This week marks the start of the first formal examinations since the pandemic began, with pupils across Northern Ireland sitting their A-level AS-levels and GCSEs.

or the last two years, exams were replaced by grades calculated by individual schools, but now the likes of English, maths, geography, history and Irish are among the subjects being sat this summer.

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment has said papers will be graded more generously than in pre-pandemic years, but it will be the first time many pupils have sat formal examinations. Mental health charity Extern has provided the Belfast Telegraph with tips on how to cope with any stress that students may be feeling.

Here are some of the signs to look out for:

• Feeling overwhelmed

• Trouble sleeping

• Feeling confused

• Losing touch with friends

• Having trouble making decisions

• Upset stomach or feeling sick

• Fidgeting, nail biting, teeth grinding

Extern said: “Sometimes we need to take a minute to just breathe. Find somewhere comfortable to sit or lie down and close your eyes. Take a minute to focus on your breathing - is it fast or slow?

“Regulate your breathing to a comfortable pace, allowing any thoughts or feelings to come and go. Just relax and breathe, you may feel it helps. Try to do this every day, for as long as you need to. Good exam preparation is key to helping you to reduce your exam-related stress”.

Here are some tips from Extern when you are studying for your exams:

• Find a quiet place to study

• Organise your space so it is not cluttered and is without distractions.

• Find out as much as you can about your exam so you can prepare.

• Ask your teacher if you’re unsure what course content to focus on.

• Make a ‘mind map’, using bright colours and images. There are many different learning techniques, so finding which works for you will really help.

• Make a plan for your study sessions, set a time with short breaks included to get fresh air.

• Divide your session into blocks. Focus on one block at a time.

• Ask for help if you need it. That includes if you’re feeling stressed, as sometimes talking to a teacher, friend or someone you trust can be reassuring.

• Eat well, prepare yourself nice evening meals and try not to skip breakfast.

When exam day finally arrives, pupils may still feel stressed about what they’re ready to face. Here is a useful checklist to help you cope:

• What do you need to bring with you? Organise this the night before.

• Eat breakfast, this will help your energy and concentration.

• Go to the toilet before the exam starts.

• When you sit down before you begin your exam, take a long deep breath. You’ve got this!

• When you receive your exam paper, read through it carefully. Underline or highlight any key information.

• Work out how much time you can spend on each section.

• Work on the questions that you find easiest first.

• When you have completed all the questions, take a minute to go back and re-read your answers, starting with the most difficult questions first.

• Don’t overthink your answers once you have left the exam hall – turn your thoughts to something else.

• Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to reach out to others for help and support, whether that’s friends, family or flatmates.

• Most schools and colleges have dedicated counselling supports in place for students. Ask about these at your place of learning.

Further resources and help are available by visiting

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