By SHIANI BRIARD
Current year 12 VCE students may develop anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts from the stress of their upcoming VCE exams, a clinical psychologist says.
Peninsula Family General Practice clinical psychologist Petti Tsoudis said VCE students are experiencing high stress levels from the pressure they experience leading up to their final exams.
“If they experience constant reinforcement that these exams shape their academic future they can start to believe it,” Ms Tsoudis said.
“They often think if they fail their exams their university career is over before its begun.”
A survey released last month by Reach Out Australia found 66 per cent of Australian students aged 14 to 25 experience concerning levels of stress leading up to exams, with 34 per cent citing getting into their preferred university course as their major issue.
· 66 per cent of students are experiencing worrying levels of exam stress.
· 10 per cent of students are experiencing extreme levels of exam stress.
· 66 per cent of students do not seek external help for exam stress.
· 34 per cent of students say concern about securing their preferred tertiary course was feeding their exam stress.
VCE exams began today, with results available from December 12. The marks will be converted into an ATAR (Australian tertiary admissions rank), a score used by universities to rank year 12s across Australia to determine their eligibility for their preferred courses.
Sandringham College year 12 student Chloe Vella said getting a good ATAR is a source of stress.
“For certain universities that focus heavily on the ATAR score, you feel pressure to do better to go to that university,” she said.
“I can sometimes lose focus studying because I need to get away from the stress that’s coming from ATAR.
“The way they do it’s not the healthiest way.”
Monash Business School Deputy Dean of Education Professor Robert Brooks said that while students experience stress leading up to their VCE exams, the ATAR system may be worth it.
“We have data available that shows that student’s ATAR levels are often predictive of their academic performance," Prof. Brooks said.
“There’s the argument that it’s better to distribute a sum of assessments across the VCE experience but the risk there is that instead of stressing for exam periods students are stressed for their entire final year.”
A 2018 report published by the Mitchell Institute on the usefulness of the ATAR system found that nearly 60 per cent of 2017 university admissions came from non-ATAR pathways despite schools, media, and families reinforcing the importance of ATAR scores.
Despite the availability of alternative pathways, Ms Vella said students still stress about the ATAR because of the importance placed on it.
“At school they really don’t talk about [alternative pathways] much at all," she said.
“School can sometimes make ATAR seem like the only option.”
Prof. Brooks said the non-ATAR pathways available to students are diverse and include entering their preferred course through other university courses and transferring from TAFE courses.
“We get lots of people who didn’t get the ATAR they needed successfully coming in through those different pathways,” Prof. Brooks said.
Advice from psychologist Petti Tsoudis
What should students consider when taking their VCE exams?
This is not the end of your world. Often they think life will be over and they won’t function as individuals in society but that is very, very rarely the case for anybody. ATAR is not worth large amounts of stress. Your mental health is more important than the score you get at the end and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed if you do have to go with an alternate route to get to where you want to be. It doesn’t matter at all.
It’s important to reiterate some self-care advice. Exercise, socialise with other students – they are going through very similar experiences. Collaborate with them to help you prepare for your exams.
Do things that you normally do in your life like go to movies and dinners. Don’t just work overtime.
You won’t be productive as your brain will go foggy. Students often do a lot of studying without taking any breaks because they put so much pressure on themselves to achieve fantastic marks and often end up not doing anything else and burning out.