Exam Stress? You’re Not Alone, Kid.

Well, I don’t know how it came around so quickly, but here we are again, that special time of year when Ireland’s teenagers turn into zombified versions of their former selves as they cram in as much information as they can in the last few days of school. Leaving and Junior Cert season – the Hunger Games of education. 

I speak from personal experience. I have my third child now about to go through the trials of the Leaving Cert. I often think that having older siblings who performed well is a cruel added pressure to have to bear. If having to do the exams isn’t bad enough, you often feel this added pressure to live up to what others have achieved. Which is crazy, because you aren’t your brother or sister: you are you, with your skills, interests and your own value. I often think that one of the best things that any of us parents can do around this time, is to make sure that our child is not weighed down by family expectations – they have enough pressures that they are already heaping on themselves.

Exam Stress - BlogTo anyone doing an exam this summer – however well you do, you are not defined by your academic achievements. You are a valuable and complex, multi-faceted human being with unique strengths, talents and intrinsic value that no exam can measure. While doing your best is admirable, don’t let exam pressure diminish your spark.  

Set realistic goals and be ambitious, but also be compassionate with yourself. Missed a study session? Couldn’t concentrate? That’s okay – simply refocus and try again. Celebrate small wins along the way. Every bit of effort counts. 

Remember that every previous generation went through this too, and they made it out the other side. What kinds of advice would those generations likely give you now, as they look back?

  1. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you exams don’t matter. They matter not because of results, but because they give you a chance to push yourself and stretch yourself. Everything we do is a chance to grow and become stronger human beings.  
  2. Schedule some breaks away from the books. Your brain needs breathing room to let stuff sink in. Get outside, kick a ball, pursue other interests. Recharging is as valuable as studying, because it keeps you fresh and alert. 
  3. Be organised, but don’t become a prisoner to a rigid revision timetable. Spontaneity and changing things up can be healthy. 
  4. Ask for help when you need it. People want you to succeed. Asking for support can lighten the burden. (And parents, remember that supporting doesn’t mean adding excessive pressure. Provide a listening ear, advice when requested, and comfort when needed.) 
  5. Get enough sleep! Self-care isn’t just a buzzword, it’s essential for peak performance. 

Most importantly, keep some perspective. Of course, your exams are important. But they’re not the be-all-and-end-all that they can feel like right now. You’ve got your whole life ahead to experience in new, exciting ways, regardless of what happens over the next month. 

To my own son and to anyone doing exams over the next while, you’ve got this! One exam at a time. In the grand scheme of your remarkable life journey, this is just a short-term hurdle. Believe in yourself, and you’ll make it through stronger and wiser. 

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