Alongside focus on content, learning and progress it is vital that our students know how to look after themselves and their wellbeing, especially around exam times. This blog shares my three main tools. To book a session with me on Exam Preparation Wellbeing then please get in touch.
I was covering a PSHE Yr 11 mainstream Exam Preparation class.
The black and white photocopied booklet was dull, dull, dull.
PSHE is one of my specialist subjects, and – having never walked a straight forward career path, I had plenty of activities up my sleeve.
The students didn’t know me, and I had 50mins; not long to establish a relationship with 30+ 15 and 16yrolds. With only a few weeks until study leave you could almost touch the stress in the air. At this time of year the ones who’ve been revising all year start not sleeping from impulsively checking their mountain of flashcards (or App equivalent), and the ones who haven’t started yet have just realised the actual meaning of the first word in ‘study leave.’
The three activities I offered are ones I regularly use as a self-employed Creative Educator for myself. They are activities I did not learn in a ‘how to prepare students for exams’ textbook/workshop/department meeting – but tools I have learnt from real life, from business coaches, meditation teachers, creative coaches, yoga teachers, business leaders, menstruation educators, spiritual leaders, fellow entrepreneurs and my Mum and Dad.
1.Get in the Body
Can be approached in many ways in the classroom for students of any physical ability (I have worked with profoundly physically disabled students with similar, just adapted techniques).
Low risk group work where students all participate together.
In this class I used simple stretches based around posture and breathing. An easy place to start (for those able to), is feet hip distance apart, weight equally spread (sitting or standing).
It is surprising how long this can actually take for 30+ teenagers to achieve – and I don’t continue until everyone has achieved it. I don’t single anyone out, but use general statements such as ‘just waiting for everyone to follow the instructions and, if needs be – this is an exam preparation lesson after all, ‘ have you or anyone you know ever lost marks in an exam for not following instruction correctly?’ Followed by a repeat of the instructions.
Once achieved, I lead simple stretches taking the arms up with the in breath, out and down with the out breath; some careful neck rolls; shoulder rolls etc. (There are no end of yoga for beginners type videos if you are unconfident about leading).
Students preparing for exams spend a lot of time and energy in their heads. Simple movements can improve posture, blood flow and increase oxygen to the brain.
Mental Health issues associated with anxiety in young people are rife:  Meditation that often uses the breath as a focus, sometimes referred to as ‘Mindfulness’ has been proven to help with this. Fantastically too, it is a simple tool that can be used any time, any place and no one else needs to know – I emphasise this to students.
Students sit in a symmetrical position with as straight but comfortable posture as possible. I offer students either to close their eyes or look down if they feel more comfortable (remember, it may not feel safe for students to have their eyes closed in a classroom – see my blog Safety First, Learning Second). Calmly and slowly instruct as follows:
Feel air go in the nose.
Notice the temperature of the air coming in.
For the next 5 breaths see if you can focus solely on the breath without thinking about anything else.
Repeat for the exhale (the air is warmer going out).
Breathing meditations still the mind. Regular practice increases concentration and reduces stress and anxiety. Also helps students get used to comfortably sitting still for exams!
3. Goal Setting
There are many ways to do this. In the 18 or so minutes left in this type of one-off lesson I offer visualisation technique that helps the students see their future results in a positive way as something to work towards.
Ask the students to sit as they did for the breathing meditation (eyes closed or down). Allow lots of pauses for digestion, contemplation and visualisation. Suggested script below:
- Imagine your results day (insert date). You are about to open the envelop that contains your results. Think about one subject that at the moment you are worried about/you are finding difficult to revise for.
What would you be happy to get in this subject? Don’t think about others’ expectations but the grade that you would feel happy with. Imagine now that you open the envelop and this is exactly the grade you have achieved. How does that feel? How do people around you react?
Open your eyes. Think of your goal.
Now think about what steps you need to take to get to that goal. How far away are you from it? What or who could help you with those steps? What questions do you need answering?
Then give the students time to write a 3-step plan. They may need some guidance, for example – you’ve realised that you don’t know anything about The Cold War, which is a big section of your History exam. Do you have adequate notes on it to revise from? Do you understand the main points? Who could help you? Does your History teacher have resources or a break time they could go over it with you?
Firstly, the visualisation gives students a chance to imagine a positive outcome – how do you hit your target if you can’t see it?
Secondly, by the end of this exercise each student has a personalised strategy for their next revision steps in that subject.
Exercise can be repeated for different subjects/projects/competitions etc.
At the end of the lesson the students are usually a little bewildered but refreshed. Approaching exam preparation from a holistic, wider perspective enables students to more easily focus their revision timetables.
As the students exit the room I ask simply which activity they felt most beneficial.
Every class I have ever done with so far has had an overwhelmingly most positive experience with the breathing meditation activity. They cannot believe how much more relaxed they feel after 5 mins – and worryingly, how over-stimulated and stressed their minds are in general. They are happy to have a tool they can use before bed, whilst revising and even sat at the desk in the exam hall.
Yes. I teach students how to breathe, they enjoy it and it helps them with their exam preparation.
 Young Minds: Mental Health Statistics in the UK available here
 Mental Health Foundation: Mindfulness available here
The services I offer support students with Emotional Behaviour Difficulties and those who work with them; those who are perhaps struggling day-to-day with behaviour, or those who need a fresh vision to moving forward.
I offer practical, step-by-step actions that are doable and easy to implement.
I work with these students because I choose to; I know what it’s like to be on the front-line – and I enjoy it – which means I also love to help motivate others to do the best they can for these students too.
Three areas of services I offer:
or contact me if you have a request for something a little different...