With thousands of Queensland Year 12 students starting their QCAA exams this week, it’s important for students and parents to know how to handle the anxiety and exam stress that can come with it.
Dr Michelle Kennedy is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Thompson Institute, where she’s been studying exam stress and anxiety in young school students.
“Year 12 is already a stressful time for students with future concerns about finding a job, or deciding whether to take a gap year, go into tertiary education, or start an apprenticeship, etc.,” Dr Kennedy said.
“And stress is okay. It’s just when it affects our daily functioning that it becomes a concern.”
So how can parents help their kids navigate the stress and anxiety that comes with exams and the final push through high school?
“As parents and caregivers, we understand what can trigger our Year 12s and how we can best support them to work through these states of stress and anxiety,” Dr Kennedy said.
“At this time, non-verbal gestures and support are often the most effective as students will be more reactive than normal. Things such as bringing a meal, providing a cool drink, providing a heat pad to place over their stomachs to settle nerves. These are little things that can help.”
For students, Dr Kennedy said it’s a firstly a matter of recognising when you’re experiencing heightened anxiety, and then trying to employ strategies to help manage it.
“When students experience heightened anxiety, certain parts of the brain that support the recall of information required for exams may not function effectively. When this occurs students may become more anxious and have difficulty changing out of this state,” Dr Kennedy said.
“It’s important to remember that some of these strategies will work for some, and not for others.”
Expert tips for managing exam stress in teens
- Be conscious about your study space. Studying in the same place works for some, whereas others may need a change of scenery as the day goes on.
- Take regular breaks. This can vary, as some people might find themselves in a ‘flow’ and will focus for longer periods, compared to shorter periods at other times.
- Incorporate movement to recharge and refocus the brain. The brain will take in a certain amount of information, then requires a break. This can take the form of walking, running, kicking a football, shooting hoops, yoga etc.
- Regular food breaks and snacks – but be selective in your choice of foods and drinks. Choose carefully when to take in foods and drinks that contain stimulants.
- Use stress management strategies like mindfulness and breathing exercises, listening to music, reading a book or even just spending some time outside can help.
- Maintain a healthy sleep pattern. Prioritising quality sleep over cramming late into the night, will not only help with stress and anxiety, it’s better for the body and brain too.