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Academic and Exam Stress

Academic and Exam Stress

With GCSE Exams for many students, Coursework and Dissertation Deadlines looming for many, we feel it would be a good time now to put out something from TMH to help inform parents and carers of some information, and provide some tips or advice we all might want to consider.

According to a survey conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in 2020, almost all of the headteachers (98%) in secondary schools in the UK reported that they had students who struggled with exams due to mental health issues. The survey found that the most common mental health issues that students faced were anxiety (reported by 89% of headteachers), stress (85%), and depression (80%).

It's worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated mental health issues among students, as they have faced disruption to their education and social lives, as well as increased uncertainty and anxiety about their future prospects. A separate survey conducted by the mental health charity YoungMinds in 2021 found that 80% of young people in the UK said that the pandemic had made their mental health worse, with exam stress being a significant factor.

Overall, it's clear that mental health issues can have a significant impact on students' ability to cope with exams and perform to the best of their abilities. It's important for schools and educators to provide support and resources to help students manage their mental health and reduce exam pressure, as well as for parents and society as a whole to prioritize and invest in mental health and wellbeing for young people.

In the UK, students often face a lot of exam pressure as they progress through their education. This pressure can come from various sources, including parents, teachers, and peers.

Here are some of the factors that contribute to exam pressure for students in the UK:

1.      High Stakes Exams: Many exams in the UK education system are high-stakes, meaning that the results have a significant impact on a student's future prospects. For example, GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and A-levels (Advanced Level) are important exams that determine a student's eligibility for university admission and future job opportunities.

2.      Competition: UK education is often highly competitive, with students competing against each other for top grades and university placements. This can create a sense of pressure to perform well and outdo peers.

3.      Parental Expectations: Many UK parents have high expectations for their children's academic performance, and this can add to the pressure that students feel. Parents may put pressure on their children to achieve certain grades or pursue specific career paths.

4.      Teacher Expectations: Teachers also play a significant role in exam pressure for students. They may have high expectations for their students' performance, and students may feel pressure to meet these expectations.

5.      Mental Health Issues: Exam pressure can have a negative impact on students' mental health, leading to anxiety, stress, and depression. This can make it even harder for students to perform well on exams.

To help students cope with exam pressure, schools in the Suffolk ideally will have some options in place, such as study workshops, someone to talk to in the absence of professional counselling options, counselling, and online support options.

It’s important for parents and teachers to be mindful of the pressure that students are facing and to offer support and encouragement throughout the exam period. If things become too overwhelming, professional mental health support options such as counselling could be another option.

Here are some helpful ideas you can consider from now ahead of exam days and submission deadlines;

1.       Encourage regular breaks: It's important for your child to take regular breaks during study sessions to avoid. This will help them to relax, recharge and be more productive in the long run.

2.       Provide a quiet and comfortable study space: Make sure your child has a quiet, well-lit space to study that is free from distractions.

3.       Create a study plan: Help your child create a study plan that allows them to cover all the necessary topics before the exam.

4.       Offer healthy snacks and drinks: Provide your child with healthy snacks and drinks to keep them fuelled and hydrated during study sessions. It is also a subtle way to show them you think of them, as well as the physical benefit of feeding their brain and body with that ever important message of promoting looking after yourself.

5.       Encourage physical activity: Encourage your child to take regular breaks to engage in physical activity, such as going for a walk or doing some light exercise. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Ensuring your child maintains a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep. This will help them to feel more energized and focused during their exams. And where possible, it helps to model this for them and take part in this with them.

6.       Manage expectations: Remind your child that it's okay to not know everything and that they should focus on doing their best rather than achieving perfection. Encourage them to do their best and be proud of their efforts acknowledging their successes and achievements authentically.

7.       Provide a calm environment: Create a calm and quiet environment for your child to study in. This will help them to concentrate and reduce stress. These can help them to reduce stress and feel calmer and more centred.

8.       Practice relaxation techniques: Encourage your child to practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help them manage stress.

9.       Avoid last-minute cramming: Encourage your child to avoid last-minute cramming and instead focus on reviewing the material they have already studied.

10.   Ensure they get enough sleep: Make sure your child gets enough sleep, as lack of sleep can increase stress and negatively affect their performance.

11.   Offer emotional support: Finally, offer your child emotional support and encourage them listening about their feelings and concerns and acknowledging them.

12.   Plan something fun: Plan something fun for your child to look forward to after their exams are over, irrespective of results. This will give them a sense of reward and help them to relax.

13.   If you can see they are putting the effort in, tell them. Positive reflections can really help “not sure know how it’s going, but I can see the time and effort you’re putting in which is really good 😊”. This acknowledgment may open the door to further helpful discussion for you both.

14.   Lastly, if all else isn’t working, seek support if needed. If your child is struggling with exam stress, seek support from their school or a professional counsellor. They can provide additional support and resources to help your child cope.