I provide specialist counselling for children experiencing exam stress. I am writing, this week about the stress and pressure of summer exams. As exam season gets underway, we might spare a thought for the young people in our schools who are not only taking exams but are also preparing for exams perhaps next year or even the year after.
As the mental health of our young people gets higher up on the government’s agenda for change in our country then the exam season must come to be seen as one of the most stressful times in a young persons diary.
I have written extensively in the past about how hard it is for some of our young people to compete in the exam arena. For example, research tells us that students whose parents struggle financially and who themselves did not achieve, academically, are at a disadvantage to those students whose parents performed well and who can afford a comfortable lifestyle. And clearly, students who experience uncertainty and worry in their home and as a consequence have little time to think about their future, and the part exams play in it, are equally disadvantaged in the exam economy.
In this blog I would like to now write about students at the other end of the spectrum. Students who try hard and perform well in school and are expected to achieve well still experience exam stress. It is almost taken for granted that these students are comfortable with exam stress and pressure and comfortable competing with each other to get the top marks.
These students are not immune to anxiety and they are not immune to the stress that comes with the pressure placed on them, by they themselves and by others, to succeed.
While hard work and dedication definitely reap rewards in our culture, most of the time our hard work is not measured against somebody else’s and our efforts are not, generally, publicly revealed each year to, potentially, tens of thousands of people.
Competition is valuable, it keeps achievement essential and hard to acquire, however if you have been diligent, hard-working and if you have been praised by your teachers and advised by them that you are an A star student, then the exams every summer are the short, intensive, proving ground for these predictions.
There can be no room for exam nerves and exam stress for as every diligent student knows, to achieve in exams one must be confident and relaxed. That is a big ask by anybody’s standards.
At this time of year, when I am asked more than at any other time of year to provide support to highly performing young people, I reflect that exams are hard and perhaps more acknowledgement could be given to the young people who are taking them from us, the adults who require them to sit these exams.
If you believe that your son or daughter is struggling with exam stress then please feel free to get in touch. I have helped many young people over the years deal with stress in more helpful ways.