Can Schools Combat Exam Anxiety In Teenagers?

In today’s modern climate, academic success all too often is solely measured by formal test results. The pressure is on schools to ensure their cohorts excel, and with a heavy emphasis on preventing dishonesty through exam proctoring and ever-stricter protocols, it’s no wonder that test anxiety has become an increasingly prevalent problem among teenagers. 

While test anxiety may not be a brand new phenomenon, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t lead to a host of performance issues which can impact severely on students’ outcomes. Mental health issues, non-completion of exams, poor attendance and feelings of panic are all associated with this challenging time in students’ lives. So, how can schools identify which students are likely to struggle most? And how can staff identify then respond to those students’ needs so support can be offered to those who need it?

Creating A Positive School Exam Culture

Evidence shows that it’s possible to create a positive school exam culture where the pressure involved in taking exams is recognized, managed, discussed and, ultimately, addressed. Teachers in such schools can support and help students through this challenging and difficult exam period by adopting a whole-school, holistic approach to better mental health.

The basis of strong academic performance relies on social, psychological and physical needs of students being met. When students have the right environment paired with plenty of exam practice and revision opportunities, they can achieve optimal performance.

Which Needs Must Be Met To Ensure Academic Success?

Students have varying needs which must be met if they are to achieve the desired academic outcome:

  • Physical health – ensuring adequate exercise, nutrition and sleep
  • Psychological health – ensuring confidence, positivity and relaxation about abilities and performance 
  • Social health – ensuring authentic contact with family and friends 
  • Psychological support – ensuring adequate help with anxiety and exam stress

How Can Schools Support Students In Managing Exam Anxiety?

There are three areas where schools can offer support to students when it comes to managing their exam anxiety:

  • By teaching specific revision and examination techniques to increase students’ sense of competence. This can be achieved by holding skill-building interventions. 
  • By helping students to identify, challenge and share any negative thoughts and feelings about exams in a supportive setting.
  • By offering support to manage the symptoms of stress before, after and during exams through the teaching of relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

Promoting Positivity In the Classroom

While exams may be stressful, it’s important for students to recognize that they are an essential and inescapable part of their school career. As such, they need to find healthier ways to cope with the negative thoughts and feelings that can arise as a result. While schools are under increasing pressure to ensure that their pupils excel, they must also acknowledge their responsibility to their students to provide them with a positive exam culture and a supportive ethos within the classroom environment so that the worst cases of exam anxiety can be avoided. With the right training and the right approach, schools can help young people to not only cope in this challenging period of their lives but also to achieve the outcomes that they deserve.