Year 12 exams stress: 5 steps to cope

So you’re nearly finished year 12 and a bright future lies ahead of you. Whether you’ve decided on university, a trade or some other path, there is just one final hurdle that stands in your way, year 12 exams.

For some people, the end result will be inconsequential for their chosen career path, for others, their hopes might be riding on the attainment of a certain number. Regardless of what the future holds for you, it’s important to know how to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety or fear that may arise as a result of the difficult exam period. To learn more, I spoke with Jayne Ferguson, Senior Clinician and Assistant Manager at Relationships Australia Victoria about strategies for success and how best to apply them to our own lives.

  1. Immediate stress relief

If you’re feeling worked up and find that you’re struggling with negative thoughts or inability to concentrate, Jayne has some useful strategies for you.

Firstly, count to ten and as you do so, breathe deeply with long, slow breaths to calm the heart rate and alleviate physical symptoms of stress. Play with a pet, our beloved animals are bona fide stress relievers. Remove yourself from the physical situation, maybe use this time to stretch or take a little stroll. A breath of fresh air and some sunshine can be super helpful! Jayne also says it’s useful to keep a list of hobbies that make you feel relaxed or that you enjoy, and choose one to do when you feel overwhelmed.

It’s also important to know who in your life you can turn to when you need support, Jayne suggests nominating four key, trusted individuals who you can consult in times of stress. They may include your parents or other family members or trusted friends.

  1. Best tips for studying

Routines and rituals, Jayne advises, are the key to improving the quality of your study and lessening the extent of your stress. It might feel difficult or even unnatural to stick to a study plan, but doing so could be the key to your success. “Base your schedule on what you have coming up, if you have both an English and math exam, spend equal time on each.” While it might be tempting to study more on the subject you prefer, it’s better to spread your time equally. The most important thing to remember when planning your study is to factor in regular breaks and work hard to adhere to these. You can also:

  • Have a dedicated study spot in your house that encompasses all your study needs, for example it should be comfortable, with adequate lighting and pleasant temperature.
  • Make use of the library or similar space, as you might find it helps your concentration.
  • Keep your study space free of distractions, leave your phone in another room (if you can’t easily reach it from where you’re sitting, it can’t distract you. Getting up to retrieve it takes way too much effort! Instead use a timer or watch to help stick to your plan.
  • Reduce other responsibilities; speak to your parents about lessening your chores during this time. If you have a part time job, let your employer know in advance that you’ll be requiring some time off, or at least less shifts than normal – this is a reasonable request for you to make that any good employer will be understanding and will not guilt nor pressure you. Remember, the earlier you let them know, the better.
  1. How do I beat procrastination?

Maybe this sounds familiar: a pressing due date edges ever closer and yet your books remain discarded on the floor and laptop closed as you scroll through social media for “just another ten minutes”. We’ve all been there, sometimes getting motivated to study is harder than the study itself. Jayne has a few suggestions to beat that pesky urge to procrastinate.

  • Firstly, you need to have an enticing activity planned as a reward for studying. This gives you something to work towards and an incentive to apply yourself. Make this reward a fun activity that you enjoy doing, such as a swim, screen time or a coffee date with friends.
  • Remind yourself of the end goal, ask “why I am I studying?” Think about the benefits that you will receive if you knuckle down and stick to your study plan. Maybe it’s that you’ll get that mark that you’ve worked for all semester, you’ll make your parents proud, you’ll secure a place in the course your heart is set on. Whatever it might be for you, keep the end goal in mind and hustle your way towards it.
  • Schedule some procrastination time into your study plan. It might sound counterintuitive, but if you know that you’re prone to putting things off, don’t make a study plan that is chock a block with work and no downtime, make it challenging but also realistic and it will be easier to stick to. On that note…
  • Hold yourself to your schedule and factor in breaks. A schedule that includes quality focused hours with a satisfying break in between is more valuable than an arduous cram session the night before your test.

  1. What advice do you have for someone that is afraid they won’t receive the marks they wanted?

If you remember nothing else from this article, take this: your ATAR isn’t everything. It may sound clichéd, no doubt someone’s told you something similar, and maybe it’s been used as a pacifying statement rather than actual helpful advice, but this is one of Jayne’s most significant pieces of wisdom. There are a plethora of other options for your life going forward: whether you go to university, do an internship or cadetship, undertake a course at CIT, TAFE or another institution, whether you go into a trade or fast track your career by heading directly into a job after school, your marks don’t determine your life, you do.

Listen to your self-talk, is it kind, patient and forgiving, or is it full of criticism and put downs? Try not to be so hard on yourself; instead treat yourself with the same kindness and patience that you would with a stressed out friend or loved one. Use this rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, why say it to yourself?

Additionally, remember that you’re not alone in your struggles, there are students all over Australia, in fact, all around the world who are also under pressure right now. If you have concerns, seek out one of your four support people and talk to them about it. Vent to a trusted friend, family member or counsellor, even writing your worries down can take away their power.

“The worry in our head is often greater than the worry itself.”


  1. How to deal with your parents (or carers) who may be feeling negatively over your results

If you’re worried that a parent’s reaction to your grades may be negative, Jayne recommends to open a dialogue with them before the result are released. Talk to them about your concerns before the time comes. Let them know that you have been working hard and trying your best, but that you are still worried about your end result. Sometimes adults forget how it felt when they were in your position. No doubt it’s been a number of years since they studied and they might find it difficult to put themselves in your shoes. By providing your parents with adequate forewarning, you may help to prevent a reactive reaction; being prepared for the outcome helps us to control our emotions accordingly, so let them know what to expect. If you need extra support, seek out the help of a counsellor for advice or take your family to a counselling session.


The main takeaways from this article, for those that are too busy studying to read it in full:

  1. There is no one ‘right’ path. There are so many ways that you can live a fulfilling life and have a satisfying career, even if you don’t get the marks you wanted. There are internships and cadetships, bridging courses, trades, courses in CIT or TAFE and entry level jobs. Your life is yours, you can make the most of it regardless of what number you ATAR is.
  2. Preparing in advance will help lessen the stress later on, and this will ring true for many aspects of your life, whether it be making your study schedule or informing your parents, carers or employer of a stressful upcoming period.
  3. Your ATAR doesn’t measure the quality of your character, your talents, your empathy, how kind you are to your friends, siblings or family. It doesn’t take into account every time you’ve held a door for someone, the time you returned an important lost item to someone, or the multitude of other characteristics that make you the unique, and important individual you are.



For more, check out these links:

  2. Smiling mind app, headspace app, Kids Helpline,


The author Kelly White is the Project Officer for Neighbour Day and a recent university graduate with a degree in communications and media. Her sister Hayley is currently sitting her HSC exams.