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Is there a connection between exams and mental health?

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Is there a connection between exams and mental health?

As we come into revision season, I've been wondering about this.

Do you think there's a connection between exams and mental health? In what way?

If exams impact mental health negatively, are there ways you think this could be improved for students? What support do you need?

This is a sensitive subject, so just a reminder to please keep all discussions in this thread within community guidelines, and consider the wellbeing of other students reading this thread when posting. If you would like support for your own mental health, please consider reaching out to Samaritans, Papyrus or Student Space.

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I don't think that exams (as in the idea of making pupils to sit some for of assessment to prove their knowledge in a subject) are the issue, it's England's attitude towards exams and their irrational stubbornness (until university level) when it comes to how students must be assessed that's the issue. We need to start assessing pupils in a more diverse manner (pen and paper exams for every (key word every, so not in general) exam need to be a thing of the past other than for subjects like Maths for example). I'm pro-exams but moving forward our attitude towards exams needs to change. We also need to ditch this "have an exam for every subject (excludes Science, Maths, English, Economics etc) that a pupils choses to do in school" mindset (you should be able to learn MFL and RS beyond KS3 without having to sit a formal GCSE exam for it for example (make the exam an optional thing)).

Overall though yes i think that there is a connection between exams and mental health and pupils who are struggling or getting low grades need support.
Definitely
I think the linking factor between the two is stress! (also some other factors mediate this relationship - for those who want to know more, look up 'stress diathesis model')

Therefore, managing stress alleviates to some extent the vulnerability to mental health issues.

P.s. stupid nit picky comment, but the term mental health also refers to 'positive' aspects - in that sense, we all have mental health :smile:
Original post by Noodlzzz
I think the linking factor between the two is stress! (also some other factors mediate this relationship - for those who want to know more, look up 'stress diathesis model')

Therefore, managing stress alleviates to some extent the vulnerability to mental health issues.

P.s. stupid nit picky comment, but the term mental health also refers to 'positive' aspects - in that sense, we all have mental health :smile:

I completely agree about the ability for mental health referring to both positive and negative, and everything in between. I didn't want to influence too much/assume the connection is entirely negative, but also didn't want to not mention support for those whose connection may be negative. :smile:
Original post by BlinkyBill
I completely agree about the ability for mental health referring to both positive and negative, and everything in between. I didn't want to influence too much/assume the connection is entirely negative, but also didn't want to not mention support for those whose connection may be negative. :smile:

I thought the wording was a bit ambiguous! Glad to hear this was intentional :smile:
I voted yes (like many others it seems)

As someone in their last a level year and rapidly approaching the final exams, I feel that exams do correlate with my negative mental health.

However, I struggle with my mental health a lot anyway - I am a very anxious person which can cause depressive feelings

But my mental health does seem worse due to the stress piled on by exams and deadlines, particularly in subjects where there is a lot to remember. It also does not help when the teachers start to stress and put pressure on us.

One of my teachers said to us the other day (and I quote this): "To be able to do well, you need to be having at least one mental breakdown a week"
yes of course there's a connection. having to force yourself to remember a load of knowledge and the right way to answer questions in timed conditions for an exam that could have impact on the rest of your life is not fun at all on the most part for most people. no matter how much yoga, mediation and prep you do.

as for how to help? idk, through the current exam system all you can rly do is self care and stress reduction stuff. as well as adequate prep
I do think there is a link, but i also think a lot of other factors come into play.

I can't talk for other people but exams for me were a stressor more than a main cause.

This might be upsetting for some people to read so i have spoilered it and CS feel free to edit anything (although i have posted with the PSV rules in mind around historic issues):

For me paradoxically GCSEs were a very happy time for me, in contrast to AS levels and A2 which were the worst times of my life.

I enjoyed GCSEs a lot, i've always been someone who is quite easily bored as I like to keep my mind busy and I love learning new things. What I liked about GCSEs was the variation. You could go from doing art to poetry to history then biology and everything in between.
I did really want to achieve but i also felt like the environment around me was less toxic. For instance i didnt enjoy spanish particularly but because we all had to take set groups of subjects (the school made us do the e-baccalaureate thing) there were also loads of other people in the class who didnt enjoy spanish. There wasnt that competitive toxicity.
I did very well at GCSE and achieved 8A*s and 2As. I worked incredibly hard for those results and was absolutely overjoyed on results day.

In some ways i was very fixated in my own little world where grades were pretty much my only concern in life. I hadn't had an easy life up until that point by any means (my parent was seriously ill, i had to relocate across the country, absent/nasty father) but i didnt feel at that point that any of that had really had much of an affect on me. Indeed when i first joined this website (around that time) people were actually annoyed by me as i was overly happy and exuberant.

