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Exam stress… “You may now turn over your papers” #BBvoice

Wednesday 10th August 2016

Do those words still strike fear into you? Can you remember walking into the school hall for your exams, taking in your pencil case and lucky mascot? Do you think that the pressures facing young people taking exams now are greater than when you took yours?

Consider the following facts:

  • The NSPCC reports a 200% rise in recent years of numbers of young people seeking counselling for exam stress
  • ChildLine has reported an increase to 34,000 approaches from young people with worries about revision, schoolwork and exams

Young people seeking help gave these reasons for their stress:

  • not wanting to disappoint their parents
  • fear of failure
  • general pressures linked to academic achievement.

Stresses about exams can affect young people’s ability to sleep, trigger anxiety attacks, depression and tearfulness, and eating disorders. In some cases it also led to self-harm and suicidal feelings.

Teenagers in BB who were asked about why exams are stressful said:

“They feel too important”

“It’s like your results have got to be perfect or it’s not worth it”

“It’s useless information you need to know for the exam and forget immediately afterwards”

One teenager who called ChildLine said:

“I am about to take my GCSEs and I am under so much pressure as my parents are expecting me to do really well. I am going to revision classes and trying really hard but I feel like it is not good enough for them. My parents don’t allow me to do anything else apart from revision and if I try and talk to them it always ends up in an argument.”

Many BB Leaders report that young people often don’t attend while exams are on, so what as BB Leaders can we do?

It can be very helpful for young people to take a break from revision, and BB can be the perfect way to release stress.

Some young people might want to talk about their feelings of stress with you or each other, while others might prefer to burn off the stress with some physical exercise or just by having a laugh with friends

It might not be the best time to plan the programme to include activities that involve too much thinking or researching. Going outside or having a “chill out” evening might be better. Ask your young people what they would like to do to take their minds off exams for a short while.

Encourage young people to have a revision plan, put the work in, don’t leave things to the last minute and keep their nerve. Doing nothing or delaying revision can make stress worse, but if they are finding it hard, encourage them to start with short planned periods of study and take breaks for healthy snacks and exercise.

MOST OF ALL – communicate to young people that their worth does not lie in their exam results, there are other ways to be happy and successful and that life is not a sprint but a marathon.

When the results come in we can get swept away with TV news stories of the “straight A’s” students. It can be an awful time for many young people who didn’t do as well as they hoped. Youth Leaders are often in a better position than parents or teachers to put this in perspective – we can uniquely value a young person for who they are without getting caught up in the emotions brought on by disappointment.

The work we are doing with BB leaders on young people’s mental health emphasises the need to build resilience. This is a bit of a buzz word in youth work and education and means having the ability to bounce back from adversity.

We all need to experience disappointment or failure in order to build resilience. As leaders we can help young people to understand that they are more than their grades and that there will always opportunities throughout their lives.

BB is a place where all young people can achieve and be valued and this is one of the greatest opportunities we can offer.

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