Madeleine Taplin

The Higher School Certificate (HSC) examinations are looming on the horizon. For every child in the education system, the final Year 12 exams are often something approached with a sense of uncertainty, fear and anxiety. So, how do we ensure that amongst the stress of the past 2 months with COVID-19 lockdowns, the HSC progresses smoothly? Luckily for you, past students have all the tips you need to survive this period. We sat down with a previous HSC High Achiever to get all the answers you need to rest easy and relax in the lead up to, and when in the process of your final exams.

So, when did you graduate from High School?

I graduated in 2019.

What subjects did you do, and what bands did you get?

I did Mathematics, Mathematics Extension, English Advanced, Modern History, History Extension, Chemistry and Economics. I got a Band 6 in all.

What was the thing that you were most stressed about leading up to the examinations?

The uncertainty of not knowing what questions would be asked, and whether I had enough content or knowledge to support that. I was also stressed about my time management and being able to finish the exams on time. The actual process of doing these long exams was also quite stressful, given you haven’t really done anything that was that length before, even in trials. I was mostly pretty worried about how I would deal with that extra length.

How should students be dividing their time in the months leading up to the exams? Does this then change in the process of completing the exams?

I think you should divide your time evenly amongst your subjects, as each subject is equally important. Obviously, some subjects are heavier in content, so you do naturally spend a lot of time doing something like English given it has to be counted, but it is super important that you manage the time effectively. Don’t spend hours doing something you are already proficient in, target the areas that you are weaker in. If you are really good at Economics, don’t spend all your time practicing multiple choice questions for that when you could be spending time on something you find more difficult and challenging. It’s super important to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and structure your time around that accordingly.

What’s one thing you wish you knew about the exams?

I guess probably knowing that they aren’t the be all and end all! I know lots of people say that with retrospect that they weren’t the most important thing, but at the time it is really easy to get caught up in it. There are multiple ways of succeeding and following whatever you want to do post school. It’s important to also not apply too much pressure to yourself, as obviously the more pressure you apply, you might get more anxious and then not perform as well as you may have hoped.

How did you remove anxiety before exams? Did you have a certain ritual that you followed?

I actually found what worked well for me was that my mum would drive me to the exam, and we would sit in the car and talk about things not exam related. It helped me to get my mind off it.I didn’t read notes before the exams, or even on the day, because it made me more anxious that there were parts of knowledge I was missing. By forcing myself to take my mind off the exams, I found it actually helped to sooth my anxiety and allowed me to go in with a clear head and with the knowledge that I knew as much as I could, and that would need to be enough.

How do I maximise my marks? Is there something in particular that the markers are looking for?

I think you should not focus on what you think the examiners are looking for, but what you think is best fit for the question. Examiners and markers are all different and will each be looking for certain things. You should try and think about each question, and just simply answer it to the best of your abilities. There isn’t really any point in wasting time trying to predict what they want. Speculation isn’t advantageous, especially if you are in a high-pressure exam environment.

What’s one thing you wish you could tell your pre-HSC self?

To have more balance! I think that it’s very easy to get caught up, and for me I was highly determined and wasn’t able to relax unless I felt I had completed everything under the sun. It’s really important to get that balance, and as I progressed through my exams, I started walking in the afternoon with my mum to help get perspective and clear my head. It’s so easy to bury yourself in your books, but by doing that you end up missing parts of life that you will never get back. I actually had my 18th birthday in the HSC, and I had an exam on the day. Not being able to take time away from study and celebrate that milestone is something I regret. I wished I had been able to put aside the books and celebrate some of the smaller things and take in the life I was experiencing rather than pushing it aside to study. Life is just as much about the experiences you have been through then the knowledge you have, so make sure to take in the little things and give yourself a bit of a break!