Doing Your Final Exams During COVID-19? Here’s What An Expert Recommends You Do

Struggling with Year 12 exam stress in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic? Here’s what you need to know.

Let’s get one thing straight: this year has been a hot mess—and not the good kind. Even more so if you were in your final year of high school. With an historically devastating bushfire season at the beginning of the year, a global pandemic, a politically volatile U.S. election and conversations about police brutality and systemic racism towards Black people, the world has completely disrupted the traditional final chapter in Year 12s adolescent lives.

Speaking to Syrup in the IG DMs, Georgisha, a Year 12 student from Brisbane, says “before COVID-19, I was excited to venture into the real world but now I’m terrified. I’m scared to be thrown into ‘adulthood’ when there’s limited job availability.” 

For Eva in Victoria, she experienced two different lockdowns—which meant two different periods of online school. “The first time was rough but I got through it by thinking it would all be over once it was done,” she says. “But when we got to lockdown the second time, it broke me. I had no motivation, I would break down from stress. What made it worse was dreading how close exams were but still not motivating myself to do anything!”

Whether you’re in the middle of your Year 12 exams, have just recently finished them or are dreading the forthcoming educa-pocalypse Aka Friday, the 18th December at 9AM, we thought you could use some expert advice on how to cope. And a comforting hug, but who doesn’t need that? So, Syrup spoke to Claire Goodall, a former teacher turned Schools Manager at ReachOut. 

What advice do you have for Year 12 students who are about to do—or are in the middle of doing—their final exams in the middle of the pandemic?

“We know that this is a really stressful time for some students, and it can be particularly hard when your exams are spread out over a long period of time,” says Goodall. “My advice for those in the middle of Year 12 exams right now is to not forget about those basic but important things that are going to help keep you in a good frame of mind and maintain your energy levels to the very end. That includes things like getting enough sleep, eating well and making sure you are taking plenty of breaks. If you need some extra support ReachOut has heaps of info about dealing with exam stress and study stress.”

If someone is stressed about their exam results, what are some things they can think about to calm their exam anxiety?

“The time period between finishing exams and getting results can be a really tough one to deal with,” says Goodall. “Many students get caught up in the anticipation of getting their results and what that will mean for their future.”

“If it’s something that’s on your mind right now it’s important to find ways to cope in the moment. One thing I recommend is to use this time to focus on the hobbies that take you away from your phone and potentially the chats with friends which might be adding to your anxiety. Team sports, baking and reading are just some of the things you could do. If the stress is impacting you in a big way, talking to a parent, your GP or a mental health professional or logging on to ReachOut can be really helpful too. 

As ReachOut’s Schools Manager, what’s the one thing you’ve noticed students felt has been the most different about high school this year?

“COVID-19 restrictions have impacted the lives of young people in particular this year. Online learning, stress about the future and dealing with constant change are just some of the things that are on students’ minds.” 

“One thing I have been hearing a lot from students and teachers is about how much incredible resilience we are seeing right now. So many students across the country are doing their best under the circumstances and I think we should really commend them for that.”

“It’s also important to remember that for those students that are not feeling very resilient right now that’s also ok. ReachOut is a great place to start if you want to learn more about how you’re feeling and how to connect with support.”

What advice do you have for students who have been more concerned about their future than before?

“Young people are telling ReachOut that stress about the future is one of the biggest issues they are facing at the moment. This makes a lot of sense as they deal with constant change and their first experience of a recession.”

“What can help is to take small, proactive steps towards your future goals. For example, that could mean looking for work experience in the field you are interested in, speaking to someone at school about how to go about making decisions about what to do after you finish studying or even reaching out to people in fields you are interested in.”

What advice do you have for a Year 10 or 11 student who’s preparing for their final years of high school?

“As students progress into their senior years of school it can feel like the pressure is starting to kick in and that school is getting serious all of a sudden,” shares Goodall. “My advice for students in those years is to learn how to make their wellbeing and mental health a priority which will be really helpful during the more challenging times of these years.”

“Students can start to do this by thinking about the things they enjoy doing and making plans about how they can continue to make time for these things. For example: selecting subjects which they enjoy, participating in team sports and spending time with friends.”

How have education boards involved with the HSC, VCE, QCAA and others taken into account the impact the COVID-19 pandemic may have on students’ results?

“Most students doing Year 12 exams across Australia have been impacted in some way by COVID-19 restrictions,” explains Goodall. “Online learning, uncertainty and dealing with constant change has not made this an easy year to be in Year 12.”

“Each state has had to make different decisions about what this means for Year 12 assessments and exams, and certainly in some cases there have been significant changes. It can be really useful to have a conversation with your school so that you know exactly what is going to happen with your results and what avenues are open to you if you have been adversely impacted this year.”

Julian Rizzo-Smith is a writer and producer. He also claims to be a vine historian, avid connoisseur of low-fi beats, indie hip hop and Kermit memes. In a perfect world, he’d be married to Tyler the Creator, own an Arcanine and a Lapras, and don his own Sailor Scouts uniform. He tweets @GayWeebDisaster, which is also, coincidentally, how one might describe him.