Exams can create an enormous amount of stress for students. Year 12 in particular is considered by some to be the most important year of schooling. There are many ways parents can support their teenager’s study as they work through their education.
It’s important that you make sure your teenager has lots of opportunities to play sport or pursue an artistic activity like drama or music. Also, try to make sure that they spend time with family and friends.
Parents can do lots of things to help teenagers develop smart study habits. These skills do not develop automatically, and parents will need to be patient while new habits develop and old, unhelpful ones are discarded.
A study friendly home
It is important to make your home a place where it is easy for your teenager to think.
Help eliminate distractions such as television, radio, talking, noisy younger children, and cluttered work areas. It is impossible to watch TV and study. Show how important schoolwork is by keeping the TV off during study time.
- Keep your conversation to a minimum and encourage younger children to use this time as their study or quiet time, too.
- Provide physical conditions that help concentration, such as good lighting, cool temperatures and a table or desk with a supportive chair.
- The work area should be neat and clutter free with enough space for reading and writing.
- Remind your teenager to sit with good posture in a comfortable chair. Lying down may be so relaxing that it interferes with concentration.
Making time to study
You can support your teenager by helping him or her focus on their study.
- Schedule study time. Study times should be scheduled for whenever there are the fewest distractions or interruptions. If your teenager needs help with establishing a routine, have a chat about which times could be best used for studying. Set that time aside at least five days a week. Use the afternoon or early evening as study time, as this leaves time later in the evening for relaxing activities.
- Plan study in two 50-minute blocks with a 5-minute break. One 50-minute chunk of study time is better than several hours full of distractions and interruptions. Use a kitchen timer or an alarm clock to signal breaks and to indicate the end of study time.
At exam time
Year 12 exam results do not represent your teenager’s future. The end of secondary school is the start of the next – and usually more exciting time – in your teenager’s life. The moment the exams are over, celebrate. Such a celebration is crucial, as the message you will be reinforcing is that the final score is incidental. Getting through high school is a wonderful achievement in itself.
It’s important to maintain the balance and routine you’ve established throughout the year. The brain and body are closely connected – your teenager might say they’re too busy to exercise or sleep but looking after their body will have great benefits on their mind.
When the exam results arrive
This period can be even more uncomfortable than the exams. Everyone is likely to feel tense while waiting for the results to arrive. Your teenager might fall short of their predicted scores, which can result in the goal of achieving a place at their chosen university, TAFE or apprenticeship feeling unreachable. Everyone in the family is treading on eggshells, and when the results do finally arrive, quite often the family can be too emotionally drained to celebrate or regroup.
You need to recognise that feeling on edge or uneasy is a natural response. Talk to your teenager about the way he or she is feeling and the choices and options available. Let them know that both you and their school are supportive.
When the results are not what your teenager hoped for
Don’t be fooled if your teenager appears to be indifferent to their results.
Almost all students care deeply about their results and about what their family and friends think.
- Encourage your teenager to talk and reassure them, clarifying that failing an exam doesn’t mean they’re a failure, and that while you may all be disappointed in the results, you are definitely not disappointed in them.
- If your teenager was after a score that would gain them a place in a particular university course, reassure them that all is not lost. There are thousands of university places being offered through the preference process, so there are other options available.
- Put things into perspective. Reassure your teenager that everyone loses out at some time or other in life, and that failing an exam isn’t the end of the world. Remind them that they can re-sit their exams or decide to pursue a different route.
- Encourage your teenager to look for positive ways forward, consider all available options. They may want to consider completing Year 13, working or travelling for a year, or doing an internship. A career counsellor or university advisor may be able to help.
- Tell your teenager that whatever happens, you fully support them.
Do’s and don’ts
- Guide, support and encourage your teenager
- Encourage healthy eating, regular exercise and plenty of sleep
- Take your teenager’s efforts seriously
- Create an effective workspace in the house if your teenager can’t study in their room
- Take a whole family approach to supporting your teenager
- Remind your teenager of their goals
- Give them positive feedback whenever possible
- Encourage them to take study breaks when necessary
- Remember, the final year is about your teenager, not you
- Help them put, and keep, the year in perspective
- Keep an eye on his or her emotional health – look for changes in sleeping or eating habits, and see your GP if you are worried about anything
- Let your teenager know that when they need you, you’ll always be there
- Encourage your teenager to believe in themselves
- Overload your teenager with domestic chores
- Tell your teenager to work harder or he or she will fail
According to the Mission Australia Youth Survey in 2019, coping with stress and school or study problems remain major concerns for respondents.1 Research has shown that Year 12 can increase rates of depression, anxiety2, suicidal thoughts3 and even suicide.4 In particular, the fear of failure and the apparent lack of prospects as a result of poor results in Year 12 were identified as major stressors for many young people. As well as managing school, many young people were also trying to cope with work, family and social commitments. The cumulative effect of these demands appears to be leaving many young people feeling besieged and struggling to cope.
1 Mission Australia (2019) Youth Survey 2019; page 4.
2 Gough D, Edwards H (2006) Pressure takes big toll on students. The Age Newspaper, April 16 2006.
3 McGraw, K., Moore, S., Fuller, A. and Bates, G. (2008), Family, peer and school connectedness in final year secondary school students. Australian Psychologist, 43: 27–37.
4 Robotham, J. (2003), Suicide linked to pressure of HSC. Sydney Morning Herald Newspaper, January 23, 2003.