Guest Blog: Conquering Exam Stress

How do you deal with exam stress?

Life can be stressful – and if you’re a young person, exams can be a big source of stress in your life. To mark Stress Awareness month, we sat down with Ishrat, one of the HeadStart Young Researchers to find out about their project researching exam stress in Newham schools.

Why were you interested in the young researchers’ project?

The young researchers’ project appealed to me as I thought it would help me understand exam stress from the perspective of other young people. I found that students experience stress differently, and there are different ways that they handle it. Also, I felt like partaking in this project would allow me to develop certain skills that would look good on my personal statement for college.

What about exam stress interested you?

In my opinion, exams are one of the most stressful things about being a teenager. Personally, I am able to handle the stress, but for other young people, it might be really overwhelming. I was interested to see what led young people to feel so stressed about exams, and how they overcame it.

How does exam stress affect you?

During exams, the thing that worries me the most is the high expectations that my teachers, family and peers have of me. However, I feel like it drives me to do well in my studies. From the project, I noticed that a lot of students feel pressured by these expectations rather than motivated by them, and this contributes to their stress, leading them to worry during their exam, and underperform.

How do you deal with exam stress?

As well as using expectations of me as motivation, I like to have “me time” and relax. I enjoy:

– Reading (especially Shakespeare plays as they help me with English Literature revision)
– Listening to music (Frank Ocean specifically, how soothing !)
– Mindful colouring (you can find colouring books in The Works or Wilko )
– Doing absolutely nothing!

What did you learn/gain from taking part in the project?

Firstly, I was trained by Val (HeadStart Research Lead) on how to conduct an interview and initially I was very nervous. The practice session helped me gain confidence so when I did interview a student, I wasn’t worried about messing up or asking the wrong questions. I was able to keep the conversation going, and make the interviewee feel comfortable with expressing their opinions and telling me their stories. Later on, I was invited to be on the interview panel for Newham Council’s new “family coach” programme, due to my experience in interviewing. Being the only young person on that panel was terrifying at first, but remembering Val’s tips on interviewing and dealing with nerves relieved me of my nerves. I think I did great in providing the council with a teenager’s perspective on the candidates, as well as successfully interviewing four adults, thanks to the young researchers’ project!

How can we use the findings from our project to help with exams?

Thanks to this project, we were able to pinpoint the different things that schools, teachers, parents/carers and peer groups do that contribute to exam stress. Although this sounds like a negative, it was actually helpful in coming up with suggestions for what could be done to reduce exam stress. Here are some of the things we found:

– A lot of students felt that they were compared to their peers too much, and this made them feel demeaned by their teachers.

– There was a recurring issue with the amount of homework students received. With studying for exams, extra curricular activities and schoolwork, getting homework was just too overwhelming.

– As mentioned before, a lot of young people felt pressured by the expectations that people at home had for them, and worried about what would happen if they did not meet them.

– Some young people said that they didn’t feel like their schools and teachers were offering them as much support as they could, while other schools offered counselling sessions for stress, interventions for subjects, 1 to 1 sessions with teachers, etc.

The young researchers’ project was very fun, as well as informative. I was able to see things from other perspectives, and this gave me a better insight on the things that people my age experience. We hope that the findings from the interviews will be helpful for schools, parents/carers and student themselves for finding ways to tackle exam stress!

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