Dealing with Exam stress and believing you can do it!
Many of us will be able to recall how nerve-racking it can be to take an exam. Butterflies in our stomach, sweaty palms, a racing heart and panicking that we won’t be able to remember anything we’ve learnt are all common feelings before an exam.
But, when I recently read that children as young as ten were smoking cigarettes to prepare for their exams I was in utter shock. The poll of 1,000 youngsters, who took Key Stage Two SATS last year, also found the students are gorging on junk food and drinking energy drinks for breakfast. This just proves that there is definitely a huge demand for children to be equipped with skilled coping techniques to get them through this stressful time of year. So, recently I have stepped back into the classroom to help pupils maximise their potential before the exam season got underway.
I have been busy working with several local schools and students, conducting a range of group and one-to-one sessions with the aim of instilling coping strategies that allow everyone to perform to their best ability. What’s interesting is that, we all have expectations placed on us, either by ourselves or by others, and it’s these expectations that can cause us the greatest stress. Students with low expectations who believe they are going to fail, find it difficult to think positively – which ultimately impacts their performance. This mind-set is called premature cognitive commitment, which, in a nutshell, means that if you don’t believe you can do something, you won’t even try despite never reassessing whether your belief is true or not.
Take this story of the Indian elephant as an example: A baby elephant is chained to a big tree and the elephant will struggle against the shackles, but only for a period of time. It then gives in to the belief that as long as there is something around its foot, it no longer has free will. Once it’s fully grown, it can be tied by a flimsy rope to a small plant and it will not try to escape – despite the fact that it would be able to! In much a similar way, top performing students have to contend with the weight of increased expectations and the pressure to deliver can set them up for a fall.
Belief has so much to do with it. We are all guilty of negative self-talk, both young and old, which can easily turn a good day into a very bad one. My work is all about changing this mind-set!
For teachers, there is already huge emphasis on the delivery of pastoral care and teachers have the added role of coaching individuals through the exam experience, as well as preparing them academically. Teachers will give pupils their exam dates and the material needed to study, but don’t always teach the children to plan their revision. And it is the things that we don’t plan for that make us stressed. Helping students through this important milestone can be challenging, especially as schools are constantly under the spotlight when it comes to results. It’s really not unusual for schools and colleges to incorporate alternative methods of dealing with student issues such as exam stress. Many schools have even gone one step further to alleviate the pressure on teachers by creating permanent therapist positions, hiring counsellors and holding mindfulness and meditation lessons, where they work with psychiatrists and therapists on a more regular basis.
It’s natural to feel nervous before taking any test, let alone one that could help shape your entire future, but using the power of suggestion and visualisation techniques will encourage students to clear their racing mind and approach the exam with a cool, calm state of mind.
I wish all students taking exams at the moment the very best of luck.