As Year 12 students approach their end-of-year exams, they will prepare in many different ways. While some will sit quietly in libraries, methodically studying, others will wait for the last moment to “cram” their study in before the big day.
While the lead up to an exam can be exciting for some students, research shows that it is an extraordinarily stressful one for most others.
In August 2023, ReachOut surveyed 1,000 young people and found a staggering 88% of school students felt stressed about study at some time over the previous 12 months, and 55% felt ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ stressed about study in the past two weeks.
“The findings from this recent study are similar to research we’ve conducted in previous years. The results reconfirm that study stress continues to have a significant impact on young people,” Linda Williams, clinical lead at ReachOut told The Educator.
“From disruptions to their sleeping habits to poor concentration and changes in their mood, school related stress is impacting young people's mental health and wellbeing.”
In terms of what schools can do to support students who may not be coping with exam-related stress, Williams said students must be actively encouraged to put their health and wellbeing first.
“Empower your students to prioritise self-care. Our research found that one in two young people are having trouble with their sleep as a direct result of study stress,” she said. “By encouraging your students to maintain a healthy diet, stay hydrated and get enough sleep you will help them to better manage their stress.”
Williams said teachers and leaders must also foster a supportive classroom environment where students feel comfortable participating and engaging in classroom activities.
“This will allow students to share ideas, ask questions, and support each other through the exam period,” she said. “You can support your students with their exam preparation by holding revision classes. Providing a space for your students to study can help them to feel more prepared and reduce their stress.”
Targeted mental health lessons are key
Williams 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,” she said.
“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.”