Teenagers, GCSE exam pressures and coping with stress
School students and teenagers face pressures and stress just like adults. GCSE exams can place a lot of pressure on students and understanding the pressures faced by students and knowing how to deal with it will help you cope better with your GCSE 9-1 exams.
We all deal with stress at some point in our lives, but not all stress is bad stress. Stress in moderation can make you more aware of your surroundings, and help keep you focussed and enable you do to get more work completed.
There is no dispute that all exams are stressful. It does not matter if it is a practical exam, like a driving test or a written exam, it is going to be a stressful time. For young people who are about to take their GCSE exams, it has got to be the most stressful time that they have ever experienced to date, and equally, it is a traumatic time for parents who are supporting very stressful teenagers during this period.
Being a teenager is hard enough, but add GCSE exams into the equation, and without support and planning, the pre-exam situation can become quite volatile.
The pressure to succeed in the exams can be overwhelming, as careers will depend on the results. This type of pressure can often be seen as a threat and will put the student into fight or flight mode. As many teenagers will not have experienced this type or level stress before they do not have any past experiences or coping strategies to draw on can make things very difficult.
Additionally, other difficulties may be present such anxiety; panic attacks; depression, which may be the result of Asperger’s; ADHD; ADD; OCD or Dyslexia problems, extra levels of support may be needed.
The stress that young people experience prior to taking their GCSE exams is further intensified by uncontrollable stressors such as allergies and weather. The late spring/early summer can be a disaster for students that have Hayfever or Asthma as pollen counts are high. Generally, antihistamines can reduce symptoms, but they can also reduce concentration and cause drowsiness. Not the most ideal situation either way. Advice is to have a chat with your GP, at the earliest opportunity, as they may be able to suggest a medication that is more suitable.
During the revision and exam period, the weather usually warmer and its much nicer to be outside than revising indoors, missing all the fun. These factors alone can cause a lack of motivation to revise (as there is always tomorrow), which in turn will cause stress; anxiety, and lethargy.
Let’s start talking about stress
We all tend to use the terms; pressure; stress and anxiety as if they are interchangeable, but they are not.
What can stress do to you?
Physical effects of stress
It can make your heart beat faster, which in turn will cause profuse sweating. • Can cause difficulty in breathing, which will result in shortness of breath
Production of hormones may increase. The tenseness in the muscles may increase and a burst of energy experienced.
Essentially the body is preparing its self for a fight or flight situation.
Psychological effects of stress
Essentially, stress can make you forget everything that you have learned in the past two years; render you unable to string a sentence together let alone write an answer in an exam. It can also affect your ability to organise your time and will affect your ability to cope. All these stress effects can result in a tendency to put things, such as revision for an exam.
Not everyone will experience the same symptoms or the same intensity of symptoms. One of the best ways to deal with stress is by being proactive.
Preparing for the exams
If you are prepared for your exams, then it may help to reduce your stress and anxiety.
The chances are that you will have several exams and often there may be two exams in one day, or they may be several days apart. Start your preparation by working out a timetable. Make sure that you have all the information on all of your exams. You will need dates, times and locations. Then recheck all of your information.
At this point, you may be able to have an overall view of when all of your exams take place. You may have to prioritise your revision in some cases. Where there is more than one exam for a subject area, it may cause a bit of a problem with your schedule, as you may not be able to ultimately draw a line under one subject and move on to the next.
Next, on your timetable add any important dates, such as medical appointments, birthdays and family celebrations. Ideally, schedule in any club or activity that you do on a regular basis. By paying attention to your normal activities, it gives you the chance to have some time away from revision, which is a good de-stressor.
Spend some time looking at past exam papers. Read through the questions carefully and jot down a few notes as answers, anything that you are not sure of you can look up the answer or talk over with your teacher. Sometimes working like this can be very productive as you are proactive as opposed to just looking through notes that you have previously made.
Ask your teachers what revision they are covering in class. You can always suggest if you feel that there is something that you don’t feel confident about and need extra instruction. Ask your friends if they would like to be a study buddy. This may be a great idea, as working together can mean that it is easier to stay on task and you may cover more and remember more when you talk about the content of your course.
If you have had classroom support from a learning support assistant, then they may help you to devise your revision timetable. Additionally, if you have had support then, you may be sitting your exam in a separate room from the rest of your class. Check with your support to see if this is happening.
Once you have your timetable, try to fit in 1½ – 2 hours of active revision every night. Make sure that you leave time to relax and do other activities such as meeting friends or activities such as swimming. When setting your revision targets, be realistic about when you can achieve within the time you have allocated.
Stress-busting ideas that will lower revision and exam stress.
The day before the exam
The best advice is not to think that you can cram a two-year course into an all-night study the night before the exam. Your brain will need time to process the information, and you need to be familiar with the course content so you can apply that information to the questions in the exam paper.
Prepare everything that you need for the following day, and this includes setting your alarm and planning what you are going to wear and how you are getting to the exam. Always have a Plan A and a Plan B, just in case of traffic jams; change of room for the exam; or a pen that won’t work. Leave nothing to chance.
Do's and don't to reduce stress levels
If you find that you cannot sleep then, try some relaxation exercises that are based around the principle of tensing all of your muscles and then releasing the tension one group at a time. If you feel that you are getting tense, then use this technique that you can use in everyday situations. Fully tense your back and shoulder muscles for several seconds and then relax.
Once you have gone to bed and found that you really cannot sleep, then get up and go to another room, sit with the family and watch some TV. Try not to watch TV in your room as you need to make your bedroom the place to sleep. Far better that you have a few hours of sound sleep, than a whole night of tossing and turning getting more stressed as you cannot sleep.
On the day of the exam
GCSE exam coping strategies in a nutshell
Advice for parents and carers
There are some specific actions that you can take to support your teenage during this very stressful time.
Be aware of the signs of stress that your teenager may be experiencing, which may include:
Encourage them to:
Help them to study
Make time for treats
We advise contacting any of the following organisations if you or someone you care about needs further information and support: