Annual school exams are almost upon us and this is a stressful time for young people who have a lot riding on the results they achieve.  Nobody likes the sensations we feel when we are under stress and our natural reaction is to take whatever steps we can to reduce the stress. It is accepted that continued exposure to high levels of stress is bad for our long term health.

Recent research indicates that the effect of stress on us and our lives is much more dependent on our attitude towards stress.  If we adopt a positive attitude towards stress we can use this natural reaction to enhance our performance and suffer little impact on our physical health.

Six steps to managing exam stress positively.

  • Do not increase your stress unnecessarily
    a) Plan your revision timetable and stick to it.
    b)    Take breaks (see below).
  • Keep your body and your brain healthy
    A healthy brain is as important as a healthy body as we prepare for exams.  In the same way that we keep our bodies healthy through balanced exercise and diet, we keep our brains healthy by balancing the way that we use our brain.  Each day we should balance our time between seven activities, at least one of which should be undertaken out of doors, “in nature”:

    1. Sleep Time. Between the ages of 11 and 25, tests have shown that we need 9 to 9½ hours per night.
    2. Focus Time. Time focussed on one thing with no interruptions – this is your revision.
    3. Chill Time. Time spent doing nothing in particular, being rather than doing.
    4. Physical Time. Aerobic exercise is important to keep your brain healthy too.
    5. Fun Time. Doing something for the fun of it.
    6. Others Time. Time spent engaging with others.
    7. Time In. Time spend understanding yourself and how you feel.  Mindfulness, yoga, meditation, etc., encourage a relaxed state of mind that enables you to explore and better understand your own thoughts and feelings about your life.
  • Prepare for each exam
    a) Generate a plan for each paper; how you will decide which questions you answer?, what order you will answer the questions?’ how you will allocate the time to the questions?’ etc.
    b)    Plan your day:  ensure you arrive in good time for the exam feeling fresh, fed and ready to go.  Allow time to visit the toilet.
  • Just before the exam
    It is normal to feel anxious when we face any challenge that is important to us. The sensations we get, butterflies in our tummy, heart beating faster, are signs that we are becoming energised.  It is normal to find these sensations unpleasant as they are associated with fear.  Think of the sensations as your body confirming that it is ready for the challenge.  You are energised to perform well.
  • In the room
  1. Remember to breath!
  2. Once you have set out your desk, take two or three slow breaths, focus on the sensations of your breath rather than anything that is going on around you.
  3. Recall and focus on your plan for the exam.
  4. Believe in your ability to succeed.
  5. Start by carefully reading the instructions on the front of the question paper.
  • Leaving the room

As you hand in your paper imagine yourself handing your worries about how you have done to the invigilator along with your exam paper.  There is no more that you can do until August when you get your results.  Once you know your results you will be able to do something so avoid focussing on any exam you have completed.  Once you leave the room you need to focus on preparing for the next exam or, if it is the last exam preparing to party!

Time to Talk is a local charity offering counselling to young people in need aged between 11 and 25.

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