real life

"I still get nightmares a decade later": Three women share their HSC horror stories. 

On Friday of this week, students who have completed Year 12 will receive their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR).

In the lead up, we decided to speak to three women about their most nightmarish HSC horror stories.

“That’s… not what I studied.” – Margaret

At school, Modern History was always my favourite subject.

In Year 12, I studied really, really hard and remember having hundreds of notes sprawled across my bedroom floor. The night before, I felt confident there wasn’t any question that could really surprise me. I’d never been more prepared for anything in my life.

I woke up that morning full of adrenalin, and read over my notes on the bus.

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Once we got into the exam hall, the examiner announced it was reading time, and I eagerly opened the paper.

My jaw dropped. I realised something had gone horribly wrong.

Not one thing on that exam was something we’d learned that year.

The subject was a war I’d read up on a few weeks earlier, but had no detailed knowledge of. I winged it and did my best.

I got 60 per cent after being a straight A student since Year Seven.

It turns out our teacher – who used to run out of class crying a lot – had taught us the wrong curriculum.

I still get nightmares a decade later.


“Wait… what question?” – Lizzy

English was my best subject at school, and I’d worked hard all year to get my ranking up as high as possible. I think I was ranked second in the year when I walked into the Advanced English exam.

I was insanely nervous before the exam began. I hadn’t slept the night before, my hands were shaking and I felt sick in my stomach. It wasn’t a level of panic I was used to.

We had three essays to complete, and I’d worked out what order I’d do them in during my preparation.

Anyway, I sat down and the first question stumped me. “It’s okay,” I told myself, “Just move on to the next one, and come back to it”.

So, that’s what I did. I wrote my second essay, and then my third. I remember looking at the clock and thinking “Oh wow, I have so much more time than I expected”.

When we put our pens down, I felt incredible. I’d written more pages than I ever had while studying, and was confident with what I’d argued. I looked over to my friend and did a thumbs up.

When we walked out, she looked completely defeated.

“I didn’t understand the first question at all,” she said, “I just waffled for like four pages.”

"Wait... what question?" Image via Getty.

"Wait... what question?" I asked, as I felt my stomach drop.

As she described it, it dawned on me I'd never come back to that question. I had only done two of the three essays.

I went home and cried for days. It was ridiculous. I look back on it now and it was so inconsequential, but at the time I honestly believed it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

"Did you kiss Charlotte last weekend?" - Frida

I'd been with my boyfriend Jarrod for two years when my HSC exams rolled around.

He was my first love, and I spent every weekend with him.

About a week before exams started, one of his friends had a massive party, and my mum wouldn't let me go. That whole night as I was sitting at home I just felt super uneasy, like something bad was about to happen.


He called me the next morning and everything was fine, and that thought just left my mind.

But then a few unusual things started happening.

He became Facebook friends with this girl, and I could see he was liking her photos which was a weird thing for him to do. He started taking ages to reply to my texts.

It was about three days before the first English exam, when I called my friend Daniella and told her I just had a hunch something was up. I said I knew I sounded paranoid, but he'd just been a bit distant.

Daniella went completely quiet.

I kept pushing her asking if she knew anything and finally she said, "Yes but I don't want to be the one to tell you".

Jarrod had hooked up with a girl in my year at his friend's party, and at least a dozen people had seen it.

I was a mixture of mortified, heart broken and angry.

I called him immediately and asked if that had happened, even though I knew the answer.

We had this horrible, drawn out break up. I couldn't sleep or eat. When I sat the exams, I couldn't concentrate at all. The girl he had kissed was sitting a few rows ahead of me. It was absolute torture.

That break up probably cost me about 15 marks. But in the end it didn't matter nearly as much as I thought it would.