Charity warns of exam stress epidemic

The number of counselling sessions which ChildLine had to give for exam stress trebled last year. How can you deal with the pressure, and how much do exams matter?

The feelings are familiar at this time of year: butterflies in the stomach, the fear of failure and the worry about the future. Pressure on teachers, parents and, most of all, students is a ritual part of the exam season.

But for some, the stress is overwhelming, like the teenage boy who called ChildLine to tell them: ‘I am going to revision classes and trying really hard but I feel like it is not good enough’. According to figures released by the NSPCC yesterday, he was one of 34,454 young people who received counselling — along with more than 87,500 who visited the ChildLine website — over school-related problems in the 2013-14 academic year. 58% of these counselling sessions focused on exam stress, meaning that the number had increased threefold in just a year.

Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, says that exams can bring ‘a very stressful and anxious time for young people’, but the speed and size of this increase has caused alarm. There is particular concern about the potential of stress to contribute to other health problems such as sleeping difficulties, anxiety attacks, depression and eating disorders.

ChildLine have outlined some ways in which you can deal with exam stress. They particularly emphasise the importance of looking after your body to your prospects of performing well. Taking regular breaks from revision, exercising and going to bed at a reasonable time will make you feel healthier and more alert. It’s tempting to think that, if you spend every minute hunched over your books, more information will go in — but the mind doesn’t work that way.

It’s also important to try to think positively; examiners are looking to find out what you can do, not to try to catch you out. And it’s a good idea to take some water into the test to sip, if you’re allowed to; staying hydrated will help you concentrate. The most important thing, though, is to remember that the exam results do not define you. Academic achievement is not a measure of your worth as a person.

Testing, Testing

Life is full of tests, so perhaps doing them at school is an essential part of education. The process helps to make us more resilient and readier to face the challenges of adult life. If you get good results, the feeling of being rewarded for your efforts is great. And we have to find out what we’re good at somehow.

But exams aren’t everything. Being well-educated means more than just being able to do tests; it means being prepared for work by developing intangible qualities which employers value and the skills which would enable us to interact with other people. And a love of education is more valuable than any exam grades can ever be.

You Decide

  1. Why do you think exams can be stressful? List some factors, and if possible consider which of them you think is most important.
  2. How important are exam results?

Activities

  1. In groups, discuss what stresses you about exams and write down five things you can do to alleviate the pressure.
  2. Write a letter to someone who has just received disappointing exam results (or has just had a similarly disappointing outcome in a high-pressure situation), consoling them.

Some People Say...

“Examination is a necessary evil.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is stress normal?
Do you think a sportsman playing in a major final or a singer performing in front of thousands of people doesn’t feel stressed? It’s completely normal before a big event in your life. A small amount of stress is often helpful — it helps to focus the mind and gives you a bit of energy. But if you get too stressed, it can be counter-productive and unhealthy. If the stress is regularly affecting your ability to concentrate or sleep, for example, then it’s probably harmful.
How do successful people deal with high-pressure situations?
The most important thing they can do is to prepare thoroughly, starting long in advance. They do plenty of practice. They speak to people who have been in similar situations and take advice from them.

Word Watch

ChildLine
ChildLine is a private and confidential service for children and young people up to the age of 19. You can call them on 0800 1111, chat to a counsellor one-on-one online or send them an email. See the links for more information about them.
The NSPCC
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is a charity which fights to end child abuse. ChildLine is a service provided by the NSPCC, who recruit volunteers to work on the service.
Exercising
Research has shown that exercise releases chemicals in your brain called endorphins. These boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep, and look and feel better.
Going to bed at a reasonable time
Scientists believe that reducing your night-time sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night could diminish your daytime alertness by up to 32%. So staying up late in the hope of cramming a few more details into your head before an exam is likely to be counter-productive.
Staying hydrated
Dehydration is likely to make you feel more tired and sluggish, affecting your concentration levels.

Subjects

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