Andrew Fuller: Tips and ideas to support your VCE student in this year like no other

We had hundreds of parents and carers join our webinar with clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller on helping senior students navigate these final few months. Here are his key messages and ideas.

This year has been crazy enough.

It is time to take charge of the process and help your Year 12 to either stay on track or get back on track.

This time of the year is the period when motivation sags most profoundly and energy and task focus goes missing. It is also the time when, if we can really focus on what we want to achieve, that big leaps in academic results can be made.

What we do now matters. A lot.

It is time to call a War Cabinet Meeting

The first things parents need to do is to convene with their Year 12 student a War Cabinet Meeting. Enter the ‘situation room’ and strategise some actions plans.

If your Year 12 student has been treating this year as an extended training program in computer game playing, expect some grumbling. Expect that they will try to fob you off. Don’t close the meeting until you have come to agreements on:

Managing time

Managing energy

Managing stress

Managing to get everything in at the right time and in the right place.

Parents can help with all of these.

Reignite motivation

Some students may have lose sight of why doing Year 12 is important.

We need to regain momentum and re-ignite motivation. One way to do this is for students to assess their learning strengths at and use that information to help them regain momentum by starting where they are strong.

The Personalised Learning Success Plan outlines strategies and links learning strengths with potential career areas. This is especially helpful for students who are uncertain of what they could do in terms of future courses or careers.

Developing the system

Regular planned times for study throughout the year creates better results. Short regular sprints of learning are more effective than long study marathons. To create this you need to work out a system.

Sit down with your student and map out an ideal week including:

  • Times for sleeping (at least eight hours a night)
  • Times for unwinding and relaxing
  • Best breakfast foods
  • The best times for study
  • The best time of the week for consolidating notes and extending memory
  • Time to catch up with friends
  • Required school hours
  • Time for part time work (less than 10 hours a week)
  • How to handle invitations around exam times.

Without a plan, you are simply left with doing what you like when you feel like it and often feeling like studying is not the most likely impulse in teenagers’ lives.

Study sprints should be ideally 20 minutes long and never longer than 50 minutes with a ten-minute break between study sessions.

Usually on the weekend, have some time set aside for organising information and testing memory of new information.

Talk through the system until you all feel that you have the best plan. Ask them how often you should remind them of the system when they don’t seem to be following it.

You may also need to discuss minimising distractions – excessive social media use, listening to music while studying, multi-tasking or chatting with friends online is not compatible with studying. Multi-tasking is just splitting your attention and means you’ll need to study four times longer than you need to.

Keep yourself informed. Join information sessions and parent-teacher meetings yourself. Stressed students don’t always store detailed information well so take notes of key dates and requirements.


Steering students back to the system

It is hard to get through Year 11 or 12 without some meltdowns. When a meltdown occurs, rather than starting a long conversation about it or providing a motivational pep talk, think about what your student needs. Food? Rest? Exercise? Some social time? Try to quietly arrange for this to occur.

How to deal with the catastrophic thinking

Pacifying or reassuring the unsettled senior school student is a fine art. Acknowledge to yourself in advance that anything you are likely to say is probably going to be heard as the ‘wrong thing’.

Generally what you do is more important than what you say. Providing meals, comfort and for some, reassuring hugs is often more powerful than words.

Some teens ‘freeze up with fear’ and want to avoid schoolwork completely. Try to avoid getting into lengthy debates about the merits of the current educational system or their own intellectual ability. Instead, go back to basics. Feed them. Hydrate them. Rest them.

Then gently bring them back to the topic. Ask them to tell you what they do understand about an issue. If they will initially reply with, ‘I know nothing’, say, ‘Well, tell me what you think you know.’ Slowly rebuild confidence.

What to do when the system breaks down

When you are planning the system develop a rule of ‘never miss twice’. We know there are days when even the most well thought through system falls into tatters. Accept this but also plan never to miss twice. For example, I can take a complete break from my study routine for one day but not for two days in a row.

Around August is the most common time for students to become disheartened and lose motivation. However, the work done in August and September probably adds more to the final results that any other stage of the year. The reason is that by this time most of the basics have been covered and we are now able to add the higher order thinking and deepen understanding.

If taking on new information seems too much at this time, go through the process with them of organising information, drawing up flow charts, making memory aides and consolidating notes.

What if my teenager won't listen to me?

Have a confidential chat with one of their key teachers so that they can have a conversation with your student directly about their progress and study strategies.

How to deal with the build up to exams

Here is the time to trust the system. Keep things as calm and consistent as you possibly can. Ensure that your student has enough sleep, good food, exercise and social time.

Consider ceasing part time work in the lead up to exams. Also discuss not using or at least, lessening the use of social media sites.

If your family has major birthdays during this period it may be worth delaying celebrations until after the exam period.

It is not the end of the world

Your student’s Year 12 result is not their entire future. Completing this year well will make success easier but there are other ways to succeed academically if things don’t work out as we plan. In addition, there are many other more important and powerful determinants of success and happiness in life that year 12 results.

Many people who did not get the Year 12 results they wanted find careers where they thrive.

Above all, remain calm and believe in your student. Adding an anxious parent to a panicking teenager is always a recipe for disaster.

Copyright Andrew Fuller

Like this post? Please share using the buttons located this page.

Watch out for more details of our next The Parents Website Webinar, Thrivers, not just survivors – how we can help our kids emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient.

Our children are facing big challenges coping and adapting to life in lockdown. How will the experience affect them – and how can they grow from it?

Join leading educator and therapist Tim Klein in our next The Parents Website Webinar, a free event where he will discuss how we can help out young people become life-long thrivers on Friday 4 September 2020. 


Subscribe to The Parents Website

About Andrew Fuller

Andrew is a clinical psychologist specialising in the wellbeing of young people and their families.

Andrew’s most recent books are Your Best Life At Any Age  and Unlocking your Child’s Genius.

Stay in touch with Andrew on Facebook, on LinkedIn, through his website and on the My Learning Strengths website