Education: Coping with Exams - the Stress Busters; the Thought of Looming Exams Is Filling Thousands of Midland Pupils with Dread. but There Is Plenty of Help and Support Available to Lessen the Stress, Reports ALISON HANDLEY

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Byline: ALISON HANDLEY

STUDENT Eleanor Carr admits she still breaks out into a cold sweat when she thinks about taking an exam.

Now in her second year of a university English degree, she has lost count of the number of written papers she has sat since her school days.

Then, Eleanor, from Northfield, was literally sick before she went into the examination hall and on one occasion she worked herself up into such a panic that she had to walk out part way through an exam.

These days, however, with the help of structured preparation, relaxation techniques and proper support, she is able to control her fears and put in the performance she deserves.

'I used to be absolutely hopeless,' she admits. 'I couldn't revise properly, because I would get myself into such a state.

'I would just sit there for hours on end, staring at my notes, and worrying that I was going to let everybody down. I felt that my parents had really high expectations of me and I didn't think I could live up to them.

'It wasn't until I actually had to leave the room during one exam that I talked to a teacher about it, and she helped me to see that the problems I was having weren't actually that unusual.

'She helped me to plan a proper timetable for my revision, and that included regular breaks.

'She also encouraged me to talk to my parents and to tell them how stressed I was feeling. That helped enormously because they hadn't realised how unhappy I was. The more panicky I got, the more stroppy and uncommunicative I had become.

'Once I started to relax a bit more I was actually remembering a lot more. I hadn't been eating properly, just snacking on biscuits and crisps, and sitting down to regular meals again meant I was able to concentrate a lot better.

'A friend also taught me some breathing exercises which I still use when I get particularly stressed, especially just before an exam.

'I just wish I'd got help sometime earlier. I don't suppose I'll ever lose my fear of exams, but now I know I am capable of doing myself justice and getting the grades I deserve.'

Eleanor, aged 19, isn't alone. Every year, thousands of Midland pupils face the prospect of sitting important examinations which may well determine their future.

These days, youngsters are faced with more written tests than ever before, not to mention a whole series of coursework which will count towards their final grades.

The current generation of children will take up to 75 tests and assessments during their school careers, according to a recent survey by teaching unions and the Children's Society.

More than half of all girls and four in ten boys reported suffering from exam stress, with panic attacks, eating disorders and sleeplessness among the symptoms.

Rob Gardiner, counselling manager for ChildLine in the Midlands, says the helpline always receives a surge of enquiries from worried pupils around this time of year as young people start panicking about their revision patterns.

He says: 'Then in May and June, we get another upsurge from callers who are very worried about the exams themselves. That is followed in mid August by the first wave of callers who are anxious about their results.'

Often, all callers really want is for someone to listen. 'You can actually hear their anxiety diminishing as they talk,' he explains.

Mr Gardiner says there are plenty of tips designed to help people study productively, and ChildLine has produced a factsheet to help callers plan their revision and perform at their best in exams.

Pupils taught how to relax

MANY schools are well aware of the need to offer support as the exam season approaches.

Some have come up with novel ways of helping pupils to beat exam stress.

Assistant head teacher, Jan Woodward, says a pilot scheme to offer relaxation classes to pupils approaching their mock exams at Warley High School, in Oldbury, last autumn proved a huge success. …