Ask Rachel: Teenage stress around exams

Dear Rachel, I am really dreading my upcoming GCSE exams and all the stress that comes with it. I find it so hard to deal with all the pressure of having to buckle down and work and wish I could ignore all the expectations of my friends and parents who are constantly asking me my marks.
The stress is really hectic and causes me to feel anxious and not sleep properly. Please help!

I totally remember that feeling when I had exams. Some stress can actually help you to feel more motivated to work and certainly an adrenalin rush improves concentration in the actual exam. It’s a fine and difficult balance, as too much anxiety can lead to panic and underperformance.

Doing well in your exams should be to make you feel good. It’s not to satisfy your parents, teachers or impress your friends. True gratification comes from within and only you are responsible for your own success. On results day, you want to feel you gave it your best.

I think exam success boils down to 4 main things:

• Memory retention/ knowing your subject matter
• Organisational skills/ balancing different subjects
• Exam technique
• Attitude/ coping with pressure

Whilst tempting, it can be really unhelpful to speak to friends about how they are progressing. Try not to measure yourself against them. They may be the type to say “I’ve been making notes for the last 2 years and done loads of practice papers”. This could make you even more stressed. Or they say “Don’t worry, I have barely done anything”. This may not be true and will give you a false sense of security. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your marks with your friends then don’t.

Having a positive attitude and the right mind set will determine how much you learn and ultimately how well you do. For example, if you repeatedly say to yourself “I’ll never be able to remember all this” then you won’t! Athletes work a lot on their mental state and use psychologists to ensure peak performance.

Procrastination can also be an issue when studying; just the thought of getting started may be holding you back or not knowing where to begin. Set yourself realistic expectations and targets. Make a revision audit for each subject and break subjects down into manageable chunks, so you feel daily that you are making slow but steady progress.

Your brain will processes information whilst you sleep, so regard sleeping as essential study time. Exercise will also help get more oxygen to your brain and work off excess adrenalin to help with keeping calm. Try and establish a regular sleep pattern and try different techniques to help with sleeping such as a warm bath, hot drink, limit caffeine, meditation and breathing exercises.

Whilst GCSEs feel hugely important now, in the big picture they don’t define you.

Wishing you all the very best.

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