Study and exams — finding the balance
How to help your teens manage their study load
By Clinical Psychologist, Toula Gordillo
Teens and pre-teens often feel stressed around exam time. This can be particularly true if your child feels anxious in other areas of their lives. The stress of an exam, particularly if it is important to a young person’s future career, often brings anxiety to the fore.
How can we help? Talk to your teens about The Scales of Stress to illustrate how their personal scales may be out of balance, resulting in feelings of stress or anxiety. Use the image of a set of scales in which your teens’ demands (on the left) are outweighing their resources (on the right). If they have too many demands and not enough resources, their scales might be out of balance. This can result in them feeling nauseous, having difficulty sleeping, feeling ‘flat’ with no emotion, or restless and finding they cannot sit still. Using an image such as The Scales of Stress can help your teen (or pre-teen) see the connection between their demands, resources and their emotions.
The demands on your teens may include exam preparation. They might not know what to study and this could be a source of stress for them. Not knowing what to study is a demand, so place it on the left side of the scales. You can do this verbally with your son or daughter, or write it down. Juggling a part-time job with study commitments could be another demand. If so, add it to the list. Other demands may include difficulty understanding the topic, being organised, knowing how to prioritise, time management, or difficulty relating the relevance of what they are learning to their own lives. Once your teens have identified their demands, help them to see what resources are available to them.
Resources include anything that helps your teens to cope with their demands. Your child may need to have a tutor if he or she does not understand the work. The tutor is a resource and should be placed on the right-hand side of the scales. If your teens do not understand what is likely to be in the exam, they may need to access the teacher and/or look at previous exam papers. The teacher and previous exams are both resources. If your child is having difficulty with prioritising, study skills or time management, he or she may need to see the school guidance officer, counsellor or psychologist.
Technology-based resources can include social media (in moderation it can be used as a good source of social support), accessing subject information online, forming an online study group, and other activities. Non-technology-based resources include playing sport, getting plenty of sleep, exercising, eating healthy food or taking multivitamins.
The ultimate goal is to help our teens to recognise, regularly use and increase their resources if necessary. They also need to recognise and decrease their demands wherever possible. The Balance of 80 — learning to care 80% in most areas of their lives — can be a worthy goal. Help them to identify that they may need to care 100% during the exam or in preparation for it, but the rest of the time they should aim for The Balance of 80. Increasing their resources and decreasing their demands can help them to find that balance.
Toula Gordillo has an extensive work history as a Clinical Psychologist, Teacher and Guidance Officer Intensive Behaviour Support. She has worked with some of the most challenging students throughout the Sunshine Coast, Townsville and former Thuringowa regions. With degrees in Arts, Education and Psychology, Toula has completed a Masters in Psychology (Clinical) and is presently studying a PhD researching how technology can be used to improve the mental health of Australian students aged 15–25.