Supporting your VCE student in a COVID interrupted year

Supporting your VCE student in a COVID interrupted year

Supporting your VCE student in a COVID interrupted year

Our daughter is our third child to work her way through the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE). VCE is the certificate that the majority of students in Victoria receive on satisfactory completion of their secondary education. It encompasses year 11 and year 12 but the final year, year 12 is the hardest with examinations held at the end of the year for the Unit 3/4 studies they have completed.

When a student completes the VCE their results are produced by the VCAA (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority).

Each Unit 3/4 sequence completed will be reported on the student’s Statement of Results with the following:

  • Unit result (S = Satisfactory pass, N = Not satisfactorily passed)
  • Three graded assessments (letter grades, e.g. B+)
  • One study score (maximum 50)

The study scores are raw scores. {Source} These scores are then scaled and used to calculate the student’s ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank). The student’s ATAR determines what university and further education courses they can gain entry into. If you are after more information on the structure of VCE you might like this post VCE subject selection – info and tips for parents.

For most students no matter how many times you tell them that they are not defined by their ATAR and that there is always more than one pathway to the career they aspire to, they will work very hard to achieve the highest ATAR they can.

As you can guess this can make for a full on two years at the best of times but then for the cohort of year 12s this year, they have had the additional stress of studying for VCE through the COVID-19 pandemic. And for those students like our daughter who are based in Melbourne they have had huge chunks of the last two years doing remote learning due to being in extended lockdowns.

Our daughter’s school has done an amazing job to keep the students on track, motivated and focused on their school work but there is no doubt that it has been exceedingly challenging for them all. The first exam for most VCE students is Wednesday 27 (English) so we are now only a month away from the culmination of their two years work. While I have always changed things / ramped things up to support the kids during the lead up to exams, I am even more cognisant of it this year for our daughter.

Supporting your VCE student in a COVID interrupted year

Below I have included a list of ways I am aiming to support our VCE student in the lead up to exams this year. It isn’t a complete list nor may all these things work for your family but if you have a VCE student in your house now is a great time to think about what you may do or not do!

You will notice that there is almost nothing I do in terms of reminding them to study or helping them with their study. This doesn’t mean I don’t show interest in their study or that I don’t keep an eye on them to make sure they are actually studying but previous experience has taught me that pressuring them about studying at this time is pretty much the last thing they need at this stage. Instead I try to focus on the basics that will give them the best chance to study well


Eating well during times of high workload and stress is critical. I will make sure during my weekend meal prep sessions I am catering towards our VCE student’s favourites and have plenty of options for her to make herself healthy lunches and snacks. I will check in with her to see if she has any requests.

Sometimes when the kids are focused on studies they will not come up with suggestions of their own – they just don’t have the bandwidth to think of things! This is where I will go to some of her favourites that I know she likes which include:

Then when it comes to exam time, I will also make sure the night before her exams I have meals that she loves.


I constantly talk to all of the teenagers about the importance of sleep and good sleep hygiene. This includes:

  • having a regular bedtime and wake time
  • no screens 30 mins before bed
  • no screens in bed
  • avoiding napping late in the day
  • getting enough sleep

While the VCE students almost always go to bed later than I do, I check in on them before I go to bed, remind them of the importance of sleep and keep an eye out for signs of overtiredness.

Movement and outside time

This is the third of the key pillars to form a solid foundation for good study – eat , sleep, and now movement. Our older two boys had compulsory sport at school so that kept them moving regularly and spending time outside, as did the walks to and from the train station to get to school.

When at school our daughter had those same activities to keep her moving and outdoors too but in lockdown, they have gone. Thankfully she is an early riser and likes to move so has set herself a great routine of walking each morning and evening. I can see the tendency for this to be overlooked when things get super busy, so checking in with her and going for walks with her or simply encouraging her to get outdoors for lunch are simple things I can do to support her getting the outside time and movement she needs.

Working smarter not harder

Studying well for VCE does require a lot of hours but there is more to quality study than just the pure number of hour studied. I am known for repeating the phrase “study when your studying, then have a real break”. Encouraging the VCE student to have a rhythm to their study days to get the most out of them is something I can do.

