Recently, The Guardian published an article about how the new and supposedly tougher GCSEs were negatively impacting the mental health of students.
With the majority of grades now determined by final exams at the end of two years, there is more pressure than ever on students to perform.
In 2015 a report from the National Union of Teachers (now National Education Union) claimed that exam pressure was one of the causes of an increase in mental health problems among young people and was noted as leading to panic attacks and self-harm.
Like many other young people, I have spent my whole life sitting exams, from SATs in primary school to university, and I know first hand just how stressful they can be. It didn’t start out that way; at first, I didn’t mind exams, they were a nice break from lessons and I usually did alright.
As I got older, however, the stakes got higher, and I went from revising only the night before to revising months in advance. I could feel the pressure to do well and worried about how failing could affect me for the rest of my life. Sometimes I would try and avoid thinking about exams all together which would leave me unprepared. Other times I would think about them too much and spend all of my time anxious about exams, and my revision and performance in exams would be negatively impacted.
This carried on to university and around Easter every year, the exam period became a major source of stress in my life. I had sleepless nights, panic attacks and a constant feeling of anxiety, a feeling that I was going to fail and any failure would ruin my life.
Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before an exam and would have to take it the next day fuelled by caffeine and willpower.
Even after exams were over, they were still a source of anxiety, with results day looming in the near future. I would immediately leave the exam hall at the end and not want to talk with anyone about how it went. I would then also sometimes put off checking my results until I had to, certain of my failure.
It’s a cliché, but generally the more prepared I was for an exam the less anxious it made me, and normally those were the exams I got my better results in. Planning my revision so that I could cover what I needed to in the time I had meant that I could be prepared, without the work taking over my life. Without a revision plan, I would spend all of my time worrying about work, feeling guilty every moment I wasn’t revising. With a plan I could take breaks, knowing they wouldn’t ruin my grades, and with those breaks I could avoid the claustrophobia and isolation of spending all of my time in my room revising. Another helpful thing was to communicate with people, with teachers and lecturers and also with friends doing the same exams. This gave me the confidence to know I was on the right track with my studying and allowed me to make changes to my methods and covered material if I wasn’t.
Even with preparation, I would still often struggle with exams but I felt more confident that I could get through them. Mind also has some advice on dealing with exam stress, but if you’re feeling stressed and anxious the best piece of advice, in my opinion, is to talk to a faculty member or a family member about it, rather than suffering alone.
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