Top tips on how to survive the stress of school exams

This week marks the start of the first formal exams since the pandemic began, with students from across Northern Ireland taking their AS-levels and A-level GCSEs.

For the past two years, exams have been replaced by grades calculated by individual schools, but now English, maths, geography, history and Irish are among the subjects offered this summer.

The Curriculum, Testing and Assessment Council has said the papers will be scored more generously than in years before the pandemic, but it will be the first time many students have taken formal exams. Mental health charity Extern has provided the Belfast Telegraph with advice on how to cope with the stress students may feel.

Here are some of the signs to watch out for:

• Feeling overwhelmed

• Trouble sleeping

• Feeling confused

• Losing contact with friends

• Have trouble making decisions

• Upset stomach or discomfort

• Restlessness, nail biting, teeth grinding

Extern said: “Sometimes we need to take a minute to just breathe. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down and close your eyes. Take a minute to focus on your breathing: is it fast or slow?

“Regulate your breathing to a comfortable rhythm, allowing any thoughts or feelings to come and go. Just relax and breathe, you can feel it help. Try to do this every day, for as long as you need it. Good test preparation is key to helping you reduce test-related stress.”

Here are some tips from Extern when you’re studying for your exams:

• Find a quiet place to study

• Organize your space so it’s not cluttered and free of distractions.

• Find out as much as you can about your test so you can prepare.

• Ask your teacher if you are not sure what course content to focus on.

• Make a ‘mind map’, using bright colors and pictures. There are many different learning techniques, so finding the one that works for you will go a long way.

• Make a plan for your study sessions, establish a schedule with short breaks included to get some fresh air.

• Divide your session into blocks. Focus on one block at a time.

• Ask for help if you need it. That includes if you’re feeling stressed, as sometimes talking to a teacher, a friend, or someone you trust can be reassuring.

• Eat well, prepare good dinners and try not to skip breakfast.

When exam day finally arrives, students may still feel stressed about what they are ready to face. Here is a helpful checklist to help you cope:

• What do you need to take with you? Organize this the night before.

• Eat breakfast, this will help your energy and concentration.

• Go to the bathroom before the exam begins.

• When you sit down before you begin your exam, take a deep breath. You got this!

• When you receive the exam, read it carefully. Underline or highlight any key information.

• Estimate how much time you can spend on each section.

• Work on the questions that are easiest for you first.

• When you have completed all the questions, take a minute to go back and reread your answers, starting with the most difficult questions first.

• Do not think too much about your answers once you have left the exam room; focus your thoughts on something else.

• Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask other people for help and support, be it friends, family or roommates.

• Most schools and colleges have dedicated counseling supports for students. Ask about these at your place of learning.

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