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Supporting Teenagers Through Exam Stress: Effective Strategies and Mental Well-being Tips

Girl studying for exam

In the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong, the pressure cooker of academic expectations and exam stress is an all-too-familiar reality for many teenagers. Surveys have found that pre-examination stress is higher than ever, with one-third of students reporting very high stress. Plus, in our years of working with students, it has become more apparent that the stressors on their mental health and well-being are just increasing. As parents, coming up with holistic approaches to supporting students through these challenging times, incorporating effective learning strategies and fostering mental resilience becomes paramount. So, in this article, we delve into practical and proven techniques that can aid in alleviating exam stress and promoting well-being among teenagers.

1. Listen and Support:

As a teenager, it can seem like exams and tests felt like these would define your entire career and life. While it’s apparent to us as parents that they are not as decisive, (does anyone even remember their GCSE grades?), exams still do have a hefty weight for your children. So it’s really important to be empathetic and understand your children’s motivations, concerns and fears. If your child is worried about not being able to get into the college or programme of their dreams, engage in open dialogue about career options and provide reassurance that there are diverse paths to success. You can also showcase examples of people, in your network, who may have had alternative pathways to success. It can be hard as a parent when your intentions are for your child’s future, but by encouraging hard work and effort, we instil a lifelong quality rather than just focusing on results.

2. Explore Learning Techniques Together:

There are a multitude of learning techniques available for students. And these can seem overwhelming. Do work with your child to understand their best learning style which will help in exam prep and will leave them feeling confident. Some popular learning techniques include "retrieval practices" like flashcards and encouraging bedtime review of key materials that can optimise memory consolidation and information retention during sleep.

Another example is spaced practice which encourages students to study over a longer period of time, frequently revisiting and reviewing the content instead of cramming the night before. You could also use the Feynman Technique, which is based on the principle that If you want to understand something well, try to explain it simply.” Ask your child to explain a concept to you as if you are 5 years old. These techniques offer dynamic and innovative approaches to studying, promoting active engagement with the material and enabling students to build a solid foundation of knowledge for their academic pursuits. It also offers quality time with your child.

3. Optimize Study Schedules:

It can’t be all work and no play. Constant cramming is not only bad for learning, but it can also impact their well-being. So, you can suggest and work out study plans that will help your children gain that balance, and learn how to do it. For example, they can implement the Pomodoro technique. This is when you set your timer for 25 minutes, and focus on a single task until the timer rings and then take a five-minute break. In the longer term, help your child create a realistic and comprehensive weekly or monthly study plan well in advance, to ensure they stay organized and avoid last-minute stress. By outlining specific topics to cover each day and incorporating sufficient breaks and leisure activities, students can maintain a healthy balance between academic commitments and personal relaxation, fostering a more sustainable and productive study routine. Remember, turning something into a habit takes anywhere from 18 to 200+ days for something to be a habit.

4. Cultivate Resilience:

A bad test result can be incredibly demoralising and stressful. So, it’s important to normalise setbacks for your children. One great way to cope with this is to create action plans after disappointing results thereby fostering resilience and problem-solving skills. What’s more, is that you can use this as a teaching moment and to build a growth mindset. Some techniques you incorporate are rewarding their efforts, focusing on praising them for concentration, study techniques or even their motivation. Recognising your child’s effort will motivate and encourage them for future assessments.

Additionally, allow them to use the feedback to improve. They can review mistakes to analyse their strengths and weaknesses or discuss with teachers how they can perform better. Ultimately, you should maintain a supportive environment focused on their individual progress, rather than comparisons with others, to contribute to their emotional well-being and academic growth.

5. Promote Stress Alleviation:

Exam stress can affect students in various ways such as feeling overwhelmed prior to the exams or struggling with anxiety on the day. Having open conversations with your child to understand their concerns is key. You can then work together on practical solutions. For instance, simple breathing exercises or mindfulness practices can also help in calming the body's stress response and bringing attention back to the present moment. Additionally, promoting a balanced lifestyle with adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise can go a long way in reducing stress and fostering overall well-being during the exam period.

6. Seek Additional Support:

Finally, you don’t have to do it alone, and neither does your child. Do encourage your child to proactively seek assistance from school teachers, school counsellors or other healthcare professionals when facing academic challenges. Trained professionals can contribute to addressing learning gaps and fostering academic growth. Understanding whether the support your child need is content-based or mindset-based, is also crucial.

Teachers are a great first step to getting that support which can look like content help, revision techniques, and even getting access arrangements like extra time to complete the exam, assistive technology (such as a computer, text-to-speech software etc.) or breaks during the exam.

From a mindset perspective, working with a mental health professional can help foster a positive self-image and recognising personal achievements outside of academics can bolster self-esteem and resilience, empowering students to navigate exam stress more effectively. Reaching out can seem daunting but don’t worry! Educators and mental health professionals have seen it all - and they are here to help your child!

Making sure that your child feels supported and confident is super important, especially when they're dealing with the stress of exams. By creating a caring atmosphere that focuses on effective learning strategies and building up mental resilience, parents and teachers can really help teenagers in Hong Kong feel more prepared and balanced when it comes to tackling exams.

If your child needs any support in their process, please reach out to us as we've experts waiting to help with Study Skills and Academic Coaching.


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