How to spend the last weeks of the summer holidays
It’s that time of year again where the end of summer is almost in sight and many of us are starting to acknowledge the prospect of returning back to School. Whilst you may be looking forward to seeing your friends again it can also be daunting to think of all those homework assignments and early mornings you have waiting for you.
However returning back to School does not need to come as such a shock to the system. Whatever year you are going into you can start by looking over your last year’s notes or doing that extra reading assignment your teacher set you. If you have just finished your GCSE’s and you are going to be commencing your A-Levels then why not begin looking at your course syllabus. Remember learning can be a fun and enjoyable exercise depending on the way you approach it. With anything preparation is the key! So why not prepare to go back to School/College?
Share now :
Anxiety: the real reason you fail exams
July 9, 2018
What is the definition of anxiety?
There are a number of definitions of anxiety. The primary one is…
It’s the anticipation of a future (or sometimes a past) threat. Fear is incorporated in that definition, but this is usually regarded as a real threat to survival, rather than a perceived threat.
High stress levels can result in muscle tension, poor sleep patterns, cautious behaviours and/or avoidant behaviours. These maladaptive behaviours include failing to attend events, usually cancelling last minute and avoiding specific social situations, like giving speeches. But, it also incorporates other mental disorders, including OCD, social phobias and panic disorders.
Due to poor definitions and sometimes even diagnosis. It’s pretty clear that a huge amount of people, at some time in their life, will suffer from anxiety. It can be born out of a daily hassle or an upsetting issue, like workplace stress, family arguments or daily commutes. Anxiety affects, more or less, everyone. But how people cope with it differs immensely.
Are there specific examples of exam–related-anxiety?
A key example is exams stress. There is a clear correlation between state anxiety (mental worry) and exams. Usually, as exams draw nearer, anxiety levels can rise to detrimental levels. Lotz and Sparfeldt found that “State Test Anxiety showed an overall increase and peaked shortly before exams.” They also found that “Trait worry and emotional stress correlated substantially with State Test Anxiety.” (Lotz and Sparfeldt 2017)
So, in the lead up to exams, students’ State Anxiety (unpleasant emotional arousal and stress, cognitive based (thought processes)) and Trait Anxiety (individual difference and biological predispositions) rise. Individuals with naturally high levels of trait anxiety, and those who are ‘worriers’ are already more prone to high levels of State anxiety. Hormones can also play a part. It’s suggested that females experience higher levels of trait anxiety than males. This corresponds to girls reporting higher levels of stress in exams.
Does school life fuel anxiety in children?
Not wanting to go to school is a common morning ritual, but there’s a difference between not enjoying school and fearing going to school. Communication with children is the only real way to know and to help. With culture and society expecting more from children and even nursery kids, there is a rise in anxiety-related issues. At this age, it’s extremely hard to help, as sometimes, communication skills are still growing and changing. Intervention at this age is not really advisable or wanted by parents – they just want their kids to be happy.
But with new exams, the 4+ for example, and the issue with stretched staffing in schools, identifying and helping children with this is really hard. On the other end of the scale, it’s well documented that university students struggle with pressure, stress and anxiety. The rise in these cases, you’d assume, is isolation (universities have a very much ‘get on with it’ approach in their support) coupled with exam stress. This is leading to an increased state of numerous anxieties, and it’s becoming commonplace at university.
Another issue, which is giving rise to anxiety, is the school environment.
A school is a fantastic breeding ground for stress. Exam stress, pressure from teachers, social conformity, bullying and ridiculously high expectations on students all lead to one thing. The issue is that no one is doing anything to help. Children are on their own, and when they are on their own, they are on their phones. As discussed by Simon Sinek, we know that phones and specific apps are addictive. This addiction is not even being treated. If kids do have the skills to help alleviate their stress and recognise their anxieties, they don’t use them. Their addiction– the smart phone, the cause of a lot of anxieties– is easy to access and to be influenced by. If you can’t leave your phone alone for 2 minutes, that’s an addiction. Addictions lead to dependence, and dependency leads to worry and stress.
Schools don’t focus on individuals, they focus on cohorts– “90% of our students gain A-B at A-level.” Schools are exam factories, focusing on the masses, not the individual. As far as social support and stress interventions are concerned, schools are failing. It’s important to note that I’m not, as one myself, blaming teachers. Their jobs are full-on, and they won’t have time to help individuals. Schools should implement tutoring sessions, to help specific children, to help them deal with their anxieties, rather than assuming that either the stress will dissipate, or ‘everyone is in the same boat during exams’.
