Year 12 exams in the time of COVID: 5 ways to support your child to stress less and do better



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Erin Mackenzie, Western Sydney University; Penny Van Bergen, Macquarie University, and Roberto H Parada, Western Sydney University

Year 12 exams can be stressful at the best of times; this is particularly true for the Class of 2020.

Here are five ways parents and carers of Year 12 students preparing for their final exams can support them.

1. Check in and listen

It is important to remember teenagers are often more resilient than we think. In most cases, they can cope well with challenges. But some students find exams more stressful than others, and some may also be worried about the influence of COVID on their future.

Research consistently shows parental monitoring that supports the autonomy of the young people is linked with their better psychological adjustment and performance during difficult times. This means checking-in with your teen, seeing how they are going and empowering them to use whatever coping skills they need.

Unfortunately, in times of stress, many parents use a high-monitoring low-autonomy style. Parents may still monitor their teen’s coping but also take over, hurry to suggest solutions, and criticise the strategies their child is trying.

This is a low-autonomy style, which may signal to the young person their parent doesn’t believe in their ability to cope.

So, to not come across as controlling or undermining their autonomy:

  • ask your teen, “How are you coping?”

  • listen to their answers

  • check you have understood and ask if they need your support.

  • Let your actions be guided by their response. If they say “I’m very stressed”, ask if there is something you can do. You could say: “Tell me what you need to do and we’ll work it out together”.

If they do the famous “I dunno”, say something like “OK, think about it, I’ll come back in a bit, and we can chat”. Follow through and let them know you will check in more regularly over the coming weeks.

2. Encourage them to take care of their physical and mental health

Support your teen to get exercise, downtime and sleep. Exercise helps produce endorphins — a feel-good chemical that can improve concentration and mental health.

Downtime that is relaxing and enjoyable such as reading, sport, hanging out with friends or video games, can also help young people recharge physically and mentally. If you see your Year 12 child studying for numerous hours without a break, encourage them to do something more fun for a while.

A change of scene can help avoid burnout and helps students maintain focus over longer periods of time.




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Good sleep is important for alertness, and teenagers should aim for eight to ten hours per day. Sleep also helps memory consolidation: a neural process in which the brain beds down what has been learnt that day.

Even short-term sleep deprivation, such as five hours across a week of study, can have a negative impact on teens’ mood, attention and memory.

To ensure your child priorises self-care, help them put together a routine. This may involve scheduling specific times for exercise, meals and downtime each day, and breaking up blocks of study time with short breaks.

Also negotiate a nominated time for them to turn their phone off at night. Stopping phone use one hour before bedtime can increase sleep.

3. Help them maintain connections

Connections with friends are critical for young people, especially during times of stress. Teens regularly talk about academic concerns online, and may use online support more when stressed. Research shows seeking support in person is more effective than doing so online, so try to encourage your teen to connect with friends in person if possible.

But also be aware of the risks. Talking with friends over and over about problems can actually make young people feel worse. Your son or daughter may find their friends are increasingly leaning on them for support too, which can exhaust their own emotional reserves.

Two girls sitting on swings and chatting.
Connections with friends are important for stress.
Unsplash, CC BY

Encourage your child to use time with friends as time away from studying. It’s OK to seek support from friends, but help your child think about when might be too much — and to have a balance of happy and serious conversations when they are together.

Encourage your child to continue talking to you and to ask their teachers for help with academic concerns.

4. Help your child understand their own brain

When asked, most young people report frequently using rehearsal — which involves simply going over textbooks, notes or other material — as a study technique. This is one of the least efficient memory strategies.

The more active the brain is when studying — by moving information around, connecting different types of information and making decisions — the more likely that information will be remembered. Active study sometimes feels harder, but this is great for memory.




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Encourage your child to study actively by making their own test questions, reorganising information into concept maps, or explaining the topics to you. It can also help to “intersperse” different study topics: the brain grows more connections that way. It also gets more practice reactivating the original material from memory.

5. Look out for warning signs

While most teens are resilient, some may more frequently report negative mood, uncertainties about the future or a loss of control. This is particularly true in 2020. You might hear evidence of “catastrophic thinking” (“what’s the point?” or “this is the worst thing ever”).

You can help by modelling hopeful attitudes and coping strategies. Reactive coping strategies are things like taking a break, selectively using distractions and going for a run to clear your head.