Part of the rhythm needs to incorporate awareness of the ultradian rhythm – this is the cycle that is present in our waking and sleeping lives and shows that our brain can only focus for about 90 minutes before it needs a break.

Nathan Kleitman, a groundbreaking sleep researcher called it the “basic rest-activity cycle” as we move from higher to lower alertness. I combine this knowledge with the formula from Associate Professor Cal Newport to explain in numbers why working more hours isn’t necessarily more productive:

work accomplished = time spent x intensity of focus

Newport uses an intensity of focus rating of 1 – 10 with 10 being the highest level of focus. Some students can get caught up in doing continuous long hours of work but not get the benefits they would like from it. For example if on a weekend they studied in the following way:

  • 10:00am – 11:00am – 8 intensity of focus
  • 11:00am – 12:00pm – 5 intensity of focus (focus drops off as the brain needs a break)
  • 1:00pm – 2:00pm – 8 intensity of focus
  • 2:00pm – 3:00pm – 5 intensity of focus (focus drops off as the brain needs a break)

That would give the VCE student a work-accomplished result of 26 units of work for their four hours of work.

Compare this to a study schedule that has a better break structure:

  • 10:00am – 11:00am – 8 intensity of focus
  • 11:30am – 12:30pm – 8 intensity of focus
  • 1:30pm – 2:30pm – 8 intensity of focus
  • 3:00pm – 4:00pm – 8 intensity of focus

That would give the VCE student a work-accomplished result of 32 units of work for their four hours of work – a 23% increase in work accomplished. Now of course this assumes the VCE student is properly studying across those time blocks but showing them this has helped them realise that it isn’t just time pouring over the books and pen and paper – breaks and the time of day matters.

Two of the kids have used the Forest App to help them stay focused when studying. You use the app to help you stay focused and off your phone. You start a study session and you begin growing a tree – if you interrupt the session before it is due to finish then your tree dies. Our daughter in VCE has a group of friends that connect via the Forest App and it has a leader board and you can see what trees everyone has – some of the trees are very pretty! This is a smart way an app uses gamification for good – the VCE student is incentivised to not go on their phone during their study period.


The last two years for Melbourne VCE students have not been at all what they expected. There have been so many missed events and milestones and so much of the fun that comes along with the hard work of year 12 has been missed. In some ways, this has made things easier for us parents as we haven’t had to put boundaries on overactive social lives! But it has been harder in other ways as the uncertainty that has come with the pandemic has been hard for these students.

Our older two boys would head to libraries to study with friends on weekends and school holidays. Yes part of this was social but they also received a huge benefit from peer learning and being surrounded by others wanting to do well. While this can be done to a certain extent over Zoom, I think pretty much everyone has Zoom fatigue to some level at the moment.

I have spent time over the last few months acknowledging the challenging time it has been for our VCE student. It is a fine balance of acknowledging it but not dwelling on it or making it overdramatic. Our daughter is resilient and I also have spent time acknowledging the amazing work she has done while in lockdown and how she has worked through the challenges. I have been very specific with my encouragement – noting her amazing organisational skills, her work ethic, her willingness to ask for additional work in areas where she feels are weaker.

In times of high workload like SAC week recently, I would put a sign on her bedroom door so her siblings would know not to interrupt her during the SAC time and also know to give her plenty of space before and after. I will also print out her exam time table and stick it on the fridge so everyone is aware of when her exams are.

Her two older brothers do love a bit of stirring and it is good-spirited (most of the time!) but I have asked them to really minimise this during exam period. When you are putting so much time and energy into study in can be hard to have patience and regulate your emotions when it comes to this sibling stirring!

Other workload

Our daughter does have a casual job so I encouraged her to organise reduced hours and time off in the lead up and throughout the exam period which she has done. I will also lighten her load by taking on a couple of her household tasks that she usually does. She is always really great at contributing around the house so doing less in the last month before exams seems reasonable to me!

How are you supporting your VCE student this year?