The headteacher column with Mark Ronan

Pocklington School headmaster Mark Ronan.
Pocklington School headmaster Mark Ronan.

Exam time is upon us again… so spare a thought for any preoccupied young people you see wandering around Pocklington over the coming weeks.

I was recently asked whether the old exam advice given to students – to revise well, relax well, eat well, and sleep well - could possibly still be relevant in a digital era?

Some common sense measures can help pupils through the stress of exams.

Some common sense measures can help pupils through the stress of exams.

It might be true that today’s students look to Google and their phone apps for guidance on just about everything, and that revision, friendships – even relaxation – seem to be conducted on-screen. But I strongly believe those common-sense guidelines are as relevant as ever in a fast-paced cyber world.

Good exam preparation is all about balance, being organised to assign enough time to work as well as relax. A good revision timetable is the first step to help students feel in control, and that is one of the most effective stress relievers.

Ed Long, our Head of Sixth Form, advises students: “Be clear about when you’re working and when you’re relaxing.

“Following a timetable means you never have to feel guilty when you’re not working, and remember – you can’t work 24/7: relaxation is as important as hard work.”

Time out from revision might well involve a session on the X Box or catching up on social media, as long as the emphasis is on balance and moderation. Try to get outside every day – even if it’s just a walk to buy chocolate. A screen-free wind-down before going to bed is also essential.

Mindfulness (unwinding by stopping and concentrating on the moment) can play a part, too – even if we are helped along by an app on our phones. Pausing to close our eyes and focus on our breathing to distract from anxiety is one of the most natural stress-relievers around.

One additional, and equally straightforward, message I’d add to the advice above is to communicate well. Maintaining a close and open relationship between students, teachers and parents is a real focus in our school; and particularly important at exam time.

Students must go back to teachers as many times as necessary to understand each topic. Parents, more than ever in these busy times, must also keep communication channels open – and to know when to step back.

Gareth Hughes, Head of Middle School, has this advice for the final few days before an exam, when the bulk of the revision should be completed and work is all about triple checking and topping up: “Keep looking at past questions; go over your plans or past papers – and move into revision for pleasure.

“Also, be more rigorous with sticking to your revision timetable and finish earlier in the day – that rest and sleep is vital. Do a little exercise, keep sipping the water and enjoy what you enjoy in your downtime – there is still room for that next episode on Netflix.”

I really believe that sticking to the simple, clear advice outlined above can be a calming beacon to guide us through the fog of exams.