Written by Buffy Squires, with input from Mikayla O’Neill
Note: the names of the completion certificates vary across the country, e.g., VCE in Victoria and HSC in NSW. In this section, we refer to them all collectively as SSCE.
Wow! You’re heading into your final years of secondary school! Congratulations! It’s a really exciting time for you.
But perhaps you’ve heard from friends and others who’ve already gone through it, that it’s a lot of hard work. This may be making you a bit worried about how your body’s going to hold up. It’s ok to feel like this, but we’ve got plenty of tips and resources so that you can deal with the challenges and get on with your studies. And in doing so you can make your final years of secondary school as successful and enjoyable as possible.
Keep in mind that there are lots of different options for completing your SSCE. You may choose to do it over 3 years rather than 2 or do less subjects or an ungraded SSCE. It’s a matter of talking with your parents and your school and working out what works best for you.
All students should have the opportunity to sit their exams on as level a playing field as possible. This means that your arthritis or musculoskeletal condition shouldn’t put you at a disadvantage to your peers.
So, as exam time approaches, it’s important to remember that you may be eligible for special consideration. This could include extra time to do your exam, take breaks, use a keyboard instead of handwriting, access your medication, heat and cold packs and more. The process differs depending which state or territory you live in so check out the Curriculum and Assessment Authority links below for more information. Your school will help you with this, and they’ll lodge the application on your behalf.
Tip 1 – Start early
Special exam arrangements aren’t just for your final exams. If you live with a chronic condition (like arthritis), you can apply to have them in place right through your schooling to cover things like NAPLAN. But many students first apply for special exam arrangements as they approach their final school years.
Some students will be doing a final year subject in year 11, so if that’s you, you’ll want to start thinking about the process of applying for special consideration at the end of year 10. Speak with your rheumatologist about it, as they’ll have to write a letter supporting your need for special consideration. It might also be a good time to make an appointment with the hospital’s occupational therapist. They can do a writing assessment to see if you’d benefit from a laptop/keyboard and recommend other aids to help you. In the public hospital system, you might need to wait a few months, so again, start the process early!
Speak with the head of senior school or find out who is responsible for managing special exam arrangements in your school. Make sure they’re aware of your limitations and ask them for a list of anything they need you to provide.
Tip 2 – Have a support system in place
Make sure you have a support system in place at school. If you feel comfortable in doing so, it’s a great idea to talk openly with your teachers and the head of senior school so that they know your needs and limitations and are able to offer help around test or exam time. You may also want to have one particular teacher who’s your main “point of contact” so that, if you’re unwell or need to take time off school, you can deal with any issues through them.
After significant appointments it may be helpful to take into school a doctor’s letter or organise a quick meeting with teachers to keep them in the loop. You may also find that by keeping your teachers updated regularly, they’re better able to understand your condition. Then, when exam time comes around, you’ve already got that support system in place which makes it easier to organise the help you may need.
Tip 3 – Manage stress
Yes, it’s easier said than done, but if you put some plans in place and find some strategies that work for you, year 12 really doesn’t have to be that stressful. In a few years you’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about! Check out our A-Z pain guide (link https://msk.org.au/pain-guide/) and the pain section of our website (link https://msk.org.au/kids-pain) for tips on dealing with pain. Find things you enjoy that make you feel great. It might be something active like a walk with a friend or a game of soccer, or perhaps you enjoy meditation, music, gaming or colouring in. Whatever it is, have some options you know work for you, and use them as soon as you feel the stress starting to build.
Tip 4 – Check, and check again
Once you’ve got the paperwork in place, check with your school to see if there’s anything else they need from you. If you haven’t had confirmation to say your special consideration has been approved, don’t be afraid to ask them to follow it up. The creaky gate gets the oil!
Things may change as you get closer to exams. Perhaps you have a flare-up and find that you can’t sit for long periods. Keep the lines of communication open with your contact person at school and make sure they know what’s going on. They can always make later applications for amendments to your plan – for example, a stand-up/sit-down desk to help manage back pain.
Got any tips you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
More to explore
- Disability Standards for Education 2005
Australian Government, Department of Education, Skills and Employment
- Disability standards for education: A practical guide for individuals, families and communities
Australian Government, Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability
- Responsibilities of schools and educators
Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne
State and territory resources
- Australian Capital Territory
Equitable assessment and special consideration, ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies
- New South Wales
Disability provisions, Education Standards Authority
- Northern Territory (see South Australia)
The Northern Territory Certificate of Education and Training is based on and administered by the South Australian Certification of Education.
Students with disability, Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority
- South Australia and Northern Territory
Special provisions in the SACE, SACE Board of South Australia
Reasonable adjustments, Office of Tasmanian Assessment, Standards and Certification
VCAA Special Provision, Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA)
- Western Australia
Special provisions, School Curriculum and Standards Authority