Exam Season is Looming
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Sue Brown (Registered MBACP)
26th April, 20140 Comments
The exam season is looming large upon us and for many people (teachers included) this means stress levels will be high. So how can we survive this time of year in a way that means we can ensure everyone concerned achieves the best, but also keeps their sanity as well?
We react to exam season stress in the same way that we react to all kinds of "threat" - fight, flight or freeze. These are primeval responses that have long been part of our in-built responses, so how do they appear during exams?
The first response is to fight. There tends to be lots of tension and 'fights' among school children - particularly year six pupils. Families and even school staff will also experience this tension, because the pressure is on to make sure everyone gets the best possible grades.
Despite this, the fight response can be used to positively deal with exam stress. One way to deal with it is to face it head on. Parents, teachers and pupils should make a plan - a strategy on how they will face it. Set aside set times for what will be revised and when. Plan in some rewards as well. For example, if your son/daughter/pupil puts in one hour of revision today then they get to watch a DVD of their choice (within reason).
Denial can be a wonderful thing - for a while! How many children and young people put off revising for an exam - hoping against all hope that it will just go away? How many young people fail to turn up for their GCSEs because they just can't face it?
When we face something that we really don't want to do, it's natural to want to run away. At times running away from a threat can be the best thing we can do. If we want our children and young people (not to mention families and teachers) to survive exams then we need to allow time to "run." This doesn't mean not doing the work or not turning up for an exam. What it does mean is that it is essential to plan in regular "down-time."
If our lives are consumed by SATS, GCSEs or A-Levels then it is likely our moods will slip and we will actually perform worse. So plan in some time to do things that are completely unrelated to school. Consider this just as important as the actual time working. Making sure you have time to relax, de-stress and do things you enjoy will mean that your brain will be more focused when it needs to be.
Freeze is the final response to "threat" and is probably the one that people dread the most. I clearly remember sitting in a mock A-Level history exam watching an ant walk around my desk. My mind went blank, I froze and I forgot everything! Our minds freeze when they have information overload.
Thankfully there are ways to overcome this reaction. It's called "grounding." You focus on one thing - perhaps your breathing, or listening closely to what sounds are around or noticing small details about the room you are in. By doing this you are giving your brain a chance to cool down so that you can focus on the task in hand.
Try to remember that exam season doesn't last forever. After the spring exam season comes the summer! If the stress of exams is getting far too much for you or for someone you care about, don't be afraid to ask for some professional help.
Sometimes just talking to someone outside the situation can be enough to relieve the pressure so that you can not only survive but be the very best you can.
Good luck to everyone involved in tests and exams this year.
About the author
Sue Brown is a qualified children's and young people's counsellor. She is based in Sheffield and works across South Yorkshire and offers online therapy to young people. Sue also works in a number of local schools offering therapeutic support to pupils struggling with a range of difficulties.
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