During AS and A2 i felt like my world was blown open in some ways. My grandparent was not in great health to begin with but seriously declined over the last year of GCSE and we were her carers. At one point i was living with her to make sure she was okay overnight.
She then passed away and in a way I became a carer for my parent, they were absolutely devastated and could barely function. I was their only reason for getting up in the mornings and there was literally no other family members around (either estranged, not present or deceased).

So i had all that in the background and then A-levels thrown on top. You're made to think about your future extremely seriously and having attended a grammar school everyone suddenly developed into these compeitive toxic people who were constantly comparing universities, courses and grades. An A rather than an A* was not considered good enough and a B well that was a complete failure.

However I do not think it is fair to attribute all of my stress to the school. Even out of that environment I would still have wanted to suceed for myself and held myself to really high standards. It's hard to say for certain but even out of that environment I still dont think at that time I would have been happy with B grades.

I was also being left home alone quite a lot, meaning this was a perfect opportunity to become isolated, lonely and depressed. I had no social circle at this point as I do now. My only friends were on TSR and that was something I kept hidden for years. I was popular at school but not actually close to anybody.

I would go to the woodlands when I was home alone and just sit depressed on various tree stumps.

TW PAST SH

Spoiler




I was also suffering from awful nightmares at the time and was trying to function each day at school on literally 4 hours of sleep a night because i was waking up so frequently. The only reason i was coping at that point is because of someone i am still in touch with to this day whom i met on here. Also my history teacher, he couldnt do anything and i wasnt entirely honest with him but he allowed me to check in with him each week. He was incredible.

I did achieve very good AS and A-level results. I actually couldnt have done any better at AS since A is the highest grade you can get and i got 4 of them.

However looking back would i say it was worth it? Probably not but again at the time it wasnt just the school putting pressure on me, it was coming in large part from myself. I felt like i had to live up to my GCSE results and i was just fixated on getting high grades.

My mental health continued to decline when i went to uni, i raise this point because my course had 0 exams in it (it was all coursework and portfolio based) so i do think that is an interesting point to raise. I.e my unhappiness was not solely exams based.

Of course you could still argue that my course had grades and modules so not a million miles away but i do think at that point it was more simply mental illness than mental health (and yes there is a distinction).

I was diagnosed with a personality disorder and it was only in second year that i managed to get clean from my previous destructive behaviour to myself. This was in large part due to my illicit hamster who later became an accommodation authorised support animal.

All of this oversharing is to say I do think this issue is very complicated. I dont think exam stress helps (I mean look at the number of TSR threads made by upset students at school during exam season) but also students dont exist in a vacuum. There are a myriad of other social, environmental and parental factors.

TW SUICIDE

Spoiler


I dont think it is simply one thing or another but to actually answer the OP question i do think there is a connection yes.


P.S for anyone wondering im doing much better now and the last few years have really improved both mentally and socially :yes:
i think the stress and anxiety i experienced at uni was a very normal and natural response. in fact to the point if i didn't feel that way something was up
Original post by yeet_21
i think the stress and anxiety i experienced at uni was a very normal and natural response. in fact to the point if i didn't feel that way something was up

I do think this is an important distinction, an element of stress and anxiety is very normal and as you say would be more unusual if you weren't.

We shouldn't pathologise everything and i think this is the main point of where mental illness and mental health differentiate.
I definitely get stressed around exams, I've just finished mocks and actually developed headaches and acid reflux due to stress, a friend also developed acid reflux :s-smilie:
I think it's a lot of factors other than exams though, I'm at a grammar school so naturally, that's a lot of pressure, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve top grades within that environment. It doesn't help that I'm starting to hear back from unis around now (I applied for medicine so replies tend to be later in the cycle despite applying in October). I also did work experience in the half term immediately before mocks so didn't manage to do half the revision I aimed for, but that was my choice. Generally, I'm good at managing stress in my day-to-day life, I exercise lots, belong to a football club and spend time outdoors etc, which is good for my mental health. The week before and 1st week of mocks I couldn't go to the gym at school and didn't have much time/energy for exercise between work experience and revision so that definitely contributed to my stress.

