BOD Post Card 1 web klein

Exams are stressful
The period around taking exams is stressful for young people and adults alike. Although this is a normal reaction to a demanding situation, it can cause symptoms that are unpleasant and in some cases unhelpful. The purpose in general of this stress is to create a state of heightened awareness making us more alert to the possible negative consequences of not being prepared – which is one important element related to exam induced stress. This will hopefully drive students to work harder towards better results, which is a positive outcome for schools. But in this state it is very easy for young people to lose perspective, and become overwhelmed by their emotions, leading to a belief that somehow the outcome of these results will determine their future success or failure in life. In this way, the parents and teachers who have the greatest influence over young people, may inadvertently add to overwhelming levels of stress.

 

Some of the symptoms that this stress is becoming overwhelming include mood swings; tears and temper tantrums; being more argumentative than usual; disrupted sleep patterns; physical symptoms like headaches; tummy aches; loss of appetite or over eating ‘comfort foods’ and more than usual self criticism.

 

Teaching young people to look after themselves
The most important way that adults can support young people during this time is by being open to talk about these symptoms and ways in which they can be reduced. Often this means looking at what can be done physically, mentally and emotionally to help young people to be more prepared for exams and the inevitable stress they cause. This can be done on a one to one basis by ‘checking in’ with each student but is more effectively dealt with by planning an interactive session with students led by a teacher/counsellor and/or a professional with experience from an outside organisation. For example the ‘Dealing with exam stress’ session provided by Kanner-Jugendtelefon (KJT). In this session students should be encouraged to share and collaborate with each other on possible strategies to help themselves.

PhysicallyHelping young people to understand what their bodies need.
There are some simple things that young people can do to look after themselves physically at this time including making sure that they eat well and often. Encourage them to have healthy snacks and water nearby but also some favourite (not so healthy) snacks to use as a reward for a good study session.
If they are at home during revision time it is good to have a routine, which includes getting up and dressed at the usual time, mealtimes, exercise and ‘time out’. It can be tempting to fall into a weekend routine which may include getting up later and going to sleep later but remind them that they will not be sitting exams at midnight with a full mug of coffee or an energy drink. So it’s best to keep to a schedule that mimics their normal weekly rhythm. Exercise is really important in this rhythm because getting out even for a short brisk walk has been shown to improve memory, help regulate emotions and increase energy levels. They may also need to be reminded that we all need some time disconnected from our digital devises. Whilst it is really important for young people to feel supported by their peer group during this time, nocturnal chats at 2am rarely help in this process. Obviously today most students will be using a devise with a screen of some time to help them study, and may need a reminder to switch these off at least an hour before going to bed for sleep and mental hygiene reasons. Again in most classroom settings young people do not spend long hours at a screen studying, so encourage them to mix screen time with other ways of preparing for exams.

Mentally – Helping young people to know themselves better.
Preparing mentally for exams can feel gruelling especially if students have to revise for many subjects at once. No doubt most students have done an Internet search on how to improve their chances of success in exams. There are lots of good sites with supportive tips but the sheer amount of information of ‘what to do’s’ can be overwhelming in itself. Every person is different, but there are some things to know that might help them break down this information in a more manageable way, starting with a revision plan and timetable. Most schools provide an overall template for this but some students may need more help with what to revise, when, where and how. It can also be helpful to include parents in supporting students to keep to their revision plan at weekends, in holidays and during exams.

Some pointers when setting up a revision timetable may include questions like:

  • Have they broken down each subject into ‘chunks’ or clear areas of revision?
  • Have they included breaks for meals, exercise and ‘time out’ for social activities?
  • Have they included where they intend to revise – at school, in the library, at home?
  • Have they included different revision techniques like practicing with past papers; highlighting theories, key words and definitions; using visuals like mind-maps and/or colour coded notes, and using quizzes to check recall?
  • Have they considered having a ‘study buddy’ or discussions with other students about what, how and when they are revising and how to deal with exam stress?

 

Emotionally – Helping young people to look after their psychological state.
It is important that students are encouraged to find a balance between working hard and play at this stressful time. Often students feel guilty about ‘time out’ of their revision plan, but time practicing hobbies, sports or socialising are just as important. Without this balance stress levels can become elevated. In general when people become overly stressed they go into a state of ‘fight, flight or freeze’ and when this strategy no longer works they start to ‘close down’ psychologically. In the aroused state of ‘fight or flight’ a person can seem overly argumentative or defensive but will be urged to act, however, if there is no relief from this action they may become depressed, isolated and feel hopeless.

In general some things that might help students to look after themselves emotionally include:

  • Talking to a trusted confidante and/or professional
  • Including ‘rewards’ in their revision plan like a night out at the cinema with friends
  • Using Mindfulness or Meditation techniques
  • Go for a walk or bike ride in the countryside
  • Using aromatherapy oils in a diffuser in their study area
  • A hot bubbly bath
  • Taking a nap
  • Watching their favourite childhood movie
  • Compiling a list of things to do if they are feeling stressed or low energy.

Students need to be encouraged to talk openly about their feelings, what to do and where to go if they need help. The KJT online help service provides confidential, anonymous and free information and advice to young people in Luxembourg through their website at www.kjt.lu. Students should be encouraged to test this service just in case they might need it or a fellow student in the future.

 

When dealing with exam stress every student is different. However, with planning and preparation they can learn skills beyond simply taking exams, by exploring what works for them in terms of lowering their stress levels and finding their preferred style of learning in this process. For more information about this or related sessions that KJT can provide on topics of interest to schools and young people please contact Barbara Gorges Wagner (Director) at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Download "example of a lesson plan"

Download "Exam Stress Slides for schools"