Paisley Psychology Services

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Coping with the pressure of Year 12 final exams

Completing VCE exams can be really stressful. There can be a lot of pressure to do well and get ‘good’ results. This can include pressure that you put on yourself as well as pressure you feel from others.

This year has been an especially difficult year to undertake VCE. The global COVID-19 pandemic has meant that there have been significant changes in schools, most notably the move to remote learning. This has been disruptive for many students, although some have had a positive experience.

In addition to the changes to schooling, there may have been stresses at home - such as job loss and family tensions. It has been a time of heightened anxiety - about people’s health and wellbeing as well as academic results. Restrictions to social contact have been severe and it has been tough to be unable to see family and friends for several months.

The State Government have advised that adjustments will be made to students’ ATARS to reflect the impact of these changes on students’ learning and wellbeing. How these adjustments will be made or the translation of this into scores are unclear at this point. This has made it hard for VCE students to know where they stand and/or anticipate the potential impact on future plans. Again, this contributes to the usual anxiety of completing VCE and compounds feelings of stress, anxiety and depression associated with day-to-day changes and the health crisis.

If you are planning to study at Tafe or university, the ATAR score has a direct impact on your immediate future. It can seem like everything hangs on your results. Whilst it can be difficult to see, the results are one part of the picture – there are multiple options when you leave school and the choices that you make now do not need to be life long career decisions. There are often indirect routes to study in a certain area and university degrees now offer ‘general’ or broad degrees which become specialised in the second, third and fourth years. You could also take a year off study to travel, start an apprenticeship or get a job. Chances are that in a few years’ time, people are not going to ask: “what was your score?” In the meantime, however, no doubt many people – family, friends and others, will ask you about your results and you will need to handle those questions, particularly if you did not do as well as you had hoped.

However, there are a range of things that you can do to put your best foot forward, and manage the feelings of anxiety and negative thinking associated with exams which will help you to achieve our best. This tip sheet has a range of suggestions that you might find useful. Suggestions include: 1) techniques for managing mood, 2) techniques to change thinking so that it is more positive and 3) specific behaviours and activities that can improve mood, negative thinking and maximise effective study time.


One way of reducing anxiety and improving results is to use coping statements which are more positive ways of thinking. Choose three or four coping statements and write them down and display them somewhere prominent (e.g., on your calendar, in your diary, on your study desk) so that you can read and re-read them until they become second nature. You can use these coping statements in the lead up to the exams as well as in the actual exam itself.

Four statements are listed below. Click on the TIP SHEET for more examples.

  • STOP! These thoughts aren’t good for me.

  • I'm going to be all right. I'm just going to relax, calm down, and everything will be okay.

  • I’m going to give this my best shot.

  • I can deal with whatever happens.


There are a range of things that you can do to help you to study more effectively. Good preparation increases confidence and is more likely to lead to success.

Often there is a notion that students need to sit at their desk and read their text books for long periods of time. This is not necessarily the case. Young people (and older students too) need to find ways of studying that work best for them. This involves identifying specific ways of taking the information in and keeping it in your memory bank so that you can recall the details during the exam itself. Here are some suggestions.

Change the study environment

  • Find a quiet place with enough room to spread your things out

  • Minimise the distractions and interruptions

  • Good lighting


  • Find your best time. Do you study better in the morning or night time?

  • Take regular breaks. Studying for too long can decrease your performance.

  • Get up and move away from your desk

  • Have a drink or something to eat

  • Stretch your legs

  • Take a bathroom stop

Don’t cram for exams!

Cramming for exams can make you feel more overwhelmed, have trouble remembering, make you lose sleep and perform poorly.

  • Study in blocks of time. For example, you might study for say one or two hours and then take a break.

  • Set yourself targets or timelines e.g., review chapter X on Monday and chapter Y on Tuesday, English first and then maths

  • Make “to do” lists

Get a good night’s sleep

When you are tired, you will probably find it difficult to take information in let alone remember it later. Refer to the “12 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep” blog.


It is important to take care of yourself and stay motivated.

  • Do something that you enjoy. For example, continuing with your usual activities and/or choosing to do something a little different.

  • Exercise e.g., a walk or bike ride

  • Play sport

  • Get out and about with friends and family

  • Listen to music

  • Use deep breathing, relaxation exercises and meditation

Choose a study technique that works best for you

Everyone learns differently. It's important to find out what strategies work best for you.

  • Using a coloured highlighter for the ‘important’ bits

  • Taking notes

  • Writing notes in your workbook/textbook

  • Researching topics on the internet

  • Reading your notes aloud

  • Studying with friends – it is important to stay focused on the task at hand rather than just chat


Simulate the exam environment and complete a practice exam.

Ask for help if you’re stuck

Get some extra support

If you feel overwhelmed it can be helpful to talk with your parents, a trusted teacher or the school counsellor. Your GP can refer you to a professional such as a psychologist.

Best of luck with your exams!

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