Dealing with Exam Stress

Studied out

It’s that time of year.  For those of you suffering household exam stress, it may be useful to seek help from the CIA.  Think that’s a bit extreme?  Well, forget spies and internet crawlers, I’m talking about Control, Influence and Accept (for now).    Whether dealing with pressured teenagers, or under a bit of pressure yourself, take a deep breath, and ask yourself these three magic questions.

  1. Control: to what extent have I direct control over events? In the case of your children’s exams – you don’t.  The only person who can control the result is the student – only they can sit the exams.
  2. Influence: how can I influence events for a better outcome? Encouraging your offspring to sleep and eat, ensuring early arrival at the exam centre, reminding them to read the paper, read it again, and attempt the requisite number of questions, are vital influencing actions.

Take a bit of pressure off them.  Tell your children you think they’re great regardless of results, tell them how proud you are, and reassure them that you’ll still love them whatever marks they achieve.  (Even if they’ve driven you to distraction, and their current behaviour makes it hard to ‘feel the love’, it’s worth telling them they have it anyway.)

Their stress is a product of their own sense of lack of control, combined with belated guilt over work undone, and a misguided belief that their whole life will be dictated by what happens over the next six weeks or so.

  1. Accept (for now): if I can’t change things, how can I deal with them better? As my mother used to say to me, “This too will pass”. You know as a parent that the current mayhem has a finish date. (I’d plan a celebration to mark THE END.)

Recognising that today’s paper is OVER and can’t be re-sat may cause such distress that it undermines performance in tomorrow’s exam.  This is where you influencing skills come in.  Twitter comments and Facebook posts have zero influence on the marking of the paper, so discourage lengthy Social Media post-mortems.   There’ll be plenty of time to consider Plan B when the exams are over, and more particularly, after the actual results come in.These three questions may appear deceptively simple.  When we’re feeling overwhelmed ourselves, we lose perspective and can fail to see the extent to which we can Control, Influence or Accept (for now) the circumstances around us.  Whether doing it for yourself or for your children, remember the next time you’re under pressure and don’t know what to do – bring in the CIA.

Dervilla O’Brien 5th June 2014

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