Wednesday marked the start of the HSC exams for more than 550 senior students in Dubbo and surrounds.
With less time away from the classroom this year, students are feeling more confident than last years' cohort.
"Being back at school this year has made me way more motivated and being around my friends has had a positive impact on my mental health," Raffaella Jones, captain at St John's College Dubbo said.
"[It] has alleviated some mental difficulties which some of our peers have faced and being back at school in general has allowed us to celebrate the 13 years of education - together," agreed Dubbo College captain Patrick Nelson.
All year 12 students across the state sat their Paper 1 exam for English - the only compulsory subject in the HSC - on the morning of Wednesday, October 12.
Among the questions - students were asked to respond to a photograph by Narromine photographer Clancy Paine depicting a girl on a bicycle during a dust storm and had to write an essay linking "textual form" with emotional experiences.
Manti Morse, English head teacher at the Dubbo College Senior Campus, said she thought it was a fair exam with questions the students were prepared for. Dubbo College year 12 student Lauren Priddis, who hopes to study veterinary science, agreed.
"I found it super easy to prepare for, and to adapt my essay to the question. It was good. I knew my essay, I worked hard, and did lots of practice papers. The feedback from my teachers has really helped too," she said.
Classmate Hugh Olney, who hopes to be a carpenter or paramedic, said the first part of the paper - which asks students to answer short answer questions - was "really good".
"The teachers have helped us set up a structure and are always challenging our ideas - it's really handy to have that support. Not just in English, but across all subjects," he said.
This year, a total of 67,327 students are on track to complete their HSC, and, after two years of COVID-related interruptions, NSW Education Standards Authority CEO Paul Martin said it was great to see exams going ahead as normal this year.
"The HSC written exams are a mammoth operation that will take place over the next 18 days, with a total of 75,000 students involved in more than 400,000 exam sessions," he said.
Armaan Daddar - also a captain at St John's College in Dubbo - is feeling confident for his exams after receiving good feedback on his trial exams.
He says while he's glad to be back in the classroom, he learned valuable study skills from learning independently through lockdown.
"The COVID-19 learning environment really taught me about time management and other skills which really helped me after returning to face to face learning this year," he said.
Vice captains Elizabeth Meadows and Billy Burden agreed getting back to face-to-face learning and being able to study on the school property made the lead up to HSC less stressful this year.
"I'm not feeling too worried about my HSC Exams. I've been maintaining a balance between study and also looking after myself," Billy said.
But it hasn't all been smooth sailing for the class of 2022. This year's HSC students faced many disruptions with their year 11 studies, crucial in building the knowledge and study skills needed for year 12.
"Our year group didn't get exposed to year 11 exit exams. Year 12 trials were our first time sitting formal exams for an extended time," Dubbo College student Ashley Steele said.
Member for the Dubbo Dugald Saunders said the 2022 HSC cohort has worked hard to get to this point, and credits local schools for going "above and beyond for our HSC students."
"We're all excited to see the post-school pathways students take. The entire community is behind you as you sit your exams and prepare to move on to the next chapter of your exciting young lives," he said.
The final written HSC exam - Design and Technology - will take place on November 4 and students are set to receive their results and ATARs on December 15.
"We are so proud of this group of young men and women who have made a significant difference in our school culture," said St John's College principal, Mrs Nicole Morton.
"They are an inclusive and compassionate year group who have challenged the status quo in a positive way"
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