The complete parent and carer guide to the HSC years

Students face a range of pressures during the HSC (Higher School Certificate) years in addition to their final exams but parents and carers can provide valuable support. Here's how.

11 and 12 years illustration

This is a challenging time for everyone so it’s important to be tolerant and understanding. Teenagers experience greater freedoms as they begin the HSC and new social horizons may seem more alluring than school.

Relationships might start to become more complex, for example, or a part-time job might make things harder. With the right information and approach, you can help your child not just survive but thrive.

Denise Tsirigos, English Advisor 7-12, says choosing a career and charting a way forward inevitably raises doubts and worries for teenagers.

“Grappling with that can be tough for parents and carers too. But over the long term we have found the most important thing is to be tolerant and consistent. Try to deal with the ups and downs in a calm way,” Ms Tsirigos says.

Be positive and informed about the HSC

Parents and carers naturally want to remain engaged during this time. You can do this by:

  • staying up to date
  • embracing a positive approach based on good information.

Aside from this website, the most reliable sources of information are:

Students often fear their exams are a ‘make or break’ moment but the HSC is not like this and reliable sources will always support this underlying message.

Technology and Applied Studies Advisor Dan Rytmeister says it helps to remind your child there are different ways to achieve their ambitions and many pathways towards future study and work.

“One of the biggest misconceptions for students and also parents is that the HSC determines their career and what they can do in life. It’s better to see that the HSC is only the beginning of the process of sorting out what you’d like to do after you leave school, not the end,” he says.

HSC and ATAR

To start with, it’s crucial to understand the difference between the HSC and the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank).

Video - HSC Assessment Moderation Explained (extended)

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Read the transcript for HSC Assessment Moderation Explained (extended).

The HSC is administered by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA). It includes a school-based assessment as well as exams and final marks are moderated to ensure fairness.

The ATAR is administered by the Universities Admission Centre (UAC). A student’s ATAR is a number that positions them relative to others in the HSC. It is a rank, not a mark, designed to help universities allocate places.

Video - Everything you need to know about the ATAR in (just over) 2 minutes

Duration - 2:13

Read the transcript for Everything you need to know about the ATAR in (just over) 2 minutes.

Planning for success

Making the best choice of subjects in Year 10 is another crucial step. Find out more by reading the guide, Help your child choose subjects for HSC.

You and your child will probably hear all sorts of theories about how to maximise HSC results but teachers will always advise students to pursue courses and subjects which:

  • they enjoy and are good at
  • help them move towards a career that interests them.

Maxine Acosta, Languages Advisor 7-12, says students do better when they focus on their natural talents.

“When choosing subjects you need to take into account your interests, abilities and possible career needs,” she says.

“You do much better and get more satisfaction studying subjects that you are interested in and able to do well in. Success involves the whole person and higher engagement means greater success at the HSC.”

Pattern of study

Whatever combination of courses and subjects your child ultimately chooses, it’s crucial they meet NESA’s pattern of study requirements. Your school will guide your child to make sure they meet these requirements.

Remember, every HSC student in NSW should receive a printed copy of their results. When students sign their confirmation of entry listing HSC details, they are also declaring that they have read the HSC rules and procedures guide.

Preparing for Year 12: Knowledge is power

The end of Year 11 is a chance to review how things are progressing. Encourage your child to look at their marks so far and identify strengths and weaknesses.

Consider any recalibration that could help in exams and their final year.

Past exams may provide some guidance about what to expect but take care. Remember:

  • Increasingly, HSC exam questions are designed to test transferable knowledge rather than specific content, making them less predictable than in the past.
  • The aim is for students to apply their skills to new questions and situations.

The best place for up-to-date advice and information about exam preparation is your child’s school. Here are a few other sources that may help:

  • Syllabuses define what students should learn in each subject, which is what they should expect to find in the test.
  • The HSC Study Guide, produced annually by the Sydney Morning Herald and NESA, provides answers to a wide range of questions.
  • You can purchase NESA’s HSC exam workbooks from its website. The workbooks include the guidelines markers use as well as examples of answers by top students.
  • NESA also provides marking feedback from past HSC exam papers.

Good academic practice

Students must complete the HSC All My Own Work Program. It’s a good idea for you to familiarise yourself with the key concepts too.

The program is compulsory and will be delivered through your child’s school, alerting them to issues like plagiarism, cheating and other ethical pitfalls.

