Preparation and asking for help: how pupils can beat exam stress

Anticipation, revision and asking for help are ways pupils can cope when exams are on the horizon, experts say.

Sarah Dayal, the head of learning support at Repton School, a British curriculum school and the first boarding school in the Middle East. Jaime Puebla / The National
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DUBAI // Time management, preparation and not being afraid to ask for assistance can help to ease exam-related stress, a school expert has advised.

As head of learning support at the British curriculum Repton School, the first boarding school in the Middle East, Sarah Dayal knows how stressed pupils can become before exams.

“Stress is a reaction to a perception of threat and exams can be something threatening to a child,” said the Indian expatriate. “Children are in some way judged by the marks at exam time.

“The threat can make the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome come into play.”

Teachers and support staff at Repton School in Dubai try to ease the risk of stress by putting year-round measures in place, such as after-school tuition and study clubs.

Teachers, house masters and department heads also look for pupils at risk of academic pressure.

Learning support staff work with those that raise a red flag to determine what future support they need.

Ms Dayal, who also acts as a guidance counsellor, said schools should work closely with parents and pupils to reduce the threat of stress at exam time.

“At the end of the day we are, as providers of education, providing a service to the community and we are responsible for the emotional, academic and social wellbeing of the children,” she said.

Pupils should manage their time to be prepared for exams.

“The first thing for students is anticipation. Anticipate and understand what this friendly giant is all about,” Ms Dayal said.

“Yes it is huge, yes it is demanding. But it is not something that comes out of the blue.”

Pupils should make a revision strategy, set weekly, monthly and end-of-term targets, and not forget to reward themselves.

Looking after their health, getting plenty of sleep and avoiding the urge to cram on the last day before exams is also vital.

Parents also need to play their part, Ms Dayal said.

“As parents, one of the ways of reducing exam stress is to empower them with the belief that, ‘my mum and dad have full faith in me and they know that I am doing my best’,” she said.

“This automatically reduces the anxiety and fear of failure, which increases their confidence helps them to function at their optimum best.”

Nav Rai, business development officer at Repton, said when important exams were looming, some pupils boarded on an occasional basis.

“The reasons for this are they are based in a structured environment with a routine, which means that they can concentrate fully on their exam preparation,” Mr Rai said.

“They have access to tutors after school hours, which they wouldn’t do at home, and their parents do not have to worry about whether they are doing enough preparation for their exams.”