Any parent of a child studying for GCSE exams will know what a stressful experience it can be. Your teenager may be incredibly tense, or so laid-back that you feel you spend your entire time nagging them to revise. There are all sorts of strategies used to help students deal with stress, including mindfulness, yoga and a careful balance of work and leisure.
Stress is a natural emotion related to our ‘fight or flight’ instinct when under threat. All our energy is focused on survival. According to the Truine Brain Theory, the brain can be divided into three main parts: The Reptilian Brain, responsible for basic survival; the Limbic System, responsible for emotions; and the Neocortex, responsible for higher thinking skills such as logic and speech.
Truine's Brain Model
According to Truine, the part of the brain responsible for higher order thinking is hijacked by the reptilian part of our brain when we are under stress. This affects our ability to do higher order thinking – such as solving mathematical problems and writing analytical essays. The ‘reptile’ brain takes over, making success in exams much more difficult.
Although more is known about the brain since Truine created his model, research continues to this day as to how the brain is affected by stress. Much of this is related to how our brain function changes in stressful situations.
Professor Ian Robertson believes that you can use stress to your advantage. Under extreme stress humans can do remarkable things – such as lift extraordinary weights or survive against the odds. Robertson suggests people should try to channel the energy induced by stress to help improve performance. He proposes that when facing a stressful situation, like exams, people should tell themselves that they are excited, not stressed. The theory is that the brain is tricked into focussing its energy where it is needed, rather than purely on ‘fight or flight’. Robertson, suggests that people can perform better by doing this than if they try to convince themselves to stay calm.
Persuading your child to feel excited about their impending GCSE exams may be a tall order. However, if they suffer from exam nerves, it might be worth a try. They can focus on what opportunities they will have once they have completed their exams – on success, rather than fear of failure. If Professor Robertson is to be believed, your child could use their stress to help enhance their performance, rather than harm it.