Cork teacher and wellbeing author offers advice to tackle exam stress

As the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert get underway this week, teacher and wellbeing author ALAN WHITE shares some tips on how students can manage stress at exam time
Cork teacher and wellbeing author offers advice to tackle exam stress

Stress is inevitable, but the way you respond to it is what matters. Picture: Stock

AS the Leaving and Junior Cert exams approach, it can be an extremely stressful time for students and their families. The last few days before the exams begin can feel very long, stress and worry can become overwhelming for some students.

However, in order to prepare and perform to the best of their ability, it is important to manage these difficult feelings so that they can focus and perform to the best of their ability. There are a number of things that young people can do, with the support of their parents to help them.

The Importance of Routine

When our minds become stressed and negative thoughts race around our heads, it can be difficult to focus on anything especially revision. Creating a planned structure to the day will give young people a sense of control over the situation they are facing and allow them the psychological safety to concentrate on the important tasks they need to complete.

That’s why it’s important to get up and go to bed at the same time every day. 

It's also crucial to plan time for study, exercise, and time to relax, so that a sense of panic and overwhelming feelings do not take over. 

Our routines ground us and help us to overcome unexpected challenges we face in our day as we know that the rest of our day is clearly structured.

Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and Wellbeing Author.
Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and Wellbeing Author.

Changing Perceptions of Stress

Stress is often considered to be negative and something that we should reduce or even avoid if we can. However, the reality is that stress is inevitable in all our lives.

Working towards major exams is going to be a stressful time for young people. it needs to be managed through regular sleep, exercise and a relatively healthy diet as well as taking time out to relax in healthy ways.

The problem is, in scenarios such as exams, stress cannot be completely eliminated. 

The key to managing this is changing the way that stress is viewed. 

Seeing stress as only a negative thing reinforces this idea and makes us resist it, which only serves to increase it.

We need some stress in our lives in order to get up in the morning and do the things we need to do every day. Stress also helps us overcome challenges. Viewing stress as a motivation to take action, to revise, to exercise to seek support when needed, will allow students to focus this energy into productive activities rather than unhelpful negative thinking patterns.

Focus on What You Can Control

There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to exams. The questions that might come up, how ready you feel are just some of the factors that worry students. By focusing on the things that cannot be changed stress increases and it can be difficult to focus on last minute revision.

Changing the focus onto what you can control will help change how you look at the challenge coming up and motivate you to continue to prepare to the best of your ability.

Set Realistic Goals

Many students attempt to cram as much revision as possible into the last few days and hours before exams. Others become overwhelmed by the amount of work they feel they need to do and become disengaged. In both of these scenarios students can be counterproductive in their efforts and quickly become overwhelmed.

Taking time to plan and set realistic goals for revision over the next few days will allow you to focus on what’s important and develop a sense of progress and motivation. 

Taking control of our actions allows us to feel we can cope with the stresses in our lives and a sense of productivity helps us to continue to work towards our goals.

The Role of Parents

It is extremely challenging to be a parent of an exam student. There is often a sense of powerlessness as you watch your child go through the many emotions that the Leaving Cert brings. It can be hard to help and often when we do, our words of encouragement are heard as criticism and our good intentions backfire causing an argument.

For parents the best way to support their child is to be available when needed, discuss challenges calmly and help your child view things in a more realistic or positive way when they become overwhelmed with stress. 

It is important that they have a quiet space to prepare, and a safe place where they can rant and allow themselves to voice the difficult thoughts and feelings they might be experiencing without feeling judged. 

A difficult job but one that will show that you care for and support them.

The Class of 2022 have shown enormous resilience over the past number of years and have adapted to circumstances in schools which can only be described as unnatural. They have shown over the course of this year how quickly they can get back into the normal routines of education.

It’s important that they remember this when the exams begin and use their innate inner strength to overcome the challenge in front of them.


Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and a wellbeing author. He also facilitates wellbeing workshops for companies and organisations.

Find Alan on linkedin at Alan White or Facebook Changes Wellbeing

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