How to Stay Happy During Your HSC Year

Nobody can possibly be defined by 4-digits, so you shouldn't define yourself by it either.

Project Team

Project Team

Team of Academic Advisors

The HSC is intense. You spend the better part of an entire year working towards this set of exams, you get a 4-digit number which dictates whether you get into your dream university course, which then dictates your career, and ENTIRE life trajectory. If you screw it up then everything is over and you’re a failure and there’s no way to ever fix it…right?

Well, that’s how it feels at least.

The HSC can feel a bit ” be-all and end all”, and it’s really easy to feel like your happiness (or maybe even your entire life) is dependent on this one thing. And maybe deep down, you know this isn’t true. Or maybe you don’t know that, but we aren’t here to judge.

The point is, “How do I find happiness in the most stressful year of my entire life?” is a pretty commonly asked question. For instance, one of our students student posted into our anonymous Slack discussion forum - #hsc-and-beyond:

Question: How do I find happiness with myself? I feel lost and confused as every day I work my ass off studying and revising, only to get a mediocre mark. Idk if the HSC is worth all the pain and suffering, why is my social status and happiness dependent on the marks I get? How do I deal with all the emotions and stress?

To answer this question, here’s a compilation of tips from some of our team of Project tutors. May it help you up on the days when you feel down, and boost you even higher on the days you feel fine :)

🧠 7 Ways to Change Your Mindset About The HSC

The first step to happiness is acknowledging that feeling lost and confused is absolutely okay. Life is tough, and no one expects you to have all the answers - especially not when you’re so young. Happiness is a bit elusive that way - it feels like something we’re always working towards, but not necessarily getting. That’s because the journey, and everything we do to try MAKE us happy — that’s where we actually find the happiness.

With that being said, here are a few practical ways that you can adopt a healthier growth mindset, and therefore find happiness along the way.

💆 Actively forgive yourself for what you’ve done in the past

This can be mistakes on an exam, really cringe/ awkward behaviour, missing opportunities (like putting money in Bitcoin years ago, just kidding), etc. Become okay with the idea that you can’t do anything about it now because time has passed. If something is cringe, that’s a really good sign because it shows you’ve developed and matured. New opportunities will come again. Everything’s gonna look bad in hindsight, so why bother dwelling on it?

💕 Love yourself for who you are today

Got out of bed? That’s a win. Brushed your teeth? Killing it. Didn’t make your bed? That’s fine, you can try again tomorrow. Slept in? You must have needed the rest. Spent two hours on Youtube instead of revising? Ok you’re a little off track but you know how to fix this and find balance again.

A good piece of advice, is to treat yourself the same way you’d treat your best friend. Hype yourself up over small wins, be forgiving and self-compassionate on days where you mess up, and give credit to yourself for achievements that seem too small to celebrate (seriously, no win is too small).

🔮 Be excited for who you can be tomorrow

Remember that the sun will ALWAYS rise tomorrow. And whilst this seems like a stupidly obvious thing to say, it’s actually really exciting to think about.

You get to restart every single day, for the rest of your life. Whatever crime you thought you had committed, whether that be failing an exam, forgetting to do a homework chapter, missing a project deadline… you can always do better tomorrow, and that’s something to be excited about.

🌄 Get up each day and work with purpose

Purpose can vary from person to person. Whether that be a specific ATAR, a dream course, getting good at one specific subject, or just making it through the year, keep your eye on the prize.

It could even be helpful to write that goal on a sticky-note above your desk, almost like a mantra.

💪 Think about all the other things you’re gaining from HSC journey

It might seem like the entire thing boils down to that 4-digit number that gets sent to you via email on a random day in December. But in reality, there’s so many other things you gain.

  • You’re establishing an INCREDIBLE work ethic. Devoting yourself to a long term task to produce results and not giving up no matter how upsetting it all is? That’s invaluable.

  • You’re gaining KNOWLEDGE! Every subject you do is teaching you something and studying so hard will mean that it’ll stay with you for LIFE. I still use things from HSC that I remember offhandedly reading in a textbook, and it’s made me such a well-rounded, well-read and interesting person.

  • It’s also making you incredibly emotionally mature. The ability to balance life, family, friends, work, study etc is something that some people never grasp. But you’re out here getting that balance and those skills at what, 17? You are so incredibly gifted, and so driven that even if you feel lost and confused you are STILL working hard, and STILL trying. Those qualities will make you such a wonderful person.

  • That’s something to focus on because yes, you graduate with an ATAR, and with ranks, and a school assessment mark and an HSC mark, but even if you graduated with none of those things, you would still be a PERSON. And the PERSON you are? That’s what the HSC is building. A strong, resilient, capable and extremely intelligent person.

    😥 Master the art of handling stressful situations

    This is a hard one to crack, but some tried-and-true methods that have worked for others include:

    • Talking about it with someone.

    When it’s all in your head, bouncing around day in and day out, it feels never ending and impossible to deal with. The moment you reach out to someone - so many things become clear. You aren’t as lost as you think you are. You are way more intuitive and non-confused than you think. You can be really happy, and realise you are not alone in any of this.

    Reach out to anyone in your support network, family, friends, teachers, and a GP if you feel like your health is affected, because the HSC is not meant to have that kind of impact on you.

    • Writing down everything that is stressing you out.

    Similar to the above, this is just another method of verbalising what is stressing you out. As you write, you’ll realise that the list of never-ending things that were making you pull your hair out, actually only contains 5 things.

    • Use the circle of control.

    Sometimes we get stressed about things that aren’t really our fault. For example, you’ve been waiting at your bus stop, the bus didn’t come, and now you’ll be late to class and your teacher will be mad at you.

    Before letting the stress consume you, it’s helpful to ask yourself - “could I have taken any meaningful action to prevent this from happening?” If the answer is no, take a breather, and let the events unfold as they do.

🥰 Remember how supported you are 

During the HSC, everyone around you talks about marks, and ranks, and results, and averages and that will make it seem like your happiness and social status is dependent on marks. It’s not. I guarantee you, within a week of finishing your HSC, you’ve forgotten what questions you may have messed up. Within a fortnight, you can’t even remember the essay questions. In a month you won’t even remember your ranks. And by the time your ATAR comes out, it doesn’t matter what the number says because you’re too busy looking for the email from your university that says CONGRATULATIONS. First day of uni and you won’t even remember your ATAR. You will be so overwhelmingly happy that you made it and that you can move on. Your social status is a blank slate for you to fill in as you meet people and cement your new friendship circle. Marks will fade away and become a memory. And even that’s a memory that you can choose to forget. ‍

🧐 So, is the HSC worth it?

Well, yes and no. It’s worth putting the effort and giving everything your best shot, so that you have more options for your future, and so that you have no regrets. You don’t want to finish the year, be disappointed with your result, and think to yourself “To be honest, I could’ve tried harder”.

With that being said, it’s not worth crying and screaming over either. But of course, all of this is in hindsight.



  • Happiness is a concept that comes perspective, not circumstance. You can have the highest ATAR out of everyone in the room, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be the happiest.

  • Show yourself kindness and compassion on your bad days, and celebrate all your victories (none are too small).

  • Nobody can possibly be defined by 4-digits, so you shouldn’t define yourself by it either.

  • There’s a lot of good that comes out of the HSC journey that is often overlooked. Don’t forget your character development, and the work ethic and study skills you build along the way.

  • Lean on your support network - it’s a tough journey, but not one you need to walk alone.

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