Students can deal with exam anxiety by practising deep breathing and replacing negative thoughts about failure with more positive ones, the exam regulator has said.
Ofqual has worked with Liverpool John Moores University to produce a new guide showing pupils ways to avoid exam stress.
Comment: 'Parents feel exam stress, too'
Its guide, Coping with exam pressure, produced with former school and college teacher Dave Putwain, says that while some students found exam stress motivational and others are indifferent, “stress can be a bad thing for some students when exam pressures become overwhelming”.
It urges them to “remember that stress is nothing to be scared of, anxiety is not inevitable [and] you can learn how to cope more effectively”.
Signs of stress to look out for include going blank in an exam, negative thoughts about past performance or consequences of failure, panic and feeling a lack of control.
Physical signs can manifest as dizziness or faintness, a tight churning stomach or wobbly legs. The suggested remedy is to calm down by breathing slowly and deeply, stating that "you can learn to control anxiety with deep breathing".
The guide adds that "many people find it easier to learn with an instructor" and "yoga or mindfulness classes can also be helpful”.
To deal with negative beliefs, such as worries about the consequences of failure, it advises replacing these with a positive thought, for example, changing "I am rubbish at maths" to "even if I will never be the best at maths, I will do better if I have a revision plan and stick to it".
A survey by the children’s charity Barnardo’s last December found exam and school stress was the greatest cause of concern among parents for their child’s welfare.
Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan said at the time: ““It is troubling, although not surprising, that more than two-fifths of parents (42 per cent) are concerned about their children being stressed about school and exams.
“Learning how to cope with stress is a vital life skill. Without this, children can find it overwhelming, and then it can develop into a serious mental health issue.
"Schools must look at ways of how to reduce the stress their pupils face and how to deal with it.”
A survey last September by Girlguiding found 69 per cent of respondents aged 11-21 cited exams as their main cause of stress.
But the same month, education secretary Damian Hinds dismissed fears that tougher GCSEs had damaged pupils’ mental health.