Tips to Getting Through Exam Stress

The exam period can be a difficult and stressful time – for teens and parents.

I’m particularly finding that this year as my 15 year old daughter is taking her all-important GCSE’s, and I’m finishing off a BA in English Literature. I’ve been studying part time, and it’s finally coming to an end with an exam on Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets in June.

I was tentative about starting a degree several years ago, alongside running a business with my husband and taking care of two young children. But I can honestly say – it was one of the best decisions I made.

On the whole, I’ve enjoyed the excuse to read, read, and read some more! Although, some of the tomes the course developers chose weren’t necessarily what I would have gone for… but there have been some wonderful discoveries I might never have found, such as The Awakening by Kate Chopin, an essential early American feminist text. The course has also re-awakened my interest into issues facing women: the course has a large focus on gender issues running through the selected texts, and this has re-invigorated my sense of injustice that still exists.

So, as both my daughter and myself are poring over our books of an evening, testing one another and panicking together, (as she keeps reminding me, I’m only taking one exam to her 16, but as I keep pointing out, it’s been a loooong time for me, honey), I have put together a little list of ideas for keeping those teens in your house going, (as well as any slightly older study buddies…);-

1. The Food of Love It might seem like a simple point, but just like you probably debated about whether breast or bottle milk was the best start for your tiny baby, giving your teenager (and yourself) the right nutrition during this stressful period is paramount. Food fuels the body as well as the brain, and a meal or snack made up of both complex carbs (whole grain pasta, rice and cereals), together with protein and healthy fats (such as eggs and nuts), will supply your teenager’s body with the fuel they need. During the revision time, when they might get in the habit of eating high sugar snacks and carbs constantly, make healthy options easily available. For example, some good crusty wholemeal bread toasted with peanut butter will give them a shot of protein as well as energy. Even a quick homemade pizza can be healthy and sustaining; try making your own wholemeal bases, or buy these in health stores, then top with goodies like tinned tuna fish and lots of tomatoes and brightly coloured peppers, to keep up the Vitamin C. A good option on the morning of the exam is a hard- boiled egg with wholemeal toast, as this provides Vitamin B to keep them going through the hard slog.

2. Keep the Water Flowing Just like food sustenance, teenagers need a regular supply of fluids to avoid dehydration, especially as exams are often at the hottest time of the year. A lack of water can also lead to lack of focus, concentration and confused thought – the last thing they need in the middle of an exam. Try to encourage plain water, as many fizzy drinks and fruit juices contain high levels of sugar, which can actually cause impaired concentration.

3. Sleep and a Good Routine Again, this might seem like a no-brainer, but your teen needs lots of sleep to keep them re-energised for the next day. Often, if they are getting study leave from school, the temptation might be there to stay in bed until lunchtime, then stay up late studying. It’s much better to try to get them to stick to a regular routine during this time, and to get to bed at a reasonable hour too, especially if they have an exam the next day. Also, it’s a good idea to encourage them to come off any electronic devices, laptops, etc, at least half an hour before going to bed. This is because the light emitted from these devices causes a chemical called melatonin, which allows the brain to relax ready for sleep, to be suppressed, making it much more difficult to sleep.

4. Physical Exercise Aerobic exercise, where the heart pumps blood around the body, creating a healthy flow to the brain, is a great idea before a revision session. Just 20-30 minutes walking, cycling, running or swimming will do. Exercising outside also stimulates the production of endorphins, so where possible, this is a good option, as it will help to lift their mood. Another good option is to encourage meeting up with friends to engage in team sports. This keeps them in touch with their peers who are going through the same experience, as well as getting the heart pumping. Or what about just taking a walk together? It will do you just as much good as them!

5. Breaks and Leisure Time Don’t forget to let them have some fun! This is a hard time for them, and probably the first time they really feel the pressure to perform well at something which will inevitably affect their future. Rather than a punishing schedule, encouraging them to take regular breaks, perhaps taking a walk or meeting up with a friend, will help them to stop feeling overwhelmed. Work with them to build a realistic schedule before they start, ensuring they can identify where regular breaks and leisure time feature. In this way, they are much more likely to work hard in their allotted times, knowing they can enjoy their time off when it comes.

And lastly – Good Luck to all teens and Mature Students out there who are taking exams!

Kate x

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4 thoughts on “Tips to Getting Through Exam Stress

  1. Whether you’re a mature student or a teenager revision is still important!! I definitely agree with the physical exercise- it seems a waste not to walk for exercise when we live in such a lovely green environment. xx

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  2. Some sound advice and great tips for students (of all ages) in your post, Kate. I’m stressed just feeding the cats. I have found that if I don’t drink enough water during the day, I get really lightheaded and find concentrating,( even more), impossible, so good advice for everyone really.

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