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Year 12 can be stressful, but setting strong and healthy goals can help you thrive


Pair these with proactive coping strategies, which prevent or help manage stressful situations. These include helping the young person get organised and reminding them that if they don’t have life figured out right now, that’s OK. Help them see opportunities that come with challenges. These include self-development (learning what they like and don’t like), self-knowledge (knowing their limits and character strengths) and skill development (organisational and coping strategies).

Some teens may be struggling more than they let on. Look out for warning signs. These can include:

  • not participating in previously enjoyed activities

  • avoiding friends or partners

  • drastic changes in weight, eating or sleeping

  • irritability over minor things

  • preoccupation with death or expressing how difficult it is to be alive.

If these behaviours occur most of the time you are with them or seem out of character, consult a mental health professional as soon as possible. This is particularly so if your teen has a history of mental health concerns.

Some resources that may help if you are worried include Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 and Headspace

Your GP can also help to connect your teen with a suitably qualified professional.The Conversation

Erin Mackenzie, Lecturer in Education, Western Sydney University; Penny Van Bergen, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology, Macquarie University, and Roberto H Parada, Senior Lecturer In Adolescent Development, Behaviour, Well-Being & Paedagogical Studies, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Every Victorian Year 12 student will have COVID-19 factored into their grade — we should do it for all Australian students



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Ilana Finefter-Rosenbluh, Monash University; Christine Grové, Monash University, and Kelly-Ann Allen, Monash University

Over the weekend, Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, announced the individual impact of COVID-19 will be taken into account for every Year 12 student in the state when calculating their VCE score and ATAR.

Under usual circumstances, individual students are assessed for special consideration on a case by case basis. But this year, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) will introduce a “Consideration of Educational Disadvantage” process to recalculate VCE scores for every student, individually.

The authority may consider, alongside a range of formal data such as exam results, a student’s General Achievement Test (GAT), their expected achievement levels before the impact of coronavirus, and school assessments completed prior to remote and flexible learning.

At the heart of these announcements is an acknowledgement of individual differences. The premier’s website says it may also include

assessing the individual impact of coronavirus on each student, including school closures, direct impacts on the health of a student, students dealing with substantial extra family responsibilities, ongoing issues with remote learning and mental health challenges.

This kind of individual assessment is what educational advocates have been calling on for decades.

How COVID-19 has affected students

Victoria’s decision is intended to support worried students and soften the blow of the graduation implications complicated by the pandemic. Its social, emotional and psychological effects are being recognised alongside academic pressures.

Teachers and school leaders have put forth their best efforts to ensure all students have transitioned to online learning effectively. But the unexpected change may have led already vulnerable students, such as from lower socio-economic backgrounds who may not have reliable access to internet, towards further disadvantage.

Students already disengaged from school may have become more disengaged during remote learning. Teachers who completed a survey in Australia during the last remote learning period said many of their students were not logging in to remote classes or completing their school work. Teacher participants in another survey said student disengagement and equity were a key concern.

Teachers have also expressed concern about the emotional toll of remote learning on students.




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Not all students have experienced adversity as a result of COVID-19. There are many who have thrived in home learning environments. Students who would typically experience social or separation anxiety resulting in school refusal, for instance, have found the online way of learning works better.

The initiatives taken by governments, such as the latest Victorian announcement, acknowledge the necessity to go beyond dry numbers and to account for individual differences — a step towards a more inclusive education.

It’s a human right

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals establish the core underpinnings of quality education. Specifically, goal number four is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.




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Inclusive education is where all students of all capabilities have the opportunity to learn and express their abilities. Inclusion takes into account student circumstances, such as individual learning needs and health. These include well-being and behavioural challenges.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) committee has noted:

education has to be flexible so it can adapt to the needs of changing societies and communities and respond to the needs of students within their diverse social and cultural settings.

How can we do this?

Studies show teachers see school assessment as isolated, offering a limited understanding of the teaching and learning environment. Including as many aspects as possible in assessment processes seems to be more important now than ever. This might involve harnessing student perspectives or inviting parents into the conversation regarding their child’s progress.

Policymakers will assure student equity by providing clear grading guidelines. These can include acknowledgement of the need for special examination arrangements not only during a pandemic. They could enable the support of a health-care worker during a test, for instance.

Universities could also work with secondary schools and agree to consider entrance exams or portfolios that are relevant to the courses students are applying for.




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Students are more than a number: why a learner profile makes more sense than the ATAR


Some people may be concerned the government proposal will not result in fair outcomes across the board. But for assessment to be truly fair, each student must receive the individual level of support they need.

