Exam season looms large on the horizon and we teachers must balance appropriate motivating of our students with awareness of likely stress or anxiety.
I wrote an earlier version of this post in April 2016. In 2017 there seems to be even more uncertainty, for teachers and students alike. In the new GCSEs we can’t guide students with any real certainty as to which grades they will achieve. For A levels, it’s the first time any of the new Advanced exams have been set, and only the second for new AS qualifications. Such uncertainties are likely to add to the anxiety of some students. Teachers need to be especially careful not to project our own worry on to those we teach.
Here, then, I am revisiting ten helpful things students can do to keep motivated and stay healthy too. The list originates from an (old specification!) A level psychology task I gave my students to do when they studied a unit on stress. The aim was to use what they had learned to write advice for fellow students. I have developed it over the years and this latest version is influenced by advice from our School Health Nurse, the NHS, and the charity Mind.
Ten tips to beat exam stress
- Get Organised. Make sure you know what exams you have, what kind of questions they will have and when they are.
- Manage your time. Your time is precious, so make the best use of it by drawing up a revision timetable. Make sure you build in breaks between sessions.
- Stay In control by sticking to your plan and using it to review what you have achieved and what is coming next.
- The right Environment. Work somewhere that is light, has enough space and is distraction-free. Music may be OK (you’ll know what works for you) but visual input from TV, screens & social media will just distract you.
- Boost your confidence. Use a revision journal, recall things that have gone well in the past and visualise your success.
- Eat Healthily and stay hydrated. Avoid ‘energy’ drinks: they may give the illusion of alertness but actually impair your performance (that’s why you never see an advert saying ‘Drink Red Bull: it helps you revise.’ Because it doesn’t.
- Get enough sleep; don’t stay up late revising, a tired brain does not work well, either at the time, or the next morning.
- Friends & family. Let them know you have exams and need to revise. Keep in touch during those breaks you planned into your revision.
- Avoid life changes. Now isn’t the time To start a new relationship or plan to run away to the circus (however tempting that may seem).
- Understand your body and the signals it sends you. Recognise that signs of exam nerves like ‘butterflies in the stomach’ a dry mouth, or sweaty palms are nothing to worry about. They are just symptoms telling you that your body preparing for action.
We include a version of this list in the revision advice we give to students and share it with parents through our school newsletter. This year we have also run special sessions on tackling exam anxiety this year which have proved popular.
Students can get more help and advice on student life from the Student Minds website and these pages on the Mind website where you can also download a PDF document. Advice directed at parents and carers can be found on this area of the NHS Choices website.
I hope you found this post useful. Please feel free to use and adapt it as you wish. I’d be interested in which resources other schools use.