Minimising exam stress – help is at hand!

With the summer examinations knocking on the door, families with young people who are involved in the summer examinations are dealing with all the excitement and preparation which surrounds them. For many young people who are taking GCSE in particular, it is their first public examination, considering that the SATS, which used to precede GCSE, was abandoned a few years ago. With the country’s economy not in the best of shape and the low prospect of securing employment after obtaining qualifications, young people taking A-level exams are under pressure to achieve high grades. This, they believe, will help them to gain admission to a good university, thereby improving their employment prospects. In this article, I will be touching on one or two of the practical steps that young people can take in order to minimise exam stress. I will also be making some additional recommendations. Just like dieting or giving up a bad habit, the avoidance of stress in an exam context is something that ought to be prepared for well in advance and steps have to be taken to incorporate it into everyday school work and patterns of behaviour. The best way for parents to help young people avoid exam related stress is to provide support and persuade them to keep on top of their work throughout the academic year, considering there are examinations every three to six months. However, irrespective of how much preparation has been done in advance there a few things which can ease the pressure in the days and weeks leading to the exams and also on the exam day itself. In my years of working with families on examination related issues I have seen so many young people who are bright and do well in classwork and other assignments but when it comes to the examination they never achieve the grade that is expected of them or what they desire themselves. Many students experience all sorts of anxiety just before the examination, including memory loss, a semi-panic attack or just the inability to keep calm and articulate their ideas in a manner which will enable them to score the marks. I cannot over emphasis here the importance of practising with past examination questions. For those people who experience stress during an examination, one of the ways to combat this is to practice with past exam questions and have it marked by the teacher or an examiner. This is important and is different from having the paper marked by the student themselves or their friend. It should be marked by an experienced teacher and it is even more helpful if the person who marks the paper can talk though it with the student and explain salient aspects to them. Another area that I would like to address is the use of electronic media for revision. This can make the revision experience more productive, thereby avoiding what could lead to stress. We are so blessed with excellent computer software and all sorts of revision aids that are readily available electronically. I am a techno-enthusiast and when I teach, I often use some of this amazing software to present physics concepts to young people. However, computers can do more damage than good if it is not used carefully. The reality is that the vast majority of examinations are in writing form and I would strongly advise against using TV or computers for revision, particularly in the weeks and days leading up to the exams. Young people should also avoid TV or computers whist having a break in between studying as it can seriously affect focus and drain away study time. If they have to use a computer, they should be very specific about what they are looking up and go straight to it without temptation to drift from their original intention. Taking a short walk or having a cup of tea is better than TVs or computers when taking a break. Below are other practical steps that young people can take to avoid being too stressed during an examination:

  • Advance preparation. It is important to have a revision programme in place.
  • Getting your revision programmes right and being very clear on the modules / subjects and the exact date and time of each paper.Having the right equipment and familiarity with tools being used in an exam. Something like having to get a new calculator shortly before the exam can result in loss of marks as the student may not be familiar with that particular calculator. I have seen many examples of this resulting stress and loss of marks.

Tips for parents:

  • Once you have identified the exact type of calculator your son or daughter needs, buy two or three, give them one and keep the other in a safe place. Believe me, they will lose it just before the exam and come crying to you!
  • Knowing your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to how long you can study for and still be productive. Everyone is different but for most people, studying for about 1 and a half to 2 hours at a time is best, with a 10 to 15 minutes break.
  • Whatever you do, SWITCH OFF the MOBILE PHONE before you start to revise. DON’T use it as a calculator. Use the calculator that you will be taking into the exam for revising and for practising exam questions.

Health issues:

  • A regular sleeping pattern
  • Good dieting – to include getting used to drinking water and not fizzy drinks

Please see below for links to other blogs on exam related matters:

Links for advice:

see exams related article on the following pages