Examination season survival tips

Exam season stress is not just for pupils. Rachel Gatley reminds teachers that they need to look after their own wellbeing too as the summer term reaches its climax.

The summer term can be a strange time of year for those in the teaching profession. A time of high highs and some very low lows with intensive revision lessons and exams combining with the long “empty” days of untutored study leave as the normal school day starts to disappear and we ebb towards the holidays.

As such, it can be tough to retain the school day’s structure and pupils’ focus, particularly for those young people who are not going through tests or exams this year.

Given this, teaching now requires the ability to balance supporting those who are struggling desperately with revision, testing and exam stress while at the same time motivating others who are perhaps preferring to focus on the summer holidays ahead rather than on their studies.

Supporting stressed-out students

There has been much in the media this month about the multitude of caring teachers out there with their innovative ways to inspire and support the young people they teach through their SATs in primary and GCSEs and A levels in secondary.

A backdrop for this was new data released by ChildLine citing that exam stress is rising dramatically. They delivered 3,077 counselling sessions about exam stress to school pupils in 2015/16, an increase of nine per cent on the previous year. Almost a quarter of this counselling took place in the lead-up to exam season.

But perhaps the most shared tips for stressed out students were those on social media, including the letter from Bucklebury Primary School in Reading suggesting students try to worry less and instead “go on a bike ride, read a book, smile, go outside and enjoy the weather...”.

What about you?

But who performs that role of support for you as a teacher? Who sends you motivating tweets, inspiring Facebook posts or (more importantly) makes time for an old fashioned chat over a cup of tea when the going gets tough? At the Education Support Partnership we hear that, all too often, the answer to this question is “no-one”.

It is true that it can sometimes be lonely as a teacher, especially in this summer term. Having slogged your guts out for the entire year you now have to hand over your charges to the gymnasium-based exam factory – like a football manager does with their team when matchday arrives. You are forced to take up your seat on the sidelines, hoping your students have done enough. If that isn’t enough, you still have student assessment and reports to write, parents’ evenings to host, and perhaps even an Ofsted inspection if you are really lucky!

In unveiling their latest contact figures, ChildLine offered pupils the following tips:

  • Make sure you take regular breaks from revising and do some exercise.
  • Go to bed at a reasonable time and try and get some sleep.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep will help you much more than trying to revise all night – you will just end up very tired the next day.
  • Try to think positively – a positive attitude will help you during your revision.

This is good advice for teachers too. Re-read the four tips above and replace the words “revision” with “marking” or “lesson-planning” and you’ll very quickly see that the very advice offered to pupils is exactly what teachers should be taking on board too.

Getting the support you need

Of course, it is always hard to apply the good advice you give to others to yourself. That’s why Education Support Partnership exists as a charity. We provide a free, confidential and neutral sounding board, whatever the time of year, whatever the issue you face. So if you are finding work tough right now due to exam pressure or any reason at all you can call our helpline day or night.

And remember, as the saying goes, “physician heal thyself” – don’t forget to look after yourself when busy supporting your students through this strange time of year. Because as you will know better than any, it takes more than an ice cream and a bike ride to solve stress – although obviously, this can help!

How we can help

  • Help for individuals  
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, an Ofsted inspection, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Help for organisations 
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing.