Coping with exam stress

Exam Stress
Exam Stress

Stress levels in households up and down the country are sky high as exam season gets underway. Here’s some advice for students - and their harassed parents.

It's high time we examined increasing pressure being brought to bear on exam pupils.

Exam stress

Exam stress

That's a report's stark message, confirming tested students are suffering ever more stress.

Renewed calls for good health above grades comes amid new research revealing ‘difficult’ exams leave 45 per cent of our kids anxious as they fear being ‘embarrassed’ by poor results.

A poll of 1,000-plus pupils, who sat Key Stage Two SATs last year, indicates almost a quarter couldn’t concentrate due to escalating pressure.

Kellogg’s survey highlights peer pressure problems with around 30 per cent of ten and 11 year-olds confessing biggest concern is embarrassment, 15 per cent worrying their mates will score higher.

Recent years has seen many parents brand Statutory Assessment Tests stress "unnecessary" yet, for nearly 40 per cent of classmates, their worst fear is letting mum and dad down.

Young Minds (0808 8025544) and Samaritans (116 123) are among lifeline groups offering timely advice.

YM Parents Helpline Manager Emma Saddleton acknowledges a large spike in calls around mock and real exams as well as results announcements.

“It often becomes clear exam stress is just one part of a much more complex picture. The young person may also be going through a relationship breakdown, being bullied or dealing with their parents separating. Exams tend to bring everything else to a head," she explains.

“The best thing parents can do to support their children during this time is focus on your child’s wellbeing and reassure them you’re there for them, regardless of grades. It’s also a good idea to organise a treat for end of exams to celebrate the young person getting through this time and reward their hard work”.

Samaritans, already on high alert after recent Mental Health Awareness Week, also ask for parents, teachers, students and employers to put wellbeing ahead of grades this exam season.

Director volunteer Alwyne Greenbank advises: “Learning to manage your emotions – build resilience, develop communication skills and positive ways to cope with difficulties - is as important as learning to read and write.

"Every parent, teacher and employer puts a value on good grades, and students put themselves under pressure to achieve, but we would urge anyone involved in exams, and supporting young people with their studies, to ensure students look after their emotional health. That way they are likely to cope better with stress and achieve better too. Whatever stage you’re at in life, exams or not everything.”

So severe are stress levels some 22 per cent of students no longer "enjoy learning". So, how can teens knuckle down without a meltdown?

One key to revision is deciding if a young learner is visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner. Visual pupils best use diagrams. mind-maps and tables to organise information, auditory types learn from online videos and work well in revision groups and kinesthetic students suit museum or gallery trips to see concepts put into practice.

Revision timetables not only create stability, but can involve supportive family members, with websites such as Get Revising enabling exam-sitters to revise around hobbies. Healthy snacks help conserve energy so Omega 3 rich food such as nuts reportedly aid cognitive function while ripe bananas naturally increase levels of dopamine to increase motivation.

Clean up your act! Princetown University research confirmed cluttered desks contribute to stress levels. Ideal study spaces enjoy natural light with minimal distractions.

Take a break! Take time out is proven concentration aid, resting up and regathering thoughts every 25 or 45 minutes to suit the individual.

Accentuate the positive! Subject authority Dr Susan Davis stresses it's important to alleviate stress, reminding youngsters failure isn’t the important part, more how you bounce back.

Case study GCSE student Jessica Arnold, among first year group to take number rather than letter graded exams, says: “Exam questions are a good way for me to put revision into practise, but there aren’t many for the ‘new’ exams, so it’s been a bit of a struggle.”

A synchronised swimmer, she is prioritising revision over the sport she loves. “It has been quite hard to balance training and revision," admits Jessica, who makes flash cards for some subjects while her walls are papered with timelines and case studies.

“There is so much support available on the Internet. If I am really into the revision, and don’t want to loose my train of thought, I won’t take a break because I will just lose motivation,” adds the 16-year old.