Exam stress and how to cope

We are heading into that time of year when tests, exams and controlled assessments fill everyone’s waking hours. And I tend to agree with Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge, when she says:

“I can’t honestly claim that this is worse than taking the exams yourself. But it still isn’t fun to watch the tough, engaging and intelligent young people you have taught for years suddenly morph into nervous wrecks.”

Many high achieving young people have ‘imposter syndrome’; they feel that their achievements are flukes and they are terrified of failure. And it comes to the fore at this time of year when revision is uppermost in everyone’s minds.

But what is the best way to revise? There are flash cards, mind maps, revision strategies, YouTube tutorials and umpteen other Apps and gadgets – many of which were never even thought of when I was taking O Levels!

We are all too aware of the pressures on young people to perform well in exams, and so there are many coping mechanisms our staff teach and impart to the girls, and which hopefully are not only useful for exam conditions but are valuable life skills as well. We have been running mindfulness sessions for some time now and believe this equips the girls with practical ways to live in the moment and, not only be more aware of when and how they are stressed, but also what they can do to reduce that anxious feeling.

Top tips for parents – what can you do at home?

· Keep the kettle warm and buy in some favourite snacks for breaks
· Encourage good sleep routine and some exercise – a good excuse to get yourself going with brisk walks or short runs in the morning….!
· Listen to the rants but resist saying ‘don’t worry, you’ll be fine!’ Instead reflect their feelings back ‘it’s very natural to feel stressed, what do you think will help you manage how you feel?’ (and then think practically ‘how can I help this happen?’ so they feel, and have, done it themselves)
· Don’t wreck their revision schedule with well-meaning trips out for ‘breaks’, but do plan some small mutually agreed treats to be used as ‘carrots’. It is about making good choices.
· Don’t ask ‘how is it going?’ every five minutes. While well-meaning, this adds to the stress.
· DO help with the revision plan, explaining and reducing any family commitments. Be flexible.

Top five tips for students:

· Share your revision plan with your parents so they don’t plan well-meaning ‘boost’ trips when you don’t want them. Everyone must do some though – hopefully family is what gets you through.
· Plan in breaks, some exercise and most importantly sleep – though not until midday every day…! I was once told ‘an hour before midnight is worth two after’.
· ‘Power pose’ regularly! Click through here to learn more
· Be honest with your parents about how you are feeling, but try not to subject them to too many ‘rants’ – they are probably more nervous about this all than you are because they aren’t in control. You are. Make good choices.
· Practise some mindfulness every day – it’s great for life, not just exams. Try the free ‘headspace’ app as a start.

At the end of the examination season you will have so much more freedom, and you may even miss the routine of revision, and the good feeling of ‘flow’ as everything comes together. Ok, perhaps not, but some will! Things won’t always go smoothly or to plan, and knowing that in advance, and allowing some slack time in your schedule will help you feel in control and develop the resilience you need to help you through.

As Michelle Obama said: “There is no magic to achievement; it’s really about hard work, choices and persistence”

 

Nicola Botterill, Headmistress, Bruton School for Girls

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