An early morning line outside Wollongong City Library yesterday was a tell-tale sign that the start of this year's Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams is less than five days away.
Next Monday at 1.50pm, an English paper launches a month-long exam period for 7386 Illawarra and South Coast students.
While Wollongong psychologist Erika Day said exams were "the light at the end of the tunnel" for year 12 students, she said they also caused a peak in stress and anxiety levels.
Ms Day said most students would feel some stress in the lead-up to next week's exams, but said sleeplessness, procrastination and feelings of anxiety or withdrawal were signs it was getting too much.
"We need a certain level of stress in order to achieve our best, but if it keeps increasing that's when our level of capability decreases," she said.
"Your thoughts might be telling you 'I can't do this'; you may have a sinking feeling or you might not be interested in the things and people you are usually interested in."
Ms Day said it was important to get a handle on high stress levels before the exam period and said the best thing to do was to put the HSC into context.
"It might be difficult but remember that life will go on, and although it might feel like it's a huge part of what you are right now, it's not that big, really," she said.
She said students who were struggling should reach out to friends, maintain a life outside study and talk to their parents and teachers about their concerns.
"Keep up regular routines - have breaks and don't cut yourself off from your friends or stop going for a walk or to the gym, because these things will help you to study better," she said.
She also said students should celebrate their achievements - big and small - before and after each exam.
"Before an exam, remind yourself that you have studied all you could and that stressing during the exam is not going to get you a better result," she said.
"Then students can pat themselves on the back."