IB Exam Stress – What can Parents do to Help

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The IB exams are around the corner, and students, parents, and teachers can feel the stress rising. While some stress can be healthy, it can also overwhelm you.

In this article, we explore the nature of exam stress and offer students & parents practical advice that can really make a difference.

IB exam stress among students has reached record levels in recent years. Above all, Covid, social anxiety and exam stress have increased pressure in school and at home. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

By knowing the signs to look for, and by using some simple strategies, teachers, tutors, and of course, parents can help.

Academic pressure

We all want our children to do the best they can, that goes without saying. However, that ambition can translate into pressure. Above all, when it comes to exam time stress can come from parents who want to push for better results. But the source can also be peers and students themselves who can create unrealistic expectations.

Even though international students can be perceived as more privileged than average, this in itself can compound IB exam stress and anxiety levels. As students feel they “have” to perform.

Sometimes, students experience pressure from parents hoping for top grades. On the other hand, pressure can also come from teachers who want the school to perform well in the academic league tables.

Social pressure

Social media is an obvious starting place for social pressure.

Worrying about popularity, hanging out in the right places, and whether or not teens have the right look on their socials can weigh heavily. Sometimes these issues can arrive at exam time and make IB exam stress even worse.

This all comes at a time when peer relationships are most important. Understandably relationship breakups or an explosive friendship group can radically impact confidence and self-esteem.  All at a critical time academically.

Stressed IB student sitting on kerb

What’s the solution?

Even though it might feel impossible, there are things we can all do to help reduce the levels of stress.  So that students can cope better with all life is throwing at them.

1) First, ask yourself the question; are parents an unintentional source of stress for your child?

No parent wants to add to their child’s stress levels, but sometimes, without meaning to, we can be adding to the pressure.

Pushing for better grades, or being too strict on the amount of study time can be counterproductive. Or, it can tip over from being supportive to stress-inducing.

Every student is different. In fact, each individual will handle pressure differently, but stress could also be getting in the way of them doing their best to achieve.

Another reason for parents to try to limit their help to being reassuring is that increased pressure can tip students toward giving up. Once pressure mounts, some students react by deciding it’s better not to try than to try and fail.

Look for ways to offer help, reassurance, and support, during these high-stress moments.

2) Try to get to the root of the stress or anxiety

Understanding the cause of stress is half the battle.

Stress can creep into life gradually, and it can be hard for your child to articulate the reason. Helping them to find the source of the pressure can be the first big step to making things better.

You may see signs of anxiety, perhaps they are more irritable, seem unhappy, suffer from aches and pains, or have problems sleeping. Or, perhaps they are withdrawing from friends and family, and starting to have panic attacks.

Each of these behaviors could signify stress, even if the child themselves is not able to identify it. Then it can take time to figure out what is the root cause.

key to this is having a close relationship with your child that allows open and honest communication. Or, helping them find an adult they feel they can talk to.

After all, there is a lot of truth in the idea of “a problem shared is a problem halved.”

3) Help students learn the difference between ‘good’ stress and ‘bad’ stress

A degree of stress can be helpful to get things done, it helps us meet deadlines and try new things. The key is to recognize the difference.

You can help teens combat negative thinking through visualization techniques or teaching them how to break challenges and problems into small chunks to make them more manageable.

“All or nothing” thinking is a product of stress and can make finding solutions even harder.

Often it is helpful to teach students helpful to separate ‘performance’ from ‘self-worth. Performance may go up or down, but that doesn’t change the way we value ourselves.

Stressed IB student at desk

4) Help your IB student to get organized to avoid stress come exam time.

Stress can be caused by feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork. Deadlines pile up, and students have trouble organizing themselves.

A cluttered environment can cause stress and decrease productivity. You can help your child to create a calm, tidy place to work away from distractions that can really help to minimize stress.

In addition, it can be useful to help your child find systems and strategies to help them manage their workload and deadlines. This is a skill that they will need later in life, so it’s good to instill good habits as early as possible.

By the time the IB arrives, this is a critical skill to avoid adding to IB exam stress, But if this is an area where an IB student still needs help, they can contact our IB tutors to help get these study methods in place quickly.

Our tutors can help your child learn the study and organization skills needed to minimize the stress of homework and exam preparation. You can find out more here.

5) Are IB students getting enough sleep?

Not enough sleep impairs academic performance and makes it harder to get through the day. The Sleep Foundation recommends the following hours of sleep for school-age children.

School-age children (6-13): Sleep range 9-11 hours

Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range 8-10 hours

Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours

A student suffering from fatigue is not able to concentrate well or retain what they learn.  This means getting to bed on time and without devices is essential.

6) Can you find a stress outlet?

This could be finding a hobby, joining a sports club or going out with friends.

Family activities such as walking the family dog or just getting outdoors can be beneficial. Arts, music, and crafts are also great options. In fact, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s enjoyable and relaxing as IB exam time approaches.

student outside school

7) Do they know how to use relaxation techniques?

This can include things like meditation, breathing exercises, thinking positive thoughts, or visualization.

Meditation and yoga are proven to lower stress and can be done by children and adults alike. Here are the best of the best resources, personally tested by the TutorsPlus team.

Great yoga app for teens and adults (https://www.downdogapp.com )

Best apps for meditation and simple, fun breathing exercises (https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app )
https://www.headspace.com/meditation/kids )

8) Are they taking regular exercise?

Blowing off steam through sports or exercise can be very effective at reducing stress levels.  Helping your children get regular exercise can make a big difference and set up healthy living habits for a lifetime.

9) Do they have someone to talk to?

Often just talking about what’s stressful or having someone listen to your problems can drastically reduce anxiety and stress. So, checking your child has someone they can talk to is essential, whether it is a friend, aunt or teacher. The important thing is that they feel comfortable sharing their problems.

10) This is a long checklist, but consider these facts and figures

The Mental health Foundation in the UK has reported that as many as 60% of young people have felt so stressed by the pressure to succeed that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

47% have felt so stressed by body image and peer pressure over their appearance that they have felt unable to cope.

And most worrying of all, almost 40% of young people have reported feeling suicidal because of stress.

The earlier we can help our children manage their stress levels, the better it will be for their education, mental health and their futures.

You can read more about the study here. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/60-young-people-unable-cope-due-pressure-succeed

Click here to find an experienced tutor who can help. https://tutorsplus.com/tuition/

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