Five tips to ensure your students don’t get stressed and perform well this exam season

Reading time: 4 minutes. Relevant event: SSAT Aspirations Show 2018

Louis Howell, director of Revolution Hive, shares practical advice for being able to stay on top form during exam time

They say anything worth having requires hard work and commitment for a sustained period. So, whether you’re the teacher or the student, exam season can become pretty tense, as you’ve essentially reached the peak of the mountain you’ve been climbing for a year or two. Here are our five tips.

1. One small act for that one person

Let’s start this tip by reminding you of the great saying, ‘they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.’ After years of commitment to teaching the students about how to succeed in their exams, you’d be forgiven for assuming they know how much you care about their success and future. There’s something we tend to forget, however, and although it isn’t a massive action, it can have massive impact.

Imagine you’re a student sitting in a revision session, or even standing outside the exam hall before going in. Your teacher hands you a personal note reminding you of how great you are and how well you’ll do in the coming test. Maybe it’s just a sentence saying: ‘Louis, read the question fully and outline your main points before starting your answer. I believe in you. This exam is yours.’

Remember, most of this year you will have been teaching a whole classroom of students. As much as you may have tried, not every student will be aware of just how much focus you have been putting on their personal – individual – development and ability to succeed. It may take an hour to write a post-it of encouragement for every pupil, but this one small action could give them a boost we may not be able to quantify.

2. Paired or group coaching

Accountability and teamwork give meaning and depth to so many challenges, goals and experiences in our life. Peer-to-peer accountability can often be so much more impactful because fellow classmates are usually easier to relate to, and sometimes a bit of friendly competition can arise.

Try pairing, or grouping, pupils and encouraging them to set individual goals with plans for achieving them; then have their accountability partners/groups hold them accountable for taking the action steps required to achieve their goal. The process of having pupils take ownership of their outcomes, being expected to share those outcomes and also playing a role in helping a peer to succeed fosters a level of maturity and focus that we may not have seen in them before.

Note: Variation is powerful: try pairing pupils of different attainment levels and friendship groups.

3. Student-led revision sessions

We say it all the time at Revolution Hive: confidence is not an input, it’s an output.

That being said, what can we do to instil confidence in our students before they enter the exam hall? Saying ‘be confident’ obviously isn’t going to cut it.

How about designing a revision session in a way that allows pupils to have five minutes each (or in pairs) to present a summary of a topic that has been covered in the curriculum and is likely to appear in the exam? In doing this, not only do you cause the students to take ownership over their and others’ learning. It also relieves some of the pressure of having to revise every element of the curriculum to the point of mastery, as their revision sessions give them a chance to gain from other students’ summaries.

Start by breaking down the curriculum into the topic areas and then assigning one to each student/pair, providing them with them a broad structure for how they should deliver their summary and a clear deadline. Inform the pupils that they should be prepared for questions from the audience to encourage greater engagement and commitment.

Note: you may want to ask each pair to produce a supplementary handout for their summary which the rest of the class can use as a revision resource.

4. Box breathing

This is the first of two mindfulness tips to finish this article. As much as they are helpful for students while revising or sitting the exams, these techniques are just as beneficial for teachers during this busy time of the year. We encourage teachers to demonstrate and practise these techniques with their pupils.

Box breathing is commonly known for being used by Navy Seals when they need to stay calm and focused during pressurising situations. It is thought that simply taking 1-2 minutes to practise this can lead to instant physiological, psychological and emotional changes in state.

A tutorial video by my colleague Keshav demonstrates the technique, which can be summarised in these six simple steps:

  1. Take a few deep breaths – inhaling via your nose and taking the breath into the stomach before forcing all the air out of your body.
  2. Now, to start: breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
  3. Hold this breath for four seconds.
  4. Breathe out for four seconds.
  5. Hold again for four seconds.
  6. Repeat.

5. The 5-step grounding technique

This technique has been used by people all over the world to overcome sudden feelings of worry or anxiety. Grounding is all about taking our attention away from the situation(s) or thoughts that cause us to feel overwhelmed or in state of panic, and focusing on our presence within our surroundings.

Here’s how it works. Once you realise you are feeling worried or anxious, you first need to stop whatever you are doing and carry out the following:

  1. Name 5 things you can see in the room with you.
  2. Name 4 things you can feel.
  3. Name 3 things you can hear right now.
  4. Name 2 things you can smell.
  5. Name 1 great thing about yourself (sometimes people say taste one thing – your choice!)

Note: Of course, in an exam hall you may not be able to say this out loud, so you could write it down somewhere or say it to yourself.

There you have it, this brings us to the end of our five tips for avoiding stress and being at your best during exam season. Be sure to try some – ideally all – of these with your students and drop us a line to tell us about how it has helped you:

At Revolution Hive, we reckon to be experts at helping schools to equip young people for life beyond the classroom. Check out our most recent Impact Report to learn more about how you can increase the aspirations and engagement of your pupils.

Find more on the SSAT blog: How Navy SEALs stay calm and relaxed under immense pressure

Follow Louis Howell on Twitter

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