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Youngsters helping their peers to make the grade

Teenagers who've been through exams are sharing their experiences with others who are about to sit their GCSEs. Lisa Salmon finds out how The Mind Set support initiative will help students cope

As the dreaded exam period appears on the horizon, many of the nation's young people are beginning to get nervous about their expected performance.

And no matter how much their parents and teachers tell them it will all be fine, it can be really tough not to get stressed about what's to come.

But a new campaign has been launched to help teenagers face their exam fears with the help of other teens who've just been through the exam experience themselves.

The Mind Set is the UK's first national peer-to-peer coaching network for GCSE students, and it aims to explore the vagaries of exam stress through 12 student coaches who've been there and done it, and tell it as it is in individual films about their own exam experiences.

The BBC Learning initiative is working in partnership with Childline, Young Minds and the National Citizen Service to provide the student coaching together with expert support and advice.

Sinead Rocks, head of BBC Learning, says: "The Mind Set puts students who've experienced the challenges faced in one of the most stressful periods of a young person's life at the forefront, by sharing their stories with those who are about to travel the same path.

"We want this campaign to change perceptions of how students approach and deal with the stress of exam periods by highlighting the tips, advice and support networks available to them."

The young coaches are from varied backgrounds throughout the country, and aren't all A* students. Some did resits, and others battled against illness or family difficulties during their exams.

But collectively they state: "The one thing we all have in common is that we found a way to reach our individual potential and we want to help you do the same."

GP Dr Radha Modgil, a Mind Set expert, explains that The Mind Set features information about all aspects of dealing with exam pressure, plus advice about revision techniques and staying well during the exam period.

"We all know that the most powerful advice comes from those who've been through a similar experience to us and who've got through it," she stresses.

And the fact that some of the student coaches have faced personal challenges during exams, from grade pressure to fasting, means they can reassure other students who may be going through similar challenges, she says.

Typical worries for students include not living up to their own or other's expectations; what will happen if they don't get the grades they want; not being able to cope with revision; not knowing how to revise; and not doing as well as their friends.

Dr Radha says The Mind Set covers all these concerns, and stresses: "It really provides a go-to place for all students in the long lead-up to the exam period, and can give advice, support and tips in a reassuring way from student coaches who know."

The doctor says she believes students facing exams need support in three main areas:

  • Practical revision tips and structuring learning: Help with timetables, syllabus content, and how to split time between subjects and methods of learning.
  •  Tips on dealing with difficult emotions and worries: Support could include information about mindfulness, being aware of worries and problem solving, as well as being kind to yourself and talking to others for support at an early stage.
  • Tips to encourage and maintain physical and mental well-being: Encouraging young people to take regular exercise, and stressing the importance of a healthy diet, regular and good quality sleep and socialising.

The teenage mentors:

  •  Megan (16) was so nervous about her exams that she fainted and had to be taken out of school in a wheelchair: "I felt like I was drowning in exams," she says. "I don't want other students to go through what I did. I don't want people crying over their exams or suffering from anxiety - it's not necessary."
  •  James (17) says that although he worked hard before his exams, he was ill over the exam period and only got three GCSEs. But he insists: "That motivated me, and pushed me to work a lot harder in college.

"You've got to look at different routes, because the academic route might not be the one for you - you might get into an apprenticeship or work experience and other areas which can get you to the same place you want to go, and it's more applied to you.

"I'd try to tell myself not to over-think it, to try to stop being stressed and realise you're not a failure no matter what the outcome."

To see The Mind Set's videos and tips, visit tiny.cc/exammindset

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