Exam Stress: The Grand Finale of Year 12

Many students find the final year of school very stressful. There can be lots of expectations from a student such as prioritising work, receiving feedback on results, the pressure of personal or family expectations, and multiple commitments. How effectively we deal with this stress is the key to beating the pressure in Year 12. The good news is that stress and anxiety is part of a normal and healthy reaction whenever we feel our physical and mental wellbeing is under pressure. Year 12 is that final year of school where the perception of the social messages and hype can ramp up the anxiety around it. In fact, a little bit of anxiety is good in helping us improve our performance and motivate us. However, if this goes on for too long it can lead to long-term problems.

A number of factors can contribute to making Year 12 quite stressful. These include fear of failure, deadlines, juggling part-time work, lack of quiet time with siblings around, friendships and social media. Managing these and other stressors is the key to surviving and thriving in Year 12. In students from overseas backgrounds, there can be an increased difficulty in navigating the system and perceived pressure of expectations resulting in high anxiety and fear of failure or anxiety about future academic prospects.

Several strategies are useful in managing this stressful time. It is important to monitor your breathing. Why is this important? During the time of stress, our breathing becomes shallow and this reduces oxygen in the bloodstream, which then causes muscle tension. Mentally scan your body for signs of physical tension and ask yourself if your chest feels tight. You may not realise that you are holding your breath when you are tense. Practise deep breathing to reduce muscle tension.

A big source of stress in Year 12 is over-commitment and this can cause problems in managing your time. A lot of us feel overwhelmed when we over commit and try to take care of everything, and as a result, not achieving anything. Making a list of the things you have to do and ticking them off as they get done is a great way to keep on top of your priorities. For those particularly challenging tasks, get them done early in the day so you can get less taxing tasks done even if you have less energy. Scheduling regular breaks are very important for reducing anxiety and regular exercise is beneficial.  Research has shown that studying constantly can be quite ineffective. Do you know that studying without breaks can lead to burnout that can have many poor consequences? Therefore, take a raincheck to recognise your stress and make time for regular breaks. A balanced approach leads to better study outcomes and performance. Some of these boring clichés can be tried and true, so give it a go. Reduce social media demands when concentrating on topics that require memory and retention. Yes, it is not helpful to have several social media tabs open when trying to retain chunks of information.

Being in the company of friends and chatting about your stresses is also a great way of managing exam stress. Research has shown Year 12 students can use alcohol or drugs as a means to reduce stress, at times. Although self-medicating may provide relief from stress in the short term, it increases stress, long-term. A good way for parents to support their children is to be positive and reduce unrealistic expectations of this exam defining their children’s lives. Provide healthy meals or consult a paediatrician in Point Cook and keep up the encouragement. Maintaining harmony in the home, reducing nagging, and allowing fun time, is noted as a big positive by students. It is important to remember exams are not a score of who we are, and are not a measure of our character, nor define what we go on to do beyond an extent. It is a part of learning, and we learn more about how we deal with the stresses and pressures of these experiences than just by the numbers alone. Most importantly, enjoy this last year of school and look back on it as a really positive experience as you start your life in the wider world after school.

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