Beaconsfield High School

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Has exam stress gone too far?

For this generation, exams take over their adolescent years, with 96% being anxious about exams*. Society is telling young people more and more how important their school results are. There are frequent tests to mark young people’s progress, however this constant examining can cause harmful stress. Some people are left unsure of how to deal with this pressure. Many students find it hard to manage everything at school and this is only made worse by testing. This problem is growing with increasing pressure to perform well in exams.

Students are stressed for multiple reasons, but one reason is indisputably the importance of results to schools. Young people pick up on this and let it affect them and their own mental health. School is a very significant factor in children’s lives, so attitudes there will follow students home. According to a ChildLine survey, 59% feel pressure from parents. Many parents wish for their child to succeed academically; this can be at the sacrifice of their emotional wellbeing. Although parents often mean well, constant pressure on their child to perform well can do more harm than good. Knowing the right boundaries for the school and parents can help the young person to minimise anxiety. It is not just teachers who cause stress in the school environment; peers compete with each other, whether on purpose or not. The habit of comparison makes many students feel inferior to those around them. Some young people have personal expectations for themselves. They demand too much of themselves by setting unrealistic and unattainable goals. Generally, exam stress is caused by the inability to cope, with exams, revision or pressure from school and family.

As well as anxiety, exams can result in physical symptoms for the person affected. One of these is a lack of sleep. They are up all night unable to sleep as worries go through their head, or they may wake up very early. Two thirds of students have trouble sleeping*; this sleep deprivation then affects school results as they need the energy for learning. Stress not only affects yourself but those around you. As the students find themselves under pressure, they struggle to handle it and could end up taking it out on those around them. If this happens, relationships could suffer. Parents need to have a lot of patience and friendships need to be strong. Those under pressure rely on their loved ones showing understanding.

One of the primary ways of helping young people is education in school. Teachers could help organise timetables and give guides for what they are going to be studying. Schools should introduce positive attitudes towards exams and successes. This would ensure that students are learning in a positive environment. Parents have a responsibility to keep their children mentally happy and prepared for stressful situations. Recognising stress is key to stopping it. When you know your child is getting stressed, stop and chat to them, making sure they take breaks. Be wary of over revising, this can have the opposite effect, resulting in anxiety and too much pressure. You cannot learn properly without breaks and effective motivation. Doing manageable chunks means the students stay determined and don’t give up. Bottling up emotions can have grave consequences; making sure young people have someone they can talk to is vital. 64% of young people say they haven’t received any help or guidance with exam stress*. Without support results will fall and adolescents will be let down. Students could use shared experiences to empathise and give encouragement to each other. Charities have large resources of information widely available online for anyone who needs them.

We interviewed a year 11 student taking GCSEs:

Why is taking exams so stressful?

'Because society puts a lot of pressure on us to perform well especially school.'

How does this stress effect you during and perform exams?

'I feel guilty that I should work harder when I am at home; I can’t enjoy my free time and I can’t really focus on anything else. Stress affects my sleep because sometimes I lie awake at night thinking I should’ve done this and that. It gets to you and you can’t stop thinking about it.'

What about relationships with friends and family?

'Sometimes it can be a lot of strain, especially with parents. They’re worried about you and want you to do well but they don’t always understand. I often get frustrated and lash out at them unnecessarily. Friends are all going through the same thing so you can empathise and help each other. Although you end up giving each other a lot of stress too.'

How well does the school help you? What else could they do?

'I don’t think schools do very well at helping us. Schools today do create a lot of the stress because that’s how they get the results they want. Schools put pressure on us to revise hard and for long periods of time. The methods of revision they have supplied us with aren’t that effective. They could do a lot more.'

How do you deal with the pressure?

'I create myself a timetable that I can stick to. Working for really long periods of time is something I struggle to do, I get tired and give up. During holidays I set up regular times for working.'

In summary, we feel that in order to cope with exam stress you need to work collaboratively with friends, teachers and parents. When it gets near to the exam, work consistently, but not unreasonable hours. Don’t be pressured by others’ expectations of you. As long as you get through what you need to, you will do your best.

*Source- ChildLine Survey

By Emily and Izzy