Exams causing you stress?
The Truth about Stress and Exams
Is exam stress a problem?
Grade twelve results are considered to be the passport to the future. Possible poor study habits throughout the year cause learners and their parents to become very driven, and hyper-focussed, in order to achieve the best outcomes over a short timeframe.
The suicide rate in adolescents is around 10% of those in the general population. This additional exam stress may become a risk factor in a vulnerable teenager. It is imperative that we determine the difference between normal functional stress experienced by learners going through an exam cycle, and the alarm bell sounded by a learner who needs urgent attention from a healthcare professional.
South Africa is a very competitive environment and exams are a crucial part of the education process. This makes it a significant source of stress for Learners and their parents.
What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
Anxiety is considered to be a mental health disorder. An anxious person is plagued by a constant sense of fear, uneasiness and apprehension even when there is no perceived threat. It may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and is often genetic. This type of anxiety disorder requires treatment from a mental health professional.
Stress is a temporary state of anxiety related to a threat or challenge in the environment. Chronic stress can result in a permanent state of anxiety which can complicate into a myriad of medical and mental health illnesses.
The definition of stress
Stress is a natural response to a challenge or a threat. Cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones, are activated which results in a fight or flight response. Stress is not always a negative experience. It is the mechanism with which we adapt to challenges in our environment, whether the challenges are slow-building, long-term stresses or sudden, confrontational ones. These physiological responses can help us improve our performance. Stress can cause you to completely lose control of a situation and be unable to concentrate or it can allow you to remain focused and alert and able to meet the challenge. If used correctly, stress can play a critical role in creating, drive and motivate when it comes to study and exams.
Types of stress
There are two types of stress:
Acute episodic stress
This episode of stress is brief and related to a specific event such as writing exams or having too many deadlines or commitments. It is usually self-limiting and passes when the event is over.
This is a harmful type of stress and lasts for a long time. A child living in a dysfunctional family, struggling with ongoing bullying at school, or an adult with chronic work and financial stress are three examples. Because the body remains in the heightened fight or flight response for a sustained period, the stress itself becomes dangerous. The complications associated with chronic stress include health issues such as worsening hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, gastric ulcers, substance abuse, depression and suicide.
Tips to help ease exam stress
Exam time can be draining and stressful, especially when children are first introduced to them at school.
To help you and your child keep exam tension in check, use these helpful tips
Help plan a study schedule well in advance, explaining that it’s best to have a clear, realistic plan of what needs to be covered in each study session, where work is broken down into smaller chunks.
If they don’t have a desk in their room, help find somewhere quiet where they’re not likely to be disturbed, and away from distractions.
Encourage them to find out exactly what the exam involves. If they can get their hands-on past papers to look at, just being familiar with the format could make them less anxious. They should make a list of things they’re unsure of in advance to ask the teacher.
Help make ‘mind maps’ to collect ideas and summarise thoughts. Using bright colours will help recall important links. Rhymes and associations can also help.
Taking frequent rest breaks will help keep their minds awake.
Offer to help by listening or practising with them.
Sticking to a routine of going to bed early, eating regularly to maintain a stable blood sugar, drinking lots of water to remain hydrated, and making time to have some fun and exercise, will stand your child in good stead. Fizzy drinks or drinks with caffeine should be avoided or kept to a minimum as these stimulants can increase agitation
Avoid fast food as far as possible – the resulting crash in blood sugar could leave them feeling tired and flat.
Over exam time reduce added family commitments and try not to nag as they’ll be feeling pressured already.