This paper reports the outcomes of a study into the personal meanings ascribed by final year students to the demands of the New South Wales Higher School Certificate. The data were collected from sixteen students attending a co-educational high school in metropolitan Sydney, using interviews and surveys. Students were questioned about their stress responses, academic goal orientations and academic self-efficacy. Students' personal meanings were sought in order to obtain a deeper conceptual understanding of these factors. This study completes a longitudinal research project into the relationships between negative affective responses and learning in senior school students. The data are considered in the light of the results of the first phase of the project, reported at the 1998 and 1999 AARE conferences, which revealed high levels of affective distress and significant relationships among affective measures, goal orientation and self-efficacy.