When it comes to the HSC, it’s easy to fall into patterns of destructive thoughts; “What if I don’t get the ATAR I want?”, “I can’t live up to my parents expectations.”, “I’ll never understand Post-War Germany”.

Staying positive can be difficult, but managing negative thought patterns by tackling the top three ‘positive thinking pitfalls’ can easily make way for more positivity.

So, here’s to Making Negative Thinking into Positive Thinking!

1. Comparison

Most students experience this in some way, usually comparing themselves to classmates, friends or siblings. “I’m not as good/smart/fast/etc. as (name)” is a commonly heard phrase, but comparing yourself to the people around you only breeds doubt and lowers your confidence.

Avoiding these comparisons is the key to keeping positive! 

Start by taking note of when you compare yourself to someone else – we tend not to realise how often it happens. Then work to either stop the thought (if possible,) or combat it in one of two ways:

  • remind yourself that someone appearing to be ‘better’ than you doesnt make your skills any less valuable.
  • think of an achievement you’ve made recently that you’re proud of – it acts as a little reminder that you’re awesome! 

2. Catastrophising

When it comes to imagining worst case scenarios, HSC students can go into catastrophising overdrive several times before even sitting exams. Having a mental blank while writing a practice essay can spiral into crippling terror that you’ll get into the exam hall and forget everything!

Learning to scale back the worst-case-worries can keep your nerves at a more stable level.

Start by recognising that you’re thinking about the worst-case scenario and that the horrible situation playing over in your head will probably not happen. Once you’re feeling a little more level headed, plan out how you can deal with any (realistic) problems that may arise. By mentally planning for these circumstances you’ll feel more in control and have a better perspective on the whole situation.

In some cases – like panicking about not having enough time to study – you can actually write out a plan or schedule to follow, preventing future freak-outs.

3. Expectations

The expectations we set for ourselves, along with those set by family and friends, can quickly turn into sources of stress and anxiety when doing the HSC. What we think other people expect of us often leads us to put pressure on ourselves to achieve to other people’s standards. 

Dealing with expectations and how you let them influence you is about changing your perceptions and re-evaluating what the other people’s opinions mean to you.

Sit down and list what you expect of yourself vs. what you think other people expect of you. Remember that other people’s opinions, while valuable, shouldn’t give you extra anxiety. Then go through the lists of expectations and evaluate which are realistic goals and which aren’t – wanting a band 5 in a subject you do well in is a good goal, whereas expecting an ATAR of 99.95 is typically an unfair pressure.


Maddison Leach completed her HSC in 2014, achieving an ATAR of 98.00 and Band 6 in all her subjects. Having tutored privately for two years before joining Art of Smart, she enjoys helping students through the academic and other aspects of school life, even though it sometimes makes her feel old. Maddison has had a passion for writing since her early teens, having had several short stories published before joining the world of blogging. She’s currently studying a Bachelor of Design at the University of Technology Sydney and spends most of her time trying not to get caught sketching people on trains.