Students will learn about ethical principles for scholarship. They are an important part of the HSC, and will be important in your child’s future studies and working life too.

Be a time coach

Students are busy during their HSC. They may need someone to remind them of their schedule for study and sport.

This is particularly the case during exam season when it’s helpful to have someone at home to keep an eye on the Year 12 calendar.

Critical dates include:

  • assignment due dates
  • exams
  • career days
  • university application deadlines
  • graduations
  • formals.

You can also help out by staying in touch with correspondence from the school. Students often miss the notes, emails and newsletters schools send, but these can be particularly important during HSC.

Suggest ways to minimise distractions. Can your child log out of social media accounts for a few weeks, for example? Help them stay organised but remember not to take over their life – this could create unnecessary conflict.

Stay involved

During the final HSC year, students need more support than ever. This can come in a variety of forms:

  • showing a genuine interest in what they’re doing
  • letting them know you respect them and understand the challenges they face
  • showing you care about their future and what kind of career they will have
  • reassuring them you’re there to support them if things don’t go to plan with their marks or other aspects of life.

You might find that there are also some practical issues that you will need to address, although they might not be evident straight away. Start a conversation by:

  • asking about teachers and subjects
  • discussing the weekly school timetable – does it conflict with other priorities such as sport, social life or part-time work?
  • asking how they feel about their progress and performance – what steps can they take to improve and how can you help?

Jaquie McWilliam, English Advisor 7-12, says parents and carers sometimes underestimate how important their support and interest can be for their child’s confidence during the HSC.

“Knowing someone cares and that all the effort they are putting into school is appreciated can make all the difference,” she says.

A sense of perspective

You should always encourage your child to study and work to the best of their ability but also balance their lives with friends, family, health and rest.

A good diet and healthy routine helps maintain concentration and energy levels. This should include:

  • plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables
  • lots of drinking water
  • moderated caffeine – if your child must have a coffee, try to limit it to one per day and don’t drink coffee after midday
  • plenty of sleep – teenagers don’t always realise how much sleep they need; at least eight to 10 hours a night is recommended
  • exercise and time to switch off and relax each day.

Prudence Greene, Leader, Secondary Education, says it’s understandable students and parents want to achieve the best results in the HSC.

“But in the determination to succeed students should not forget that a balanced life is key to success,” she says. “Too much of a focus on one area can be counter-productive.”

Dealing with setbacks and asking for help

As a parent or carer, you have a crucial supporting role when students are struggling with setbacks.

Disappointments can sap the confidence of students throughout Year 12. This brings with it the risks of losing interest in school or studying and a lack of direction. Try to be sensitive to early warning signs at home.

  • Sometimes students will suddenly stop communicating about what is happening in their school life.
  • They may also react negatively or aggressively to questions or requests and become moody and argumentative.
  • They can also become more distant, lethargic and detached from daily life.

Many teenagers feel uncomfortable about reaching out for help when they face problems.

You don’t always have the resources to fix things yourself, but you can help find people who do. These could be teachers, school counsellors or even psychologists outside of the school system.

For more serious troubles, you can also try contacting eheadspace Support (call 1800 650 890) or Kids Helpline (call 1800 551 800).

These organisations provide private and confidential telephone and online counselling services to young people and their families.

Reachout.com also has a great section for parents. It's a resource for practical support, tools and tips to help get through everyday issues as well as tough times.

Be patient

If you can play a positive and constructive role at home, your child will be better able to navigate the challenges of their HSC years.

Grumpy and stressed teenage students can be prone to angry outbursts.

They may be highly sensitive, worried about their future and their abilities. Small things can set them off. Remember:

  • The immediate targets of these outbursts are often family members.
  • Try to avoid overreacting as this well help keep situations manageable.
  • Remind your child about the need to balance study with rest and leisure time.
  • Students might need a whole weekend off from studying to regain mental energy and freshness.
  • Exercise and diet can affect moods.

Managing expectations

Focusing on achievable goals, both for HSC and life generally, will help your child relax and perform better.

  • Be aware course choices might change as HSC progresses, depending on developments.
  • Examine different options after school. There are pathways to further study other than HSC and mature-age students often do better as university students.
  • Encourage your child to be independent. This will help them meet the demands of Year 12 and be better prepared for tertiary education and the workforce.

Students with sensible, achievable aims for the HSC are more likely to leave school feeling optimistic and confident about their future. Ultimately, that is more important than anything else.

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