Opinion

Thursday 17 January 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: Five tips on how to convert exam stress into success

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly

Ciara Kelly

If you, like me, have a Leaving Cert student in your house you know all about stress. The State exams are six weeks and three days away and it isn't an easy time for anyone - student or parent! It's long been discussed whether or not this is the best way to assess school leavers but it's all we have right now so we need to get through these last few weeks in a way that hopefully allows examinees to reach their full potential and everyone involved to hang on to their sanity!

First up it IS really stressful and that doesn't bring out the best in any of us so tempers fraying is to be expected - yours and theirs! Biting your tongue is probably the best course of action though because there's no point in making things worse by having rows that waste valuable time and leave everyone feeling emotionally drained.

There's still six weeks left and mountains can be moved in that time. So for those who are feeling panicked that they've left it too late or overwhelmed about where to start - there's still time! As one who did OK in her leaving and spent 13 years post leaving cert doing exams - never underestimate the power of cramming - you can still learn important facts up until two minutes before you walk into the exam hall!

Today is Sunday which I think is always a good day to take stock. Stress is the shortfall between what you feel you're expected to do and what you feel able to do. So one of the best ways to manage stress is to do something to reduce what you feel is expected of you. Actually getting stuck in and doing some study lowers stress levels - because you feel you're dealing with the problem. But feeling in control can lower stress even more so I suggest you design a six-week study plan TODAY that is practical and focused.

As a parent you need to understand that lots of the time when they're playing Xbox, or staring at their phones, they aren't just being lazy little messers - it's actually avoidant behaviour because they're overwhelmed! So instead of shouting at them or rolling your eyes, today might be a good time to sit down with them in the kitchen and calmly help them draw up a study timetable.

If someone's feeling overwhelmed, making plans and putting some structure on things can feel like a lifeline when you're drowning.

* Look at a calendar, mark in important dates (the days of exams or project work due) and turn the rest of the week into blocks of time. Remembering to factor in breaks - allocate how much time you can realistically spend each day studying, break that into one hour blocks. And allocate blocks to each subject making sure you know what needs the most work .

Voila! You now know exactly how much time you have each day, what you should be doing and when you should be doing it! You also know the total time you have on any given subject. Doesn't that feel better already?

* Now might also be a good time to see if you can afford a couple of grinds in subjects that they're particularly worried about, or there are weekend immersion courses available which can make a massive difference.

* Another good thing to do today is to organise books, notes and online resources so they can hit the ground running tomorrow. You'd be amazed at how many kids are still missing notes or parts of a course in a jumble of paperwork they aren't on top of.

Remember stress isn't all bad. It can be harnessed to help us perform better. The difficulty is when you go beyond optimum stress levels that help you - into toxic stress levels that immobilise you!

* Another helpful thing is a stress-free environment for them to work in, so the odd cup of coffee and a biccy, a hand with their lunches is a good idea.

* Lastly, this takes stamina so they need energy. So plenty of sleep - around eight hours a night - regular meals and exercise all help!

Try and keep everything calm. Encourage study but don't expect that to be always appreciated, and when you see them overwhelmed - give practical help.

Best of luck class of 2018.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents Lunchtime Live on Newstalk weekdays, 12-2

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