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Keep It Real.

26th April 2019

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GCSE exams are coming up. Teachers are starting to lay it on thick that just relying on classwork isn’t enough and that you need to start to revise. You’re likely already sick of hearing about it.

But what sort of learner are you?

Do you like to be prepared and have used some of the holidays to look over your notes and flicked through the set texts? Have you convinced yourself that you work better under pressure and there’s still time? Or have you been lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling because it all seems too much, too soon?

Whatever kind of learner you are, there is help available. The question you need to ask yourself is: how much help do I need?

April was Stress Awareness Month and social media has been rife with #mentalhealth posts to encourage others to share their stories and experiences. The idea is to show those who are struggling that they are not alone and that there is help available if you need it. The media has also been highlighting the difficulties faced by those about to sit their GCSEs under the new system. Reports from last year have not always been positive, despite there being a success across the board in terms of GCSE passes. Instead, they focus on the negative, including the additional stress that students feel now that much of their potential success is based on how they perform in their exams.

The first thing to identify is whether you are experiencing stress or anxiety. There is a subtle difference between the two.

  • Stress is the way we react to something that upsets our normal balance of life. So, having to reduce the amount of time you do other, more fun things in order to concentrate on your exams can be stressful because you know it is important, but you might resent it. That will also make you feel frustrated, angry and unhappy. However, it does have a finishing point and these feelings should go when you finish your exams as the stress factors causing them will no longer be there.
  • Anxiety can be more intense and all of the feelings of stress can weigh you down so that you are constantly worried, apprehensive and feel that it is all a bit hopeless. It might feel that there is no end in sight and your mental health is affecting every aspect of your life. If this is you, it needs to be addressed immediately.

Dr David Putwain, Professor of Education and Early Childhood Studies at Liverpool John Moores University, recently published an article in ‘The Psychologist’, where he explains that research carried out has shown that taking exams is stressful for 4 reasons:

  1. Consequences – getting good grades means that you get to do whatever you want in the next phase of your life, whether that be A Levels and University, or Apprenticeships.
  2. Markers of self-esteem – good grades can make you feel good about yourself.
  3. Judgement from others – you might feel that friends, parents or teachers are judging you if you don’t do as well as them or as well as they think you can.
  4. Fear appeals by teachers – when they say again and again about passing. It is normally meant as a way to motivate students, but can sometimes be interpreted as scaremongering about doing well in your exams.

The impact of exam stress can be, obviously, not doing well in the exams. Dr Putwain’s article goes on to say that

“ it is not anxiety per se that is responsible for a negative impact on performance, but how a student copes with or responds to that anxiety”.

This might all sound very familiar to you. So, what do you do?

Well, you could chuck everything under your bed pretending that it will all go away if you ignore it hard enough, or you could look at what isn’t working for you. Are your notes too long? Are the texts too hard? Did just you not get it?

How about trying a different approach?

Here at Your Favourite Teacher, we have alternative ways to help you learn, re-learn and revise. All of our videos are short and to the point. They are there to help alleviate some of the stress and give you the visual aids you need to help you remember what you will need in the exams. Did you miss a chunk of classwork? We have the resources to help you catch up. Think you might know it? Try our quizzes and test yourself. This will give you a benchmark of what you still need support on and help you focus your revision so that it is not an overwhelming mass. You are not on your own. We are here to help you.

Exam stress should never be ignored. Your feelings matter. Natasha Devon, a former government advisor on mental health in schools, has said that

“academic anxiety has replaced body image worries as the number one reason pupils give for feelings of distress”.

If you’re feeling stressed and worried about your exams, recognise that this is normal. The NHS website has posted tips to help explain exam stress, explaining that “nervousness is a natural reaction to exams. The key is to put these nerves into positive use”. What this means is finding ways to channel that feeling into something that shows you that you have the capability to succeed. Try to avoid turning one bad result into a catastrophe and a reason to give up. One bad mark is not the whole exam. Take the time to see where you took a wrong turn. Did you try to do a practice test without preparing first? Did you read the question properly before you started writing? Did forget what you were supposed to do in the question? Did you show and explain how you got to that conclusion? This is the time to really look at what you have done and what you could do differently next time to get the result you want. You do have the time now and the more you familiarise yourself with the process of exams and the content you need to understand to do well, the less intimidating the exams will be. We can help you with that. It’s what we do.

In 2018, Mental Health Awareness Week was focused on stress. Your fears, big or small, are not silly. They are real for you and you should acknowledge what is causing them so that you can deal with them in a healthy, productive way. Bottling things up never works and can lead to a further decline in your mental health. The charity ‘Young Minds’ published counselling statistics showing that 40 % of its sessions were related to exam stress.

So, are you stressed or is it more?

Severe anxiety can trigger physical symptoms such as nosebleeds, panic attacks and in the very worse cases, thoughts of suicide. Lack of sleep is also proven to have a very negative effect on your mental health and so if you are not sleeping properly, your feelings of stress and anxiety about your exams will seem worse. It is so important that you do not keep these thoughts and feelings to yourself. Childline has a whole section on their website dedicated to exam stress. One of their tips is to write down all of the things that are worrying you and give it to someone you trust. This will help you see clearly what is causing you distress and also what you can do to avoid triggers that make it worse. Giving it to someone else also provides an opportunity to start talking about what is worrying you and if there are ways to help you challenge those feelings. They also describe that many students at this time of year feel as if they are the only ones to feel isolated and overwhelmed by what the exams represent. “It can sometimes feel like your whole future depends on what grades you get”. The reality you have to face is whether you have given yourself the best chance of doing the best you can on the day. If you have, then great. If you already realise that you could be doing more to prepare yourself, then log on now to Your Favourite Teacher and make use of all we have to offer.

Please remember that while your exams are important and your GCSES are a gateway to your future, they should not be so terrifying that you are not able to function. If you are having thoughts about taking your life, then ask for help and get it now. Hopeline UK (0800 068 4141), Childline (0800 1111) and the Samaritans (116 123) are specialist services that are ready to talk to you and give you all the emotional support you need.

You are much, much more important than the grade you’ll get on a piece of paper.

To help with your overall mental health, don’t lie to yourself. Keep it real. Take the time to examine what you are really feeling about your exams. If, actually, you do feel underprepared, use our resources to boost your understanding and confidence. If you are generally freaking out, use our techniques to slow down and centre yourself. It will help you focus so that the revision material available for you to use will be effective and you will remember it. Avoiding doing anything will not help your peace of mind. Take control and manage your time so that you can walk away knowing you did the best you could to get ready for your exams.