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Home > Research Articles > Psychologists confirm that teenagers and exam stress are a dangerous combination


Thursday, May 15, 2003


London, May 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Psychologists from Coventry University have confirmed that the stress caused by exams can be potentially damaging for young people unless they employ effective coping mechanisms. Rob Wilde and Dr Orla Dunn from the University's School of Health and Social Sciences carried out research with A-level students and found some startling results.

Over half of the young people questioned stated that they found exams very or extremely stressful. Many reported health problems linked to exam stress including loss of sleep, loss of appetite, headaches and nausea and a tendency to binge on both food and drink. Worryingly 8% of the young people interviewed said they had suicidal thoughts brought on by the stress of exams.

The good news is that many of the teenagers had developed their own ways of coping with stress, some more effectively than others. Rob Wilde said: 'We found that many young people like to take time out from revision as a way of coping with the stress, going out and talking with their friends.

Dr Orla Dunn said: 'An ideal package of exam preparation shouldn't just include practice to improve performance but also tactics to cope with the seemingly inevitable stresses before and during exams. Planning and revision, not surprisingly, seem the best tactic to reduce nerves in the exam, but, especially for those who find exams very stressful, just working hard actually seems to exacerbate pre-exam problems. Those who fare best with stress in the time running up to exams are those who are able to talk to others for advice and support.

'Taking time out from revision is OK, as long as people realise that this tactic still leaves them vulnerable to stress-related problems in the exam. We found nothing to recommend using binge eating, smoking, drinking or recreational drugs to cope with exam stress although these were fairly common tactics.'

Of the small number of teenagers who reported having suicidal thoughts it seems that this group has a concentration of factors which lead to these desperate feelings, and each one perpetuates another. They reported heavy drinking, drug taking, arguing with their friends.

There can also be problems for other members of the family when one or more young people in the household are experiencing the stress of exams. The build-up of stress amongst all the family members may lead to increased tension and parents and siblings may also feel the need to escape the pressure.

The teenagers also commented on the difference between coursework and exams. The main pressure related to exams is the limited time factor. Unlike coursework, students feel they have only one chance to get it right and they are not entitled to the normal help they receive from teachers on coursework.

Almost half of the teenagers seemed unaware of the help offered by their school for exam stress. However, helpful teachers, additional classes, revision strategies and relaxation classes were all mentioned as examples of good practice. Students should be made more aware of the help available to them and that they are not alone in being stressed by exams. Calling ChildLine or visiting a GP are confidential sources of help if people feel they can't talk to family members, friends.

Note for editors: Briefing notes on the research findings are available. Contact Katie Beales on +44 024 7688 8352 to request a copy.

Issued by Corporate Affairs at Coventry University.

Coventry University

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