Helping students keep perspective in stressful times
Guest Blogger, Kiel Brown, Psychologist and Resident Boarding Supervisor
There are times throughout our lives where we encounter periods of high stress. Increased workload, deadlines, exam preparation and exams all contribute to those periods where we feel overwhelmed and anxious. While we each respond to stress in different ways, a loss of perspective during this time can amplify our stress response, leading to unhelpful thoughts and negative views of what lies before us.
At this time of the year, our students are experiencing their own stressful times with boys in Years 10, 11 and 12 preparing to enter exams. For our Year 12s, this is the peak of their secondary education journey with their success or failure often linked to their future academic endeavours. It is common at this time of year to hear their stresses e.g. ‘I need to achieve an A to get the ATAR I need to get into the course I want’. While students are right to have goals (getting an ‘A’ or a certain ATAR), statements like these demonstrate a narrowing of perspective and loss of insight into the process required to achieve their goals.
So, how do we help our students keep perspective?
Look at the big picture
While we want our students to strive and achieve academically, an academic ‘hiccup’ at this stage is not the end of the world! This ‘hiccup’ doesn’t make it impossible for them to achieve further education, or put them at a considerable disadvantage when completing additional studies. Tertiary Institutions Service Centre (TISC) data shows that in 2016, 88% of TISC applicants received a university offer in the main round; that was almost 16,000 students who received a main round offer! In addition to this, the 12% of students who didn’t receive an offer in the main round still had the opportunity receive an offer in the 2nd round.
Start ‘tweaking’ their language
There is an incredible amount of pressure evident in statement like ‘I need to achieve an A to get the ATAR I need to get into the course I want’. Performance and outcome pressure often reduce your ability to perform at your best. Reduce this pressure (and hopefully the stress) by tweaking the language being used. Instead of ‘I need to achieve an A’, try using statements like ‘I would like to get an A’ or ‘my goal is to get an A’. These positive tweaks in language will hopefully reduce the pressure you feel and shift your focus back to the process (i.e. revise content, complete practice exams) of achieving your goals.
Unrealistic expectations can cause considerable stress! Aligning expectation with realistic and attainable goals will go a long way to removing unnecessary stresses. For example, ‘My goal is an 80% score for English’. If I have averaged 75% across the semester, this is likely a realistic and attainable goal, which you can plan around achieving. If, however, I have averaged 55% across the semester, setting a more realistic and attainable goal is probably advisable.
Remember: Not achieving a goal in a certain subject does not place additional emphasis on surpassing the goal for the next subject. Attempting to ‘square the ledger’ or ‘make up for’, shifts your focus away from what is important… working to achieve each goal! So leave your evaluation until you’ve finished everything!
If you have adjusted your perspective, are using more positive language and aligning your expectations and goals, pouring your energy into the task at hand can be both empowering and rewarding. This is the process part of achieving goals.
Creating a study timetable can be a great first step. Not only does it provide some structure, it’s a visual reminder of the time allocated to study, revisions, completion of practice exams and so forth. Remember that a balanced preparation is best, so prioritise taking regular breaks and allocate time to leisure activities.
Below are some helpful infographics with great tips for managing stress during exams, sleep and revision.