Sara Hedger, Head of Child Safeguarding and Child Protection, GEMS Education, discusses how exam stress can permeate all areas of a student’s life and how teachers can best mitigate its effects.
Exam time can be stressful for everyone involved whether you’re a student, family member or teacher. In a large expat community this can be difficult when you are away from your usual family support network but there are things you can do to keep positive and healthy.
Watch out for signs of stress:
These could include students feeling anxious and tense, being irritable, lack of sleep, headaches, losing interest in food, low mood or negativity. Encouraging the student to talk about their worries is important and if they don’t want to talk to you, then guide them to speak to another member of school staff or a trusted family member.
Encourage students to get enough sleep:
Worrying about exams can disturb sleep patterns. Advise students to take enough time to wind down and relax once they’ve finished studying before going to bed and stay off electronic devices just before sleep.
Don’t add to the pressure:
Students often report that they feel most pressure comes from their families or themselves. Work with parents and students well before exams begin. Encourage parents to be reassuring and positive, let their children know that doing their best is the most important thing and if things don’t go well, it’s not the end of the world. Encourage parents to actively listen to their children and avoid criticism. If parents recognise some negativity then discuss it with the child and let them know that they’re supporting them fully.
Encourage parents to be flexible around exam time:
Staying calm as adults is essential. If the student has been studying all day, tell parents not to worry if chores are left unfinished in the house; exams don’t last forever.
Talk openly about exam nerves:
Feeling nervous about an upcoming exam is normal. However, if anxiety about exams is getting in the way of revising then rehearsing the type of activities they will be facing on the day is essential. Timed practice papers and visiting the exam hall will be covered: but speak to parents as soon as possible if the student is still struggling and may need extra support at home and school.
Recognise your own emotional state:
Teachers always want their students to do the best they can and this can create anxiety particularly at exam time. Discuss with colleagues and senior staff if you feel that you need support, they are there to help.