Bottom line is, I was stressed about these exams, but a lot of factors including my personality, environment, other commitments and uni admissions all compounded to produce that stress response, but it was only temporary and I feel fine now that mocks have finished. I expect A levels will be slightly better as they're more spread out and I will have less to do in terms of work experience, I'll reduce my hours at work, the football season will be over etc. This is my very narrow experience, but I think exams generally fall at a difficult time in life, at 16 I was navigating relationships, at 18 I'm navigating uni applications and adulting in general, so I think a lot of factors contribute to poor mental health in exam periods, and I think a lot of people have it worse than me, e.g. learning difficulties such as dyslexia, difficult home situation etc. I think the emphasis placed on exams can really stress some people out (including me at some points in my life), when these things need to be put into perspective. Overall, I think stress due to exams leads to poor mental health, so effectively preventing or managing stress can help reduce the impact of exams on mental health, although some amount of stress is expected and to some extent a good thing.
Partially. Exams make me stress and panic but then my mental health gets worse because of my pre-existing anxiety, so like exams trigger my anxiety because I freak out, feel like I'm going to eff everything up and fail but that's only because of my already present issues
Basically I'd say there is a link, but it isn't a direct cause of mental health issues- there are contributing factors
These past few (A Level) years have been so stressful, there is no doubt in my mind that there is direct correlation between exams and mental health. for me currently (trying to get my DEU grades to AAA) every exam week i don't 'feel' very stressed but it makes me very physically sick and my period stops. this is the perspective of a 'bad' student who just wants to get into their offer at uni.

on the other hand, I have also been the type of student who does no revision outside of class and easy A*s. even then, because i felt my self worth was so dependent on these grades exam season was very nerve wracking and would make me feel very worried even though I knew i would get at least an A never mind pass.

so i think no matter what side you're on, if you care about your grades, exams have a huge impact on your health
Original post by BlinkyBill
As we come into revision season, I've been wondering about this.

Do you think there's a connection between exams and mental health? In what way?

If exams impact mental health negatively, are there ways you think this could be improved for students? What support do you need?

This is a sensitive subject, so just a reminder to please keep all discussions in this thread within community guidelines, and consider the wellbeing of other students reading this thread when posting. If you would like support for your own mental health, please consider reaching out to Samaritans, Papyrus or Student Space.

Exams are stressful for me because I hate uncertainty. I REALLY want my university offers and I hate that if I miss out something by accident in my revision, or If I'm violently throwing up that week and can't think straight that my whole future goes down the drain. I cannot handle the stress of it !!! My antidepressants are helping me to be more clear headed about it all but I still really freak out :frown:
I just want to thank you for your trust in sharing your experiences here. It's eye-opening to read your reflections on your own experiences. It seems like for many of you, exams coincide with periods of high stress, sometimes in addition to existing challenges you are/were having with your mental health and/or contributing to that. Does that feel correct?

Do you think there's any more/different/new support students could benefit from to help navigate this exams system?

Or if you could change the system to one that's better for mental health - what would you change?
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by BlinkyBill
I just want to thank you for your trust in sharing your experiences here. It's eye-opening to read your reflections on your own experiences. It seems like for many of you, exams coincide with periods of high stress, sometimes in addition to existing challenges you are/were having with your mental health and/or contributing to that. Does that feel correct?

Do you think there's any more/different/new support students could benefit from to help navigate this exams system?

Or if you could change the system to one that's better for mental health - what would you change?

Ideally I'd like a Finnish style education system but things like less obsessions with exams, making exams modular again, having more diverse and realistic ways of assessing pupils (reflective of the workplace maybe), making exams way less time strict etc would be better 🤷🏾*♀️.
Original post by BlinkyBill
I just want to thank you for your trust in sharing your experiences here. It's eye-opening to read your reflections on your own experiences. It seems like for many of you, exams coincide with periods of high stress, sometimes in addition to existing challenges you are/were having with your mental health and/or contributing to that. Does that feel correct?

Do you think there's any more/different/new support students could benefit from to help navigate this exams system?

Or if you could change the system to one that's better for mental health - what would you change?

I think that unis should be able to see a break down of scores based on modules - e.g., if i was doing a degree in organic chemistry, the uni would favour that i did well in organics rather than physical. Right now, all they see is ABC etc, so I could've done awfully in organics and way better in physical. Might help with drop out rates too.
Bane of my life
Overall I didn’t mind GCSEs although I did have sleepless nights and migraines which ruined my performance in the first chemistry exam. I was really stressed though and I despise stress.

First year of alevels were fine but the second year was terrible as my ocd resurfaced so I was really thankful that we only had assessments although it was really painful going through it as I didn’t get extra time because my head of hall was horrible and said that ocd is not enough to get extra time.

And the ucat ruined my mental health because the amount of practice questions I did and mock exams and how scared I was for the exam was so huge and it shouldn’t be something that students should worry about that much.

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