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stressStudents are often faced with a series of exams or tests at the end of term or semester, which are usually scheduled closely together. This can lead to great stress for students – and those who live with them! The words stress and pressure are often used interchangeably but in fact, they are quite different. Pressure can be positive and useful to complete deadlines or to help somebody avoid danger. However, when pressure is prolonged, it can become negative, and depend on how the individual perceives it and reacts to it, it can lead to the development of stress. This Hot Topic offers information and ideas on how to help our child or young person manage exam stress.

What is exam stress?

For some people, the increased pressure around exam time may lead to them experiencing stress symptoms much more readily than others. Stress can be defined as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed on them’. It varies from person to person and in many ways a stress response is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or that upset your balance in some way. However, we do know that prolonged stress can lead to illness, both mental and physical.

What causes exam stress?

Exam stress is a natural reaction to pressure caused by a number of factors including:

What are the known impacts of exam stress?

When a person is stressed over something, their body reacts accordingly. If adequate approaches for managing extreme exam stress aren’t developed it can have negative results including lower grades than anticipated or required. Over the long term, various physical health problems such as digestive problems, eczema, as well as mental health issues such as anxiety or depression could develop.

What can you expect to see if your child has exam stress?

Some people feel pressure and develop stress symptoms more than others. Stress responses can differ between males and females as well, with research showing females present internal symptoms and responses such as nausea, butterflies, and feelings of inadequacy which can lead to sadness and depression. Males tend to externalize their anxiety and can become increasingly irritable or angry.

When someone is faced with increased pressure (in this case at exam time) their body can go into a ‘fight or flight’ response which releases increased amounts of adrenaline into the body. This can lead to various symptoms including:

If exam stress or stress, in general, is not resolved responsibly, it can lead to more serious problems like:

What influences a person’s stress tolerance level? 

Support network – A young person experiencing exam stress will have a better response to stress if supported by parents or other caring adults.

A sense of control – Having a sense of control over what to expect on the day, what to learn and ways to systematically revise will assist a young person to manage their exam stress.

Positive attitude and outlook – Assist them to see the bright side, to laugh at themselves and to appreciate the positives in life. People who are resilient to stressors have an optimistic attitude.

Preparation – The more a young person prepares for a stressful situation, such as an exam, the easier it is to cope. A student’s stress level is often influenced by the amount of preparation and planning they have put into studying towards a particular exam and how confident they feel about the material they are to be tested on.

What can parents and carers do about exam stress?

One of the best things parents or carers can do if their child is experiencing exam stress is to try to be as supportive and tolerant as possible.

We’ve put together a list of strategies that may help young people to manage exam stress. We’ve also included some tips on how to help your child deal with stress on and after the exam day.

Effective study and learning habits

Parents and carers can help reduce the exam stress of their child by helping them establish effective study and learning habits:

Healthy sleeping and eating habits

Relaxation ideas to help your child cope with exam stress

Ideas for exam day

Talk about these ideas before exam day so as not to add to anxiety levels.

Suggest to your child that they:

Post-exam tip

If your child is not able to do well in the exam and they feel very upset about it, reassure them that there is always a second chance and passing an exam is only part of the story. It may be helpful to take some time to discuss any problems they had so they can avoid them next time.

Who else can help?

You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information and help.

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