Exam time is stressful
January is traditionally a time of mock exams for GCSE and A Level students. For many of them, it would have been a time of increased stress and anxiety. School timetables usually mean that the students could be sitting as many as three or four exams in one day. Exam stress and anxiety can be emotionally and physically exhausting. We all need to pay more attention to exam season emotional wellbeing. It is not just about the learning.
It is a shame that these mocks have to happen immediately after the Christmas break. For so many students, the mocks will be a dark cloud hanging over them for the entire holiday. Many will spend most of the holiday at their desks revising. This in turn could result in them not having much time off to simply relax and be teenagers. The real danger is that there is no meaningful break at all from them between December till after the exams are done in June. The risk of burnout is very high.
Exams are not just about content
Most schools are very good at preparing their students academically for the exam season. The students will have the opportunity to practise their exam techniques and to constantly check their knowledge. Some schools are better at this than others. Those in private education usually get more opportunity for practice and feedback. This can be a curse as the pupils are constantly been pushed to work, revise, test, and then revise some more. Parents spending thousands on their child’s education want value for money and can often, unintentionally, become another source of stress for the student.
Very few schools have the time or resources to focus on exam season emotional wellbeing. There is often simply not enough money or time to ensure that the students are emotionally ready for the demands of an exam season.
But this is not a lost cause. Stress and anxiety are part of the education system. But they do not need to be debilitating. A little bit of stress and tension can be a motivating force for many. But when it becomes too much it becomes overwhelming. Learning then becomes almost impossible.
A different kind of study guide
Most students rely on study guides of some sort. But very few think about a study guide that is aimed at optimising performance by focusing on wellbeing. The publishing house Macmillan are leaders in the traditional field of study guides and textbooks. But they have now also starting focusing on student wellbeing. They have teamed up with Gareth Hughes to produce a brilliant book that is designed to teach students how to improve their wellbeing so that their academic performance is maximised. The book is aimed at university students but I have shown parts of it to GCSE and A Level students and they have been able to understand it and implement the ideas. Gareth is a psychotherapist in the Human Givens school of thought and the book is heavily centred on the main ideas behind this form of psychotherapy.
The book will guide the student through assessing their current level of wellbeing and then offers ideas as to how to improve this. And then there are guides about the importance of sleep; how to stay motivated and the perils of perfectionism and procrastination. It is logical and easy to read. It should be essential reading for all students. The link between emotion and our ability to learn is explained in a way that is every easy to understand.
Seek guidance if need be
As a teacher, I have used the essence of Human Givens therapy with my students to great success. I see many school going students in my private practice and they have responded very well to the essential theories of this modality. The press is full of stories about the rise in mental health difficulties for those in education. It is never to early or too late to ensure that yours and your child’s exam season emotional wellbeing are at optimal levels. We all want young people to perform at their best. But they might need a bit of help along the way. This book is ideal. But it might also be time to call in professional help if need be.