Coping with exam-time stress

2014-09-06 00:00

ORGANISATIONS that deal with stress and anxiety are preparing for the annual deluge of calls from matric pupils as the countdown for the final exams begins.

The finals get under way in October and continue to the end of November.

“It’s a very stressful time for young people,” said Dumisile Nala, national executive officer of Childline South Africa. “We get a lot of calls, especially if they haven’t prepared well. This is a particular source of anxiety at exam time.”

South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) spokesperson Meryl da Costa said they receive calls throughout the year, but there is “an additional spike during the exam period from students who may be stressed, or who are looking for helpful tips and ways of coping during this period”.

Childline advises pupils on study techniques as well as how to negotiate with parents.

“Children often have chores to do at home,” said Nala. “We ask parents to give their children some leeway at this time.”

Nala said another stress factor is the huge pressure to pass matric. “They are made to feel it’s the be-all and end-all of life. But they have got alternatives, though at the time it feels very stressful.”

Clinical psychologist Dr Bev Killian said this time of the year is “amazingly stressful” for both pupils and parents.

Killian said matric has an “enormously inflated importance in the minds of South Africans”.

“If you get through it, it’s as though you’ve made it in life.

“Matric is just one stepping stone in a child’s life. Not only the children, but parents get really worried; there is the pressure of getting into university and the strict criteria involved.”

Killian recommended drawing up a study routine at the beginning the year, otherwise when pupils get close to the exam they realise they are “not ready and then they freak”.

Killian said such a routine should also schedule in free time so pupils don’t burn out.

Da Costa said that pressure on children often comes from parents and families. “However, when a student doesn’t get the results they wanted, or if they fail a subject or the year, we stress to them it is not the end, that there are other options they can consider.

“But having the support from their families, teachers and schools helps students gain confidence and gives them the support they need during this time.”


• Think positively. A change in attitude can do wonders to ease your mind and ensure you study effectively.

• Exercise relieves stress. Go for walks during breaks or spend time at the gym before or after a study session.

• Eat healthier while studying. Processed foods with too much salt, sugar and caffeine can leave you feeling wired, not something you want while studying. Rather eat brain-boosting foods such as nuts, fish, fruit and vegetables.

• Get enough sleep. Sleep a bit later during weekends and go to bed an hour earlier in the week to give yourself enough rest.

• Be supportive and understanding.

• Talk to your child about their study plans and their concerns.

• Allow your child to do fewer household chores during study and exam time.

• Don’t compare your children with their brothers and sisters or others. Build on their strengths.

— South African Depression and Anxiety Group and ChildlineSA.

• Childline South Africa. Helpline 08000 55 555 or e-mail for 24-hour assistance. Check the website Also on Twitter and Facebook.

• South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag). Helpline available from 8 am to 8 pm – 0800 567 567/0800 212 223; or SMS “help” to 31393 and you will be called back. Sadag is also on Twitter and Facebook. During November there will be Facebook Friday chats with experts to help pupils cope with exam pressures. Check the website for articles on how to deal with exam and study stress.

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