Ah yes, we are just over another mini Irish summer where the sun was blasting the sky. Isn’t it lovely to be out enjoying the bright evenings?
Yet there are over 120,000 people stuck in their study spaces doing last minute cramming.
The State secondary school exams, which start this week, are a major life event for our young adults.
In fact, when it comes to the Irish Leaving Certificate, it has scarred too many.
I defined for many years my abilities based on this exam. I had a pretty mediocre Leaving Cert and it was only in my late 20s that I released that I could, in fact, study.
How we cope and adapt to life events is critical to our wellbeing. Life events generally cause substantial change and readjustment.
Examples of life events can be positive and negatives include death, marriage, divorce, illness or injury, and changing or losing a job.
Significant exams also are life events. These events are identified as particularly stressful.
This is the reason why students are advised regarding appropriate stress management strategies around exam stress.
Parents can play a key supportive role. This is one of life events from which you cannot protect your child.
However there are very practical things you can do.
Strategies for Parents
The Psychology Coach:
This is your time to stand up and encourage your student and give them perspective.
Remind them that they have studied the course for many years and have the ability to write about it.
Asking them to “show up, and do their best” is what you want. It’s the effort that counts and not the result.
The Behind the Scenes Organiser:
I think this is such an important role.
It is time for a visible whiteboard. You need to be on top of the exam schedule.
Speaking to teacher friends of mine who invigilate exams, it’s incredible that each year many students arrive late or don’t show at all.
Stick the exam schedule up prominently at home, with all exams to be taken highlighted.
Place in the diary the date and time of each paper your child has to take.
Parents who leave home early due to work commitments should ensure their students are up, dressed and fed before they leave home for work each morning.
Help your learner get their notes, texts, essays and study resources sorted.
The Home Psychologist:
You are very good at this, you have got your kids this far, you are almost there, peace will soon reign in your house again!
So each day, listen to the outpourings, don’t press or encourage post mortems.
Spilt milk is spilt. Support your learner to move on to the challenges posed by the next paper.
The Sports Coach:
Promote rest, nutrition and hydration. Try to make a break between study and sleep.
Encourage breaks. If concentration lapses them its time for a short break.
Discourage drinking too much coffee, tea and fizzy drinks. Try some herbal teas, or water as an alternative.
Healthy nutrition is key. Regular moderate exercise such as a brisk walk, swim or session in the gym will boost energy, clear the mind and help reduce any feelings of stress.
Last minute Student Stress Management Strategies
See exam nerves as performance fuel.
Exams are stressful situations and it is normal to feel exam nerves. They will help you perform.
Essentially, the interaction between adrenaline flow and anxious thoughts are present.
Uncontrolled they can lead to excessive anxiety which is counterproductive as it hinders the ability to think clearly.
The key is deep abdominal breathing, starting before the student goes into the exam hall and during the first few minutes of the test.
Breath in for 5 seconds; hold for 8 seconds and breath out for 5 seconds.
This is the most effective way to calm the nervous system.
What happens if your mind goes blank?
It’s worth scenario planning in the event that the mind goes ‘Blankety Blank’.
The best strategy is to slow things down.
‘Un-blanking’ is the task.
Start by imagining yourself being calm and confidently before you do it.
Then do some positive self-talk, such as: “nerves are normal, I need to slow things down. The information will flow, I will be fine”.
If you are still struggling to remember the information on a particular question, then you need to move on to another question and return to this question later.
Try not to catastrophize, instead try and keep things in perspective.
Take control from the start
Manage the first ten minutes efficiently. Arrange your desk and when the invigilator arrives at your desk they will offer you your paper.
Opt for the paper that you have prepared for. Due to exam nerves you may wish to change levels, but don’t. Trust in yourself.
Now that you have your paper, read it very carefully and fully before you do anything else.
Then select the questions you are going to answer.
Then start with the question that you are most comfortable with as it will be a confidence builder for you.
Plan the celebrations later, now is time for boring routine. Good sleep, rest, study, nutrition, and exercise. Routine is key to positive emotional support. Sleep is critical, no screens in the bedroom. Stay away from people who are flapping, stressing, or engaged in catastrophic thinking.
It might be a life event, but it is one you are both so capable of, so go on and make it happen.
Operation Transformation psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy writes a weekly column in the Leinster Leader