The unfolding developments of the pandemic have opened a door for a more inclusive assessment in schools. Perhaps it is time to reconsider this practice beyond the special circumstances of an outbreak and beyond VCE students, to include all year 12 students this year, and every year.The Conversation

Ilana Finefter-Rosenbluh, Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University; Christine Grové, Senior Lecturer and Educational and Developmental Psychologist, Monash University, and Kelly-Ann Allen, Educational and Developmental Psychologist and Senior Lecturer, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Victoria’s Year 12 students are learning remotely. But they won’t necessarily fall behind



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Sarah Prestridge, Griffith University and Donna Pendergast, Griffith University

In early July, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced government school students in prep to Year 10 — in Metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire —would learn from home for term three. Students in Years 11 and 12, as well as those in Year 10 attending VCE or VCAL classes, and students with special needs, would learn face to face.

The exemption for students doing VCE subjects to go class was made to ensure the least amount of disruption to the final years of schooling.

From today, however, after the announcement of harsher, Stage 4 restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and Stage 3 restrictions for the rest of Victoria, students in Years 11 and 12 will learn remotely with every other student in the state.




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So, will remote learning at the end of schooling mean Victorian students will fall behind the rest of the country?

Setting up Year 12s for further learning

Year 12 marks the end of school and the shift to work and further education for most students.

The Year 12 journey is sprinkled with milestones and rites of passage: the school formal, leadership opportunities, gaining independence with a new driver’s license and for many, turning 18 and being regarded as an adult.

In classrooms, learning is highly regulated by the teacher. Whereas in vocational education and training, and university, learning is rapidly moving to a more online, independent, mode. Even before the pandemic, post-school education required students to be more self-directed learners than they were at school.

This year’s Year 12 students won’t experience many common milestones and rites of passage. But many will have gained significant experiences of learning online, and independently — beyond what they ordinarily would have — which will set them up for similar learning beyond school.




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The chance to develop online learning capabilities while being supported by their school teachers will give Year 12s learning remotely a real advantage.

Year 12s like learning independently

We conducted a survey of students who experienced remote schooling during March and April this year at an independent school in Queensland. Overall 1,032 students completed the survey, across prep to Year 12.

Just over 41% of students, overall, said they found learning at home stressful. But this was generally not the case for students in Year 12. Year 12 students were keen for the flexibility to learn at their own pace, and being free to determine the order of study each week, rather than follow a timetable set by the school.

Younger students find remote learning more stressful than do Year 12s.
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Year 12 students said they preferred to concentrate on one subject a day and to work intensely.

Generally Year 12 students said they disliked live video sessions and found them disruptive to their study flow. While 75% of Grade 7 students valued form class or home room live sessions, only 16% of Grade 12 students did. They preferred to spend their time focusing on given subject materials.

Is online learning inferior to face to face?

Studies have suggested online learning is likely to be less effective than classroom education over the longer-term. But there is also evidence to suggest the impact may be negligible in the short term.

Other studies suggest there is no significant difference in learning outcomes between students in distance education (when students live too far from the school to attend in person) and face-to-face learning.

But there are significant variations in outcomes within each approach. This means a student’s ability to learn online, the design of the online learning environment and even the amount of time needed for students to get familiar with learning online can affect their outcomes.




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Students have been conditioned for over 12 years to learn in classrooms from a teacher. This can make it difficult for them to become familiar with new ways of learning.

A major issue associated with online learning is a student’s ability to regulate themselves. This means being able to stay on task especially when a problem arises. Being unfamiliar with new ways of accessing and interpreting online environments and subject content, as well as working with peers online in communication spaces, presents new challenges for students.

However, the problem may again have to do with age. In our survey, mentioned above, 75% Year 12 students believed they were able to work through a problem productively online. This was higher than the other high-school year levels.

Tips for Year 12 students

There are many advantages to learning online. Students can work at their own pace, revise and review teacher made videos for examples, and engage with extensive notes and study guides to help with assessment and exams.

Students can also access their teachers in more varied ways and at different times of day. In other words, moving online for Year 12 students can provide a world of resources and access to teachers they have not experienced before.




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To make the most of their Year 12 experience, students should keep these simple tips in mind:

  • organise your learning week. Set up your own timetable of tasks to complete. Include breaks and time to relax

  • be an active learner. Make notes while listening to teacher made videos and written materials

  • contact a friend if you have a problem, and work through the issue together

  • use the communication tools available to tell your teachers and friends what you are thinking about

  • participate in live sessions and forums as much as you can.


