Exam stress linked to lack of exercise

Inadequate guidance contributes to higher stress among Leaving Certificate students, according to research.

As around 57,000 people prepare for next Wednesday’s first papers in the 2015 State exams, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) study also highlights links between students’ participation in social activities and stress levels.

While many cut back on sport or other activities to spend more time on study in sixth year, authors Joanne Banks and Emer Smyth found that those who kept up regular school-based sports had less stress than others.

They also said feeling that exam subjects do not match students’ interests or abilities is associated with higher stress levels.

“Those who are dissatisfied with their subjects report higher stress levels as do those who regret having taken some of their Leaving Certificate subjects,” they wrote in the Journal of Youth Studies.

The researchers said this highlights the importance of students getting the guidance needed to make well-informed choices at senior cycle. A similar observation was made in relation to a finding of higher stress levels in students who felt it was too early to decide on a future career.

The data used by the ESRI is from a wider long-running study of second-level students who sat the Leaving Certificate in 2008 at 12 schools. The findings therefore predate 2012 cuts to second-level staffing that have seen hundreds of schools reduce the availability of guidance counsellors, a measure Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan says will be looked at in future budgets.

Other findings include girls, high-achieving and more ambitious students feeling most stress, while teachers were often more likely to be a source of pressure to do well in the exams.

“Your whole life depends on it… if you don’t do your Leaving you don’t have anything,” said one student.

A girl at another school said: “Teachers make out that if you fail the Leaving it’s the end of the world or something.”

The high-stakes nature of the Leaving Certificate was cited by Minister of State Damien English yesterday as he explained the rigorous process to determine if students with learning difficulties like dyslexia are given the support of a reader in the exams. He will research an increase from 27% to 35% in the number of applications for a reader refused by the State Examinations Commission from 2012 to 2014.

Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming claimed the jump in refusals was a result of ministerial efforts to cut exam costs. He said students were afraid to sit the exam as “they are being deprived of the facility they had at the Junior Certificate when they come to do the Leaving Certificate”.

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