So, does small group and one-on-one tutoring work?
One-on-one mentoring is proven to work. It’s proven to alleviate stress and reduce arousal and also boost motivation and confidence. In 2015, Cliff Boutelle found that focusing on personality factors and traits between mentor-mentee relationships helps to reduce anxiety and stress. We’re back to traits again. To reduce anxiety, stress and depression we need to look at people’s traits– how they operate, how they think and how they work. Yes, it takes time and effort. But it’s worth it long term, as you have students who aren’t stressed and perform well.
What does other research show us about anxiety?
Research and studies into anxiety in early life have been associated with long-term adverse outcomes and negative effects in adult life. These adverse outcomes include substance abuse, depression, abnormalities in brain function and personality disorders and dysfunctions. And more often than not, poor intra and inter personal relationships.
‘Dependency was also a big factor; high anxiety leads to nicotine, drugs and alcohol abuse’ Alexander McFarlane et al. Other studies have shown that gastrointestinal problems and sleep disturbances were significantly related to stressors, Ashley E. Nixon et al. Nixon also found that ‘it’s important to examine physical symptoms, as they are related to a wide range of job stressors.’
Psychological stress and anxiety can lead to physiological illness, both acute and chronic. Kiecolt-Glazer found that in a number of medical students, natural killer cells (white blood cells) were significantly reduced. What was interesting, is that these NK cells were reduced more severely just before their finals, compared to two weeks before and a week after their exams. This shows that while stress causes high anxiety in the short term, it’s also a long-term health worry, and can result in immune-suppression.
What about people’s own experiences?
More recently, Megan Nolan discussed the rise in her worries and fears from her own experiences, and subsequent application to students taking exams this year. She recalled the time when ‘my chest simply stopped letting me push it out so that air could flow in.’ This is scary. It’s now estimated that there has been a 70% increase in anxiety and depression in teenagers over the past 25 years. That is alarming – and as far as I’m concerned, it’s not something that anyone really talks about. Obesity and diet are covered by the press every day, very few mention arousal, stress or depression. Specifically compared to the volume of new cases and diagnosis.
A student I taught discussed more with me, his teacher, than his parents, peers or friends. I think he saw it as a form of weakness. He thought it was just him who it affected. Nonsense, it affects everyone – in its own way. Anxiety is bad, it’s inhibiting, it’s painful, but it’s not lonely, you’re not on your own! Some people habitually bite their nails, twitch, or look from the corner of their eyes during conversation. Some people get a dry mouth and others can only look at the future pessimistically. But that’s ok, we’re all different. What we need are coping strategies.
How can I reduce my anxiety levels?
There are a few ways to reduce it. First, you need to look at somatic and cognitive anxiety management techniques. Somatic techniques include deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. These are usually non-specific techniques and can be used in a number of anxiety-provoking situations. Whereas, cognitive techniques are more specific, like anxiety in a social situation. You need to recognise your anxiety– the feeling of dread and sickness when preparing for a social situation, or an interview, or an exam.
You can use specific techniques for coping and these are anxiety controlling skills. These skills include positive self-talk, rational thinking and imagery. They do require time, effort and often a mentor to support you. However, they are lifelong skills that will help reduce anxiety, stress and fear.
Are there any other techniques?
Two other non-invasive techniques are meditation and mindfulness. Meditation has been adopted in many countries, although these are usually countries which are less focused on exams. A school in San Francisco, however, ran a meditation programme and found an improvement in pupil’s behaviours, work ethic and happiness. Years later, the school now has some of the best attendance rates in the city. Reduced anxiety and stress leads to improved mental health and cognitive function. Mindfulness has also been used, but it’s been criticised as it can result in some children becoming more anxious as they’re focusing on their specific stress.
Tutor House is looking for people – students, parents and teachers to share their experience of anxiety. How it affected/affects their everyday life? And how you beat or are coping with anxiety?
With Pre-U exams only a term away and more work to prepare for than most A-Levels, Tutor House is encouraging Pre-U students to sign up to our in-house Christmas holiday revision courses.
