Experts share advice to reduce students’ exam-related stress

Experts share advice to reduce students’ exam-related stress

With students in their final sprint to end-of-year exams, they are employing a range of strategies to gear up for the challenge. While a dedicated group can be spotted poring over their materials in the hushed aisles of libraries, there's a contrasting set who seem to prefer the high-stakes approach, pushing their preparation to the eleventh hour.

However, this pivotal moment in their academic journey isn't without its pressures.

Recent findings suggest a prevailing trend of anxiety among these young people. In a comprehensive survey undertaken by ReachOut in August 2023, an overwhelming 88% of the 1,000 students surveyed admitted to feeling stressed about their studies at some point over the past year. More alarmingly, 55% confessed to experiencing high levels of stress specifically in the fortnight leading up to the survey.

Indeed, this data underscores the mounting pressures faced by today's youth in their pursuit of academic excellence.

‘Perspective is key’

Professor Alexandra Lasczik co-leads the Sustainability, the Environment and the Arts in Education Research Centre at Southern Cross University and is currently Director of Professional Experience. She was previously a secondary school educator for 25 years.

“Senior secondary students experience the pressure of study, parental expectation and a somewhat unknown future,” Professor recently told MCERA. “They are required to complete a full subject load of assessment tasks, as well as the expectation of being fully prepared for examinations throughout the year – not just the penultimate one at the end.”

Professor Lasczik noted that some students also engage in creative subjects, which require making a body of work or performance on top of this load.

“Schools and communities expect young people to behave like adults when they are not yet there, despite them experimenting with social pursuits, learning to drive, and holding down part-time work,” she said.

“This workload is challenging, hectic and demanding against a backdrop of pandemic effects still in play, climate catastrophe, social media pressures and economic and future uncertainties. It is no wonder that young people are experiencing the highest ever recorded mental health impacts for their cohort than ever before”.

Professor Lasczik said it therefore behoves parents, schools and the community to care for young people in these end-of-school years and ensure that life for them is balanced and healthy.

“Perspective is key; Year 12 success is wonderful if the processes of attaining it work for the young person. Not all young people thrive under such conditions, and not all of them will continue further study in the following year,” she said.

“There are many ways and many opportunities to build lives and careers. So, it is vital that schools and parents are realistic about capacity, expectations and possibilities and for students to balance their lives, pace themselves, take rests when needed, eat healthily, socialise and exercise.”

Voice to text software can help struggling writers

Dr Janet Dutton, who was the Chief Examiner, English for the NSW Higher School Certificate, 2011-2016, has developed assessment and curriculum for national and state level organisations.

She says writing practice essays and exam responses can be challenging even for the most enthusiastic student.

“Because we all learn to talk before we write, it's usually easier to answer questions verbally rather than in written form – especially if we are not totally confident with the topic,” Dr Dutton told MCERA.

“By utilising voice to text technology HSC students can quickly record information and then edit the transcript to polish their response and add quotations, facts, figures as required.”

She says some easy methods include using speech to text in a Word document, using a voice recording app when out for a walk or holding a Zoom meeting and downloading the transcript.

“Getting started is often the hardest part of exam revision and eliminating that awful blank page is a powerful way to reduce examination stress.”

Targeted mental health lessons are key

Linda Williams, clinical lead at ReachOut said principals must ensure their school is supplementing the academic support with lessons targeted towards improving mental health and wellbeing.

“ReachOut has a range of online resources and tools that are mapped to the Australian Curriculum, covering topics such as exam stress management and managing disappointing results,” Williams told The Educator.

“If you notice that one student is having a particularly challenging time - they might seem withdrawn or exhibit different behaviours to usual - it’s important to check in with them. You can connect them with a school counsellor or the wellbeing team and encourage them to seek further professional support.”

Williams said preparing students for the final exam period can be a stressful experience for leaders, teachers and support staff, and recommends that staff take a more proactive approach to their own wellbeing during this time.

“Try to do things to manage your own stress levels. Whether that’s taking a long walk or curling up on the lounge with a good book, it’s important to look after your mental health and wellbeing during this time.”