Correction: this article previously had an incorrect statement about ATAR calculation. This has now been removed.The Conversation

Sarah Prestridge, Senior Lecturer, Griffith University and Donna Pendergast, Dean, School of Educational and Professional Studies, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Teachers could be called on to estimate year 12 student grades – this is fairer than it sounds


Jim Tognolini, University of Sydney

Following a meeting with states and territories, federal education minister, Dan Tehan said year 12 students were a priority, and were being sent a clear signal: “There will be no year 13. There will be no mass repeating”.

He also said students seeking an ATAR for 2020 would be able to use it to apply for entry to university in the normal way.

The intention to retain current practices in these difficult times is encouraging. It should be a source of comfort for year 12 students facing a disruptive preparation for their end of year assessments.

Business as usual

It must be remembered the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is just a percentile-rank of student performance based on their aggregate of assessments across designated subjects they sit for in the final year (or two) of schooling.




Read more:
What actually is an ATAR? First of all it’s a rank, not a score


It is calculated in each jurisdiction that issues a year 12 credential and there is no requirement these aggregate assessments be the same. In fact, not all jurisdictions use external subject exams. Most combine these exams with moderated school-based assessments, and others such as the ACT, don’t have external subject exams at all.

So, when the minister said each jurisdiction will decide the end-of-year assessment process in their jurisdiction and that “we all are going to endeavour […] to make sure that this year’s ATAR scores are the same as last year’s ATAR scores”, he is saying it’s business as usual.

The difference will occur at each jurisdiction level where the appropriate authorities will be working to consider a number of scenarios to ensure the evidence (assessments) used to construct the ATAR for their jurisdiction is as valid (fair) and reliable (consistent) as possible for their students.

The best scenario would be that the COVID-19 crisis dissipates in time for jurisdictions to apply their normal assessment procedures. But this may not be possible in some instances, such as where students have to complete a body of work and can no longer use school facilities.

So a number of other scenarios would be considered as the conditions change.

Teacher estimates

If it’s not possible to have traditional assessments such as exams at all, one option used in the past for a number of purposes is to have teachers provide an “estimate or prediction”. This is what they believe the student would get on the exam or assessment based on their knowledge of the assessment and all the evidence they have from the students’ work up to, and including, the last day of school in 2020.

This is not as extreme as it may appear. There is significant evidence to suggest teacher estimates are as reliable and stable as traditional examination results.

A report investigating the accuracy of predicted grades for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Centre (UCAS) in the UK found just under 90% of grades were accurately predicted to within one grade.

Teachers have the data from past exams and assessments and can reliably predict how their student would do.




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COVID-19 has thrown year 12 students’ lives into chaos. So what can we do?


Some people could worry teachers may have biases towards some students that would lend them to give some students a higher or lower mark than they would otherwise get. But teachers don’t make these marks up. They do so based on evidence of what the student has already achieved and this informs their estimate.

Another recent study based on a sample of 10,000 students in the UK, showed teacher assessments during compulsory education are as reliable and stable as standardised exam scores.

In a later Conversation article




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Don’t worry about cancelled exams – research shows we should switch to teacher assessment permanently


, the authors of the study said

We can – and should – trust teacher assessments as indicators of pupils’ achievement.

One of the most compelling arguments regarding the reliability of teacher estimates is that external examinations are validated against the teacher estimates. If the results from examinations gave totally different results from what the teachers expect, there would be a significant public outcry against the validity of examinations.




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Another concern about relying on teachers is that they may inflate grades due to pressure from parents or students.

In Australia, most examination authorities either currently collect teacher estimates or have done in the past to provide evidence to support decisions for anomalous cases and situations – just like we are experiencing now. So jurisdictions would monitor the teacher estimates to make sure they are consistent with historical data.

Any anomalies due to grade inflation would then be picked up.

Just do your best

Ideally, traditional exams can be carried out in the way students know and expect.

But students and the education community in general should take comfort in knowing if this is not possible, there are other ways to produce reliable scores that can be used for ATARs in 2020.

The best way for students to maximise ATAR scores is to focus their energies on maximising their performance in each of the subjects they are currently taking. They can rely on the jurisdictions to make sure student performance is based on the best evidence available.The Conversation

Jim Tognolini, Director, Centre for Educational Measurement and Assessment, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.