For some children, the increased pressure around exam time may lead to symptoms of stress.
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:
- Inability to accept failure or uncertainty
- Pessimism or negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations (either of the student or the parents)
- Life transitions
- Family issues and/or relationship difficulties
- Financial problems
- Performance anxiety
What can you expect to see if your child has exam stress?
Some people feel pressure and develop stress symptoms more than others. 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 Adrenalin into the body. This can lead to various symptoms including:
- Feeling cranky and irritable (increased yelling or crying, swearing, hitting)
- Indecisiveness and/or confusion
- Problems with going to sleep or getting up in the morning
- Strongly beating heart, sweating
- Mild chest pains, back pains, nausea, trembling, shortness of breath
- Minor stomach upsets
- Possible skin breakouts
- Teeth grinding, nail biting and fidgeting
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Going blank in the exam
Focus on these 3 areas to beat exam stress easily …
1. Effective study and learning habits
- Help your child find a quiet place to study without distractions. Make sure their table is uncluttered so they can focus better.
- Encourage your child to find out exactly what the test involves – are there past test papers they can look at to help them understand what to expect? Try WorksheetCloud – you’ll find online and printable worksheets and practice exams.
- Encourage your child to ask for help or ask their teacher for clarity if they are unsure of something or if they feel confused.
- Help them to make ‘mind maps’ to collect ideas and summarize thoughts – use bright colours to help remember important links.
- Help them to plan their study schedule early on so they have sufficient time to study. It can be helpful to develop a clear, realistic plan of what they want to cover in each study session. Can they break it down into small chunks?
- Remind your child to take a short rest and move around in between each part of their study.
2. Healthy sleeping and eating habits
- Encourage your child to stick to a routine of going to bed at a reasonable time. They need to avoid late night TV shows or movies.
- Motivate them to eat regularly and make time to have fun and exercise.
- Help them to cut back on coffee or any other stimulants which they may be using, as these can increase agitation. Encourage them to drink lots of water instead.
- Remind them to take time out when they eat, rather than carrying on with study.
- Encourage them to eat fresh fruit, veggies, cereals, grains, nuts and protein – they are all good for the brain and blood sugar levels.
- Encourage them to eat when they get hungry. This keeps blood sugar and hydration levels steady.
- Avoid junk food if possible. It will bring a sudden sugar high which will fall away quickly, leaving a person feeling tired.
3. Relaxation techniques
- Always encourage your child to relax before they go to bed after concentrating for long periods of time. Activities such as reading a short story may help them unwind and sleep better.
- Encourage them to go out for a walk, run or do some other exercise they enjoy.
- Avoid rushing on the day of the exam by organising and packing everything they need to take with them the night before
- Help your child to develop a positive mindset by encouraging them to visualise success – this can really help with self-confidence.
I also recommend signing your child up for a WorksheetCloud membership. WorksheetCloud is a great way to help your child prepare for exams and make them feel more relaxed and ready to tackle each exam question.
How do you help your child beat exam stress? Post your comments below.
My son is repeating Grade11. He wad diagnosed of ADHD 2years ago. He has not been taking tablets for rest of the year. He had a psychologist , however he retired. He has not seen anyone else since. He is studying at Bosmansdam High
school in Cape Town. He will study for a test or exam, then when he has to write them he panics a lot as a results he fails. He says His worst fear is failing English but he is not doing well on others too. The irony of the whole thing he loves reading novels, even last Christmas he asked me and his aunt to buy novels for Christmas present.
Hi Mongikazi! Thanks for your comment! I hear your concern. We struggle to get our children to love reading, so the fact that he loves reading is definitely a positive. I would suggest that you find him another psychologist or take him to the clinic, so that he can be re-assessed (if he hasn’t been assessed in the last 3 years). This will indicate the need for medication. Also, find out what he is struggling with at school and if he needs an accommodation (the school can apply for this) Check through this website, it will give you an idea https://wendymaitincasalis.co.za/2018/09/11/does-your-child-qualify-for-accommodations-and-concessions/. I hope this helps.