4 Powerful Strategies for Reducing HSC Stress

When you’re around the age of 16 to 18 years old the looming HSC (Higher School Certificate in NSW, Australia) or final year high school exams, can sometimes feel overwhelming.

While most high school students are fairly practiced at sitting exams by the time they’re in Year 12, there is immense societal and often family pressure placed on students. As a society (ie in the media, in social conversations and in the context of university admissions) we place immense value on HSC outcomes. Many adults with life experience will understand that, whilst the HSC is important for all of these societal reasons, it is possible to be successful or even highly successful in life irrespective of one’s HSC outcomes. Students in the latter years of high school, however, do not always have this perspective and the HSC can seem as overwhelming as climbing Mount Everest might seem for an inexperienced climber.

The expectations and pressures felt by HSC students are sometimes the key source of anxiety or stress that these students experience. There is endless evidence and it is well accepted that this kind of stress and anxiety can often actually hinder, rather than help performance. The desire or need to do well and achieve great results (and meet societal and family expectations) can often be the very catalyst for the kind of stress and anxiety that reduces performance – ultimately and potentially becoming a self-defeating cycle. (Not all stress leads to negative outcomes – stress can be very important in relation to achieving positive outcomes too).

So what are the strategies for reducing HSC stress? How can students find the balance between being motivated without being overwhelmed? How can students learn to address the negative stress and anxiety that they feel in relation to the HSC, feel more positive, and harness their potential?

My work with adults and also high school/HSC students suggests that there are some core strategies that are effective to reduce HSC stress. However, I should also note that every student is different, and consideration should be given to an individual’s specific needs before homogeneously applying these strategies. Certain levels of stress or anxiety could suggest a mental health disorder for which it may be useful to consult a trained mental health professional.

Strategies for Reducing HSC Stress:

1. Chunk Things Down and Take One Step at a Time

Overwhelm can often be a cause of HSC stress. When you, as a student, consider the extent of the work at hand, the task of preparing for the HSC can seem enormous, if not impossible. As long as you continue to focus on the enormity of the task, you’re likely to continue to feel overwhelmed.

When you listen to climbers who have climbed Mt Everest, they will often say that aren’t focused on the summit, the top of the mountain, while they are climbing. In fact, if they are focused on the summit while they are climbing there is a higher chance of injury. What they are focused on, and what they need to focus on, is where they are going to place their foot next. As long as they are headed in the right direction and they keep taking individual steps, they will have their best chance of getting to the top.

The HSC is not different. It’s important to chunk things down – break the task into smaller and smaller tasks until you have a series of steps that you can take towards achieving your HSC goals. If you have a couple of hours to study after school then focusing on your entire syllabus isn’t going to be helpful. What is helpful is to chunk the work down into a 2 hour step and then complete that step. And, while you are completing that step, focus only on what you are doing.

2. Focus on One Thing At A Time

Building on the previous example, we are more effective when we focus on one thing at a time. So, when we are studying, it’s useful to remove all distractions such as phones, computers, emails, etc. If you’re going to study for English for a couple of hours, then put all your focus and attention to English. If you think about an unfinished task that doesn’t involve what you’re studying, simply write it down and tell yourself that you’ll come back to it when you’re finished with your current studying activity. Focusing on one thing at a time isn’t something that we are all good at, or something that we’ll do effectively without practice. So set your goal to focus on what you’re doing, and when you get distracted, acknowledge the distraction, find a way to get it out of your mind (such as writing it down to do later) and then come back to what you were studying in the first place.

There are some very simple and effective techniques, such as mindfulness or meditation,  that can help you to develop your capacity to focus on one thing at a time.

3. Have an Effective Study Plan

Studying for the HSC requires a strategy and a plan. Before you simply jump into the work, step back and reflect on your goals – what you’re trying to achieve. Investing some time in a plan is one of the most effective ways to ensure you achieve your goals. Without a plan, it’s easy to run out of time for a subject, or forget to revise an important area of work. Most importantly, however, when you have an effective study plan your mind will be more at ease and allow you to focus on one thing at a time. When your mind knows that it doesn’t have to worry about what needs to happen next (because it is already pre planned), then it will support you to focus on the task at hand and make your studying more effective.

4. Practice Recognising Your Achievements

In our society, we are all very adept at recognising the gap between where we are and where we want to be. If we get 7/10 on a test, we are very good at focusing on the 3 that we missed out on and generally pay very little attention to the 7. And, while it is important to learn from our experiences, it can often lead to an imbalance in our thinking and therefore negative thinking cycles. While this is also a general life skill, when you’re studying for your HSC it’s extremely important that you learn to recognise and acknowledge your achievements and successes too.

The key to practice recognising your achievements builds on the previous strategies. Firstly, it’s all about the small achievements (related to chunking them down) – not just the big ones. From an HSC perspective, if we only recognise the big achievements then we may only recognise our achievements once at the end of the HSC. Recognising small achievements means every time we complete a section or a study task there is an opportunity to pause for a moment and give ourselves a small pat on the back and acknowledge we have just completed something. And every time we complete a larger task there is an opportunity to perhaps celebrate in some way.

So what is the value in recognising these small achievements? That is a question that I am often asked.

One way to find out the answer is to simply try it – practice spending 5 minutes a day recognising and acknowledging everything that you completed or did well that day. This might sound easy, but 5 minutes is a long time and if we aren’t use to recognise our successes we may actually find this hard to do until we practice and getter better at doing it. Try doing it every day for a week and you will most likely discover the answer for yourself.

Every time we recognise an achievement it is an opportunity to feel a sense of satisfaction. When we feel satisfied, it will often give us a greater sense of confidence and generally helps us to feel good. When we feel good, we are usually more motivated to complete the next task. On the flip side, every time we don’t acknowledge or recognise a small success or achievement we are simply missing out on feeling good about ourselves, feeling motivated and/or feeling more confident.

When we practice recognising achievements we also practice having a positive thinking cycle, which helps us to feel less stressed.


When stress impacts our ability to perform effectively, it is not useful. These strategies are some simple and powerful ways to reduce HSC stress. They need practice, and also require you to be patient and compassionate with yourself as you learn a less stressful and more rewarding way of approaching the HSC.

If you have difficulties with these practices, then it may be useful to work on a short-term basis with a professional who can guide you through the learning and help you to remove some of the barriers in your thinking that may not be useful.


Harley Conyer



Harley Conyer is a professional counsellor and coach who works with men and young men to achieve their greatest potential at home, at school, at work, and in their lives in general

For more information please visit Menstuff





Category : Blog & Men's Coaching and Counselling & Parenting & Stress Reduction & Young Men

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