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I Helped My Teenagers Cope With Exam Stress: A Case Study

By: Mary Williams BA (hons) - Updated: 19 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
Stress Exam Exam Stress Teenagers Help

Susan Stone has four teenagers living at home with her – two are her own children and two belong to her partner. When the first two began to prepare for their GCSEs she realised she would have to do something to help them through the stressful time.

Susan said:

“We live in a busy, noisy house. There are two adults, five children, two dogs and one cat all under this roof - and it isn’t a big house! I met my partner, Joel, when we had already been through one failed relationship each. I had three children – two sons and a daughter – who, apart from the odd weekend with my ex-husband, lived with me most of the time. Joel had sole custody of his two kids.

Deciding to move in together was, therefore, certainly a big step but it was one we decided we were ready for. We both sold our respective houses and bought a four-bedroom home with as much space as we could afford. With four teenagers, and an eight year-old, between us, life was definitely never dull and could certainly be fraught at times. But we muddled along and managed.

Teenagers Began to Feel the Pressure of Exams

As life progressed together various problems cropped up and we did our best to deal with them one at a time. To be honest, however, dealing with teenage exam stress had not been one I had really anticipated.

Joel’s oldest and my first-born both began to prepare for their exams at the same time. Until then all our children had been doing reasonably well at school but as the exams crept nearer both teenagers began to exhibit signs of stress. One started being incredibly unpleasant to the younger children, while the other had terrible trouble sleeping, and suddenly seemed to be looking for any excuse not to go to school. With two other teenagers hard on their heels, and due to sit GCSEs the following year, I decided we had to do something.

Setting Up a Study Area

The first thing we did was to jiggle round the bedrooms. With only four bedrooms, everyone apart from my youngest daughter had to share. This wasn’t ideal for those studying. Downstairs we had a sitting room and a dining room, as well as the large kitchen/breakfast room. Joel and I decided to convert the dining room into a bedroom to give each of the studying teenagers their own space. We also decided that once they had finished their exams, we would convert the garage too, so the next set of teens could have a bedroom to themselves too. Each room was then set up with a desk, lamp and filing cabinet, so the teenagers had a dedicated work space within their bedroom.

We then sat down with them individually and helped them make out revision timetables. It was a case of making sure each topic was covered to the full outside school hours but that the teenagers also had enough time to themselves to relax and unwind. There were a few grumbles at first but when they saw we were actually trying to be reasonable they grudgingly agreed to try to follow the timetables.

Learning How to Revise Effectively

Next we sat down with them and explained how to revise. I feel this is one of the biggest problems with exams and schools today – the youngsters are not taught how to learn on their own. We explained that just reading through subjects was not enough. They had to make notes too, then transpose the notes on to cards. Key points could be brought out in different colours. Then these cards actually had to be learned.

There were slots on the timetables when the teenagers would work together or we would test them – and we all acknowledged that it did need to be flexible as different situations arose but it was important to stick to it as far as possible.

In the kitchen, we set up an “exam cupboard.” This could be accessed by the studying teenagers only once they had done a good hour of work and while they were having a five minute break. They made suggestions as to what might be put in this cupboard.

Once we were underway, it was incredible how quickly the stress lifted. It was as if the teenagers needed the structure to help them through. The more they realised they were successfully working, the more the stress seemed to evaporate.

Meantime, we did our best to keep the youngsters out of their way and relieved them of most of their household chores. Where possible, we encouraged them to unwind by taking physical exercise, but if they wanted to have an hour or two on the games console instead then we didn’t complain. We tried to make them feel special and to treat them as adults. They seemed to respect that – and the new system worked.

Both teenagers did well in their GCSEs and are now working towards their A levels. The next set of teens are now doing their GCSEs too and our system for doing as much as we can to lift the stress from their shoulders seems to be working just as well for them.

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