We are offering four intense study revision course sessions from Dec 18th-21st, totally 10 hours, which will incorporate exam technique, content support and revision methods that actually work. (If you can’t do Christmas, we also run Easter revision courses for Pre-U subjects)
Who we work with:
At Tutor House, we understand the struggle to find tutors that have taught the complex Pre-U structure before; however, all of our course tutors are proficient in the board’s content and practice. In fact, all of our specialist tutors are degree-educated, DBS-check and as passionate about education as we are. We meet and interview all our tutors personally to ensure we are working with quality educators that are knowledgeable about their subject.
What we offer:
Our Pre-U revision courses are designed with the student’s success in mind, and over the four-days, we will work to maximise academic potential. This includes revising:
Exam content Exam practice papers and model answers Revision techniques and methods
Our courses are run by highly qualified teachers and tutors, who know the syllabus inside out.
Our revision courses are only for small groups, which is why we welcome a minimum of two, and maximum of five students per group.
Please note, the course will only go ahead if the minimum student number is met. If you have signed up and the course doesn’t go ahead, we will offer a reduced-rate one-on-one Pre-U course instead.
The course is £500 and will take place from December 18th-21st from 3.30-6pm.
Get in touch:
If you’re interested in joining our Pre-U revision course, please call 020 7612 8297 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your required subjects.
The first way is revise for exams, spoken by a teacher, with all the spiel about exams being the gateway to your future and without doing well, implying you won’t amount to anything; you’ll be stacking shelves in Tesco before you can say ‘exams scare me more than Trump’.
Naturally, this association with exams is known to cause a minor breakdown; illusions of running away, sobbing, sweating, shouting, a raising of blood pressure, and at best, a general poor, miserable mood – have all been reported, when revising.
Then there’s ‘revise for exams’. Exams in the sense that you get the chance to take all that knowledge you’ve acquired over the years and put it in one place. You’re not worrying about the future, you’re only worry is to use that information to portray exactly what you’ve learnt and understood in a clear and succinct way on the day. Think about it as a hoop – just a hoop to jump through. A hoop that everyone has to jump through and most people you know have jumped through previously. Let’s call it the ‘exam hoop of happiness’. So what’s the best way to prepare to jump through this hoop?
Hoop one: Revise – Past papers
It amazes me how many students we talk to who say they’ve never looked at a past paper! I find this crazy, why would schools not look at them? They say practice makes perfect and to be perfect, to master a skill, you need to work on that skill for 10,000 hours! You’ll spend that on Instagram or some other nonsense, so spending it on revising would certainly be beneficial. Having said that 10,000 is quite a few hours, so let’s be a bit realistic. The rule is the more past papers you do, the better you’ll do! It’s simple learning; familiarity and replication. Take a driving test as an example, you’d never turn up to the test, having not had a single driving lesson, sit behind the wheel and say “which one is the brake?” That’s an instant fail, you crashed into the building. You’d never do it, and your GCSE, A-level or Pre-U exams should be no different – get those exam papers out, do one, do two, do three, and review them. You can find all exam papers on the Edexcel, AQA and OCR websites. And you can also find the answers to those exam papers on the same websites, under mark schemes. Otherwise search for them online, they’re easy to find.
Hoop two: Revise – Seven is the magic number
George Milner in 1956 found that the magic number for encoding in short term memory (this memory lasts less than 30 seconds, due to decay or displacement, if repetition doesn’t occur, and is usually encoding using auditory stimuli) was 7-/+ 2 chunks, so, a maximum of nine chunks of information at any one time. Information should be digested in small, manageable, bite-sized chunks. Think about a lot of things you remember and code in memory, they are in chunks; a pin code, a password, a phone number, 0203 9500 320, the whole number is too long to remember, so we automatically break it down, to make it manageable. Your brain does this automatically for you, so use that automatic help, and break things down. When revising, make sure you only revise the key small bits of information. Don’t go mad and write and write, you simply won’t remember the information, then use this information as the foundation for essays plans, poetry analysis or even for recalling an Economic theory.
Hoop three: Revise – Spider diagrams
These are linked to chunking; spider diagrams allow students to focus on important areas in visual learning (chunking is often auditory. You’re combining stimuli here) which is simple and doesn’t require a huge amount of repetition. The best way to revise for your GCSE, A-level or Pre-U exams is to plan them, and the easiest way to do this is through spider diagrams. They give you a short, sharp way to analyse and assess the key points. Let’s look at a quick example – Psychology A-Level AQA Memory. Note – No Pablo Picasso is not reborn, but I appreciate your support. (Aka, I’m the opposite of an artist.)
Psychology – quick spider diagram for the Mutli Store Model of Memory
Making information visual increases memory capacity and learning.