COLUMN: Helping students overcome exam pressure

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A-level results have been a hot topic in the news this year, with the ‘class of 2017’ the first to sit exams under the revised system following wide-ranging national reforms.

Yet, while the focus has quite rightly been on supporting students and preparing them for their exams, there has been limited information for parents and carers about what the changes mean.

So, what has changed? AS and A-levels have been ‘decoupled’, meaning AS-level subjects are now stand-alone qualifications and no longer count towards a full A-level.

Assessments are now mainly exam-based at the end of the course, with AS exams typically taking place at the end of the first year and A-levels after two years. Courses are no longer divided into modules and there are no January exams.

Students can just take an AS exam if they choose to, and their grade will still give them UCAS points for university applications even if they don’t continue the subject into their second year.

Furthermore, the content of the new A-levels has been reviewed and updated, and new syllabuses introduced; with universities playing a far greater role in their design.

Almost 330 young people are studying A-levels at West Nottinghamshire College in 2017/18, from 16 subjects on offer, making us one of the largest providers of post-16 academic courses locally. And, while the national pass rate fell slightly this year, once again our students exceeded it; recording an overall pass rate of 98.7 per cent.

However, the considerably greater emphasis on exam performance has increased levels of anxiety among many students, which potentially affects their ability to cope and perform as well as they can.

In response, we’ve introduced extra initiatives to ensure A-level students receive even more support. These include one-to-one tutorials with their achievement coach, guidance from their support coaches and mentoring for those who risk falling behind.

Our ‘keep calm and revise campaign’ is focused on making students feel as prepared as possible for their exams, while enrichment activities provide opportunities to de-stress. Meanwhile, supported study sessions help them stay on track and manage the pressures of study. We also work with the NHS service Let’s Talk Wellbeing, which provides on-campus counselling to those that would benefit.

This term we embarked on an exciting project through the European programme, Erasmus+, to research and develop strategies to further support students in managing exam pressures and anxieties. Staff and students will work with colleges in Germany and Finland to share best practice and trial new initiatives – all aimed at ensuring learners feel more able to cope in exam situations

and use these skills as they move on to higher education or into employment.

Our students’ health and well-being is extremely important to us.

We’re confident these projects and support will ensure they continue to achieve their full potential.