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How to handle exam stress

15 expert tips to cut exam and revision stress
By Siobhan Harris
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Exams can cast a dark shadow over the lives of today's teens. Children are used to being tested at school but GCSEs and A levels are perhaps the most feared as they have the most riding on them.

For teenagers the sunny days of late spring and early summer are often coloured by the dreaded revision and exam period.

Pressure from all fronts

"There's never been a time when the results of school exams were so widely talked about. There's a general awareness of the importance of success and getting a worthwhile career with enough money to buy or rent a home and maintain a lifestyle," says Dr Rachel Andrew, consultant clinical psychologist.

She adds: "Parents have aspirations for their kids and the message they tend to put across, however well-meaning, is work hard as life is tough. Schools are also caught up in this. They want their young people to perform as well as possible as it affects their league tables and funding."

The high expectations that youngsters put on themselves, or that are put on them by parents and schools, can add to teenage stress.

Physical symptoms of exam stress

Sasha who's 17 has A levels coming up. "I just know I have to revise, there's no getting away from it. The hard bit is making a plan and concentrating.

"Some of my friends get to the stage that they're physically crying right before the exams because everyone is so hyped up about how important they are, they think their life is over if they fail them," she adds.

Not many children actively like doing exams but some are more affected than others and don't seem to have the natural resilience to handle them. They may show physical signs of stress and nerves as the exam season approaches.

It can make you feel irritable, anxious and unable to sleep properly. Exam stress can also make you feel panicky, increase your heart rate and lead to headaches or dizziness.

Childline held more than 3,000 counselling sessions about exam stress in 2015/16. Young people's concerns included fear of failure, not wanting to disappoint their parents, and the general pressures linked to academic achievement.

A little bit of stress can make you focus and get down to work. Too much and you may feel out of control and overwhelmed.

Thankfully there's plenty you can do to help get you through what can be a stressful period. BootsWebMD asked the experts for their advice.

1. Prepare

All students in their heart of hearts know that preparation is important. It's easier said than done if you feel inundated by the sheer volume of what you need to know. Many teens take 10 or 11 GCSEs in one go. Whereas A levels require a depth of knowledge that has never been needed before.

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