Relieve stress and boost learning for SATs
We’re all too familiar with exam stress. That feeling of panic rising as the day comes increasingly near; the heart racing, fast breathing, stomach flipping nerves. With Year 6 SATs only next week, many children will be in the full throes of this worry.
Eight out of ten (82%) school leaders have said that fear of failing academically has led to an increase in mental health issues in primary school students around exam time. School leaders report increased signs in students of stress and anxiety, with some suffering sleeplessness and panic attacks.
For a lot of children, SATs are their first real experience of an exam setting and the pressure that exams bring. We want to do everything we can to support young people through this worrying time and stop stress in its tracks.
Methods exist to manage stress and even boost learning; one of which is exercise. Don’t let stress be in control of you; you be in control of stress.
Here’s how exercise gives you the power:
Small bouts of stress are not always negative. The body’s natural fight-or-flight response, the result of a sudden rush of adrenaline, can in fact enhance focus and act as a motivator. But again, this is stress in small bouts. Stress becomes an issue when it is experienced over a long period of time. Exam stress is not isolated to the hour or so you are being assessed, as we all know, stress arises in the lead up, during and subsequent to an exam.
A survey of 10 and 11 year olds was taken in 2016 which revealed 27% reporting they felt “stressed” in the weeks prior to taking SATs, 57% saying that taking tests made them feel “nervous” and 39% felt “worried” by tests. These feelings impact the brain’s ability to process information, lead to sleeping problems, loss of appetite and sweating, just to name a few. The result? Detrimental effect on exam performance and, more importantly, detrimental effect on physical and mental wellbeing.
This is where exercise comes in. Exercise boosts the body’s production of serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals that make you feel happier and healthier. In the lead up to SATs, spurts of exercise can do wonders for pupils. Self-confidence is boosted, energy is increased, focus is enhanced and stress is reduced; healthy body, healthy mind.
Pupils want to do their very best on their SATs, so the more work you do the better your results, right? Not always.
A study conducted in 2007 by Dr Stewart Trost of Oregon State University found that concentration, memory, and overall behaviour could be improved by just 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity in the school day. What’s more, the study found that 15 minutes of time spent on extra study did not result in the same academic improvements.
Improve your memory
Do you ever just look at the amount of information you need to remember for an exam and think how will that ever all fit inside my brain? And even if it does, how will it all stay in? Turns out exercise can help with that. Endorphins are released as a result of engaging in physical activity, understood to improve memory. A study in Germany found that students' ability to retain information was enhanced by the interspersion of classroom learning with short bouts of energetic bilateral coordinative exercise.
Expand your brain
So, what happens to the brain during exercise? Dr Aric Sigman, psychologist and author, states that “Physical activity is thought to help a child’s cognitive processing by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
“This increases levels of norepinephrine and endorphins to decrease stress and improve mood, and increases growth factors that help create new nerve cells and support the connections between brain cell synapses that are the basis of learning.” Through exercise, academic ability is improved.
Time to act
The goal is to do the very best you can, which can create pressure, which can create stress, which can negatively impact physical and mental health. Consequently, you’re very best becomes hard to do.
A whole body of research points towards the value of physical activity in learning so let’s do everything we can to put this into action to achieve results that reflect the time and effort put in by all.
- Take regular breaks
- We’ve all got to the stage where we have reread the same sentence about 10 times and still have no idea what it’s saying. Avoid this mind-numbing experience by encouraging children to take regular breaks; walk, run, skip, star jump, just be sure they move from their seat every so often.
- Have a routine
- It can sometimes feel like there’s so much to learn that there’s no time for anything else. But believe us there is. Solely revising and pushing everything else to the side is detrimental. Build exercise into your daily routine.
- Walk to school
- Walking to school on the days of their exams can boost your child’s memory and brain power, also helping with relaxation and focus.