How to help your teen overcome HSC disappointment

Helping them overcome disappointment ...
Helping them overcome disappointment ... Photo: Getty

What can parents do if the worst happens during exam time? We ask CEO Jonathan Nichols for his top tips.

With an incredible amount of pressure from peers and teachers – not to mention themselves – disappointment is something many teens find themselves facing at HSC time.

Katie, now 22, know all too well how it feels to not live up to the expectations she set for herself.

"I worked so hard at high school to make sure I'd get the ATAR needed to get into my dream university course," she says.

"By the final exams, I'd put in huge study hours and even had a tutor to help me in the subjects I struggled in. But when I bombed out in the one subject I thought I'd do really well in, I knew I'd just blown my ATAR."

So how can you help your child through it if it happens to them?

"We need to remember that there is life after Year 12 exams," says Jonathan.

"Year 12 for most, is the first of many challenges that one will experience in their life. Although the pressure is high, parents need to encourage their child approach it with the best possible attitude and preparation."

What should I say to my teen if they are worried they didn't do well in an exam?

"Let your child know that you won't think less of them if they don't do well in a particular exam," advises Jonathan. "It's likely your child is already dealing with a lot of pressure and so it helps to stay calm and offer support."

Angharad, 52, is the mother of three boys – the last of whom is completing his HSC. And she says she learnt through experience that it's best to let your child take the lead in this conversation.

"When I pick my son up from exams I let him be the one to talk about it," she says. "Probing them with questions and letting your own expectations get in the way is the worst thing to do.

"I tell him, 'Well, it's done now and you can't change it. There's no point in going over what you did wrong – you've done what you can and its all part of the journey.'"

What can I do if there was an extenuating circumstance that saw my child not perform as well as they expected?

"Career advisers at school are usually still available after exam results are out," advises Jonathan. "Give them a call or email them to talk about your options."

If my child doesn't get the ATAR needed for their preferred uni course, what should I say?

"Talk about alternatives or Plan B's," says Jonathan.

"Don't assume that the best result is the only one that is acceptable. Talk about a range of options and help your child understand that any one of them would be great."

Again, he suggests getting in touch with the school advisor for help post-exams if you are struggling with those options.

But my child is still really set on that course – what now?

Katie is living proof that getting the ATAR entry score isn't the only way to achieve the dream.

"I got into my second choice and then transferred the next year – after working my tail off, I might add," she laughs. "I didn't want to let my dream go. And studying something else was a good way of realizing that it was definitely worth fighting for."

What else can I tell my teen to give them comfort at this time?

Remind your child that there are plenty of people who didn't get the marks they wanted, but they've gone on to bright futures regardless.

"Tell your child that their grades do not define their worth," he recommends.

"Every prominent Australian who we spoke to when we launched [ initiative] There's Life After Year 12 Exams, strongly believe that their lives were in no way defined by their exam results."

"Attaining a mark below the entry level doesn't mean that you have completely failed," Jonathan insists.

"It sounds tough, but most people end up changing their career path five to seven times during their lives. So your final exams is just one path of several more to come."

For more tips and to read the personal stories of how others have gotten through this time, head to for more.