Skills for the Job: Exam stress

The school examinations period is under way. Andy Hillier looks at how youth workers can ease the pressure on young people.

Is it natural to experience exam stress?

The simple answer is yes. Everyone feels stressed from time to time and a certain degree of pressure can actually be a good thing. It can drive people to achieve things that they previously thought weren't possible.

During the exam period, it is common for young people to feel that they may not be good enough, or haven't done enough preparation. They might also be scared of letting themselves down, or missing out on a job or a further or higher education place. But if a young person experiences high levels of stress for a sustained period of time, it can be harmful to their health and their chances of doing well in the exams, according to the charity Mind.

What are the common signs that a young person is becoming stressed?

There are a whole range of warning signs. These include: experiencing difficulty sleeping or waking up in the morning, constant fatigue, forgetfulness, aches and pains for no apparent reason, poor appetite, bowel problems, loss of interest in activities, migraines or headaches, blurred vision and dizziness.

Everyone has their off days, but if a young person experiences any of the above for a sustained period it is worth advising them to visit their doctor to rule out other possible reasons and to ensure that they're not experiencing mental health problems such as depression.

What is the best way to avoid exam stress?

Encourage young people to get organised. Find out when their exams will take place and what they'll be examined on. And make them aware of resources that might make their studying easier. For example, the BBC Bitesize website has a range of revision tools for many subjects.

Encourage young people to plan a revision timetable - and start their revision well in advance. The revision timetable should be realistic, and subjects should be revised in the order that they will be sitting the exam. Also, consider running a dedicated session where young people can discuss their revision plans and the best ways to study. It might be worth setting up sessions where young people can come together to revise together, especially if they don't have anywhere quiet to study at home.

What can help relieve stress?

There is a temptation for young people to lock themselves away and not see their friends or take part in normal activities when exams are approaching. But it is important for them to take time out so that they feel fresh.

Youth groups can provide the perfect place for young people to relax. But groups should respect the fact that young people may only have a limited amount of free time and may not want to take part in taxing projects or programmes. Offering dedicated stress-buster sessions could be one way of supporting young people. For example, it might be worth running sessions where young people are taught breathing techniques or are offered complementary therapies such as yoga, meditation or massage.

What other techniques work?

Young people should also take time to exercise to help reduce their levels of stress. Youth groups might want to assist by perhaps planning an ice-skating trip or setting up informal games in the local park.

Loss of appetite is another associated problem of stress. But skipping meals will leave young people feeling drained and not able to concentrate. Therefore, encourage them to eat regularly and healthily. Consider setting up healthy eating sessions where members not taking part in exams cook for those who are.

Encourage young people to talk to their family, friends or a trusted adult about how they're feeling, particularly if they're struggling. Remind them that there are plenty of people who can offer them support. If they're feeling really bad, they should visit their doctor.



  • The features a dedicated section on how to deal with exam stress and stress in general
  • Mental health charity Mind's website has a section with practical advice on how to cope with exam stress and details of relevant helplines
  • YoungMinds' helpline offers free and confidential support for anyone worried about the emotional problems or behaviour of a child or young person. Call 0808 802 5544
  • ChildLine has produced youth-friendly guide Beat Exam Stress, which is available on the NSPCC website

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