleep quality, thus allowing me to easily identify any trends.

6. Choosing the Battles

The key during the HSC examination period is choosing between the battles and the war. I’ve always started with the end picture in mind – that is, a healthy HSC student who has achieved their best and a family or community intact. Often this means that things like the jobs around the house, the conversation about how tidy their room is, or how long they spent in the shower tends not to be my focus. Sometimes during this period the best support you can give is doing some of these jobs for them – making their bed or cleaning their floor can make a world of difference and gives the subtle message that you care. Sometimes it is the small things that make the difference.

7. One Day it will All be Over

What got me through my HSC was thinking to myself, ‘one day this will all be over’. I made a sign and put it above my study desk (I also did it for my PhD!) to remind me that it will not always be like this. The examinations will last for four weeks. After that, the pressures will subside and the next chapter will be waiting for each student.

There is no golden rule for supporting an HSC student. The key, from my experience, is about loving, caring and supporting them each day. We want this experience to be as rewarding as possible and small gestures can make the world of difference.