Exams are essential for your future, but they can also feel overwhelming and bring stress for anyone. For young wheelchair users, exams be more challenging due to the added stress of mobility issues, accessibility and other barriers. Here, members of the Kidz Board at Whizz-Kidz share their advice for managing exam stress.
Being a wheelchair user and/or a disabled young person, it can feel like there is extra pressure to do well to ‘prove people wrong’ or ‘make up for your disability’. But I want to remind you that you are enough just the way you are. It doesn’t matter what you get in the exam, what you are predicted, what people expect or want you to get, you are enough whatever. Being a young disabled person you already face so many barriers. Don’t let yourself and pressure on yourself be yet another. Remember that there is always another way, another path and that things will work out in the end, even if it wasn’t what was originally planned.
Make sure you know what access arrangements you will have in the exam. Maybe you get extra time, rest breaks, a laptop, modified papers etc. knowing in advance how that will all work can help calm your nerves. You probably won’t be allowed any bags or other items on your wheelchair so prepare your chair in advance so it’s not a rush before the exam. Remember to bring any medications you may need in a clear named bag to give the examiner (check with your school/college as to their process for this).
When appropriate don’t be afraid to challenge what has been given to you. For context, for my GCSE’s all the students at my school sat their exams in the sports hall, in the quietest area of the school campus. All the disabled kids and kids with learning difficulties had to sit their exams in a portacabin, adjacent to a building site, on another property. When we complained they gave us ear defenders. Those obviously didn’t work. I refused to do it for the actual exams. It was a 4-month fight but eventually I won. Don’t be afraid to challenge your examiners or challenge how the school is dealing with it. Just because it is said that it has to be done a certain way doesn’t mean that is the only way.
Last year at Uni we had a 48-hour open book exam which was great, it was the same for all students. If I got tired I could rest and still complete my exam on time. This year, the process changed to 3 hours. We had to do our mocks in that 3-hour period in person, I was ill at the time and there was no alternative provision. I feel I got more sick after having to do that. The change in process affected not only the disabled students but also the international students who had previously arranged travel home. Eventually it was changed to 24 hours instead of 48 hours. The accessibility department themselves have been great, it is a different institute to my course department who just didn’t listen to them at all. Funnily enough I haven’t even started in my new University in Europe yet, but so far, they are meeting all my expectations and needs. I love Europe. It is so great.
Make sure your exam space has been checked for full accessibility before your exam, and perhaps choose a back up location. During a recent exam, the closest accessible toilet was out of order, so I had to move to another location where there were also issues. This all adds to the pressure on the day.
Support – You will be entitled to some form of additional support, this may be tutoring sessions, extra time in the exam, rest breaks, a scribe, a practical assistant, your own space and room to take the exam, additional support sessions with your teachers and classmates! Please make sure from day one what you are entitled to and what your school can offer you. If you do this, you’ll surprise yourself at how much pressure your taking off yourself to be perfect and get a perfect score (because that does NOT exist). With support, ensure you speak to people within your school about how exactly these adjustments will work and remember you do not need to tell anyone outside of your “network” (family, teachers) If you don’t want to. This is YOUR support, not your friends or fellow students support.
Communicate – this is something I wish I had learned sooner especially when I was taking my GCSE exams. I struggled A LOT with exam pressure and keeping up with revision at school. It is not a very nice hole or rut to get stuck in, but I worked with my learning support department and we came up with various methods that made my final few months of secondary school so much more smooth sailing. Some of these techniques I still use to this day, and I have improved myself as a student and an educator because of these methods. These include incredibly simple things such as creating a revision timetable, doing study sessions with my friends and people on my courses, and using my ever faithful ever trusted Pomodoro technique.
Personal pressure – Please, please, PLEASE remember you do not need to compare yourself to anyone else! Be proud of the grades your accomplishing, be proud of the work you are putting in to revision, be proud of the coursework you are producing but most importantly remember the numbers or grades you see on that flimsy little piece of paper at the end of exam season does NOT define you. You are unique, special and you have so much more to offer then just a piece of paper with a few numbers printed on it! I am prime example of my own advice – I “failed” my maths GCSE (never got past a D grade in the old system) and got a mixture of C’s and D’s at GCSE. Since then I have completed two degrees and I am awaiting acceptance onto a journalism course. I am starting to follow my passions and dreams so take your time as the world is your oyster.
Judgement from others – If someone asks you “what support do you get” please do not feel you need to answer that question because you do not! If you feel you need to answer this question you can say something like “yes I have a learning support plan in place”. No one should feel the need to judge you because of support methods you have in place for your own personal situation. This just increases stereotyping and if you need to talk to someone about judgement from others especially around exams, please do!
Don’t shy away – Your school will usually offer after school revision sessions and some learning support assistants may run their own personal sessions if they know or feel you are struggling in a particular section or subject (I had this for science and it was a life saver!). If this support is offered to you please accept it! Your school will not tell any other students that this is in place or happening and you will usually also attend these sessions with other students and friends as well! If this isn’t something that has been mentioned to you, do not be afraid to ask for this. Remember the worst they can say is no.
Here are some more top tips from Whizz-Kidz that can help you manage exam stress.
One of the best ways to manage exam stress is to plan ahead. This includes making a study schedule, setting achievable goals, and creating a study environment that is comfortable and accommodating for your needs. For students in wheelchairs, this may mean finding an accessible study space, ensuring that the exam room is accessible, and making arrangements for any additional support or assistance needed during the exam.
Exams can be incredibly stressful, and it’s essential to take care of yourself during this time. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and engaging in activities that you enjoy. For young people in wheelchairs, it’s essential to pay attention to your body’s needs, such as taking breaks when needed and doing stretches or exercises to alleviate any discomfort caused by prolonged sitting.
It’s okay to ask for help and support during exams. Whether it’s from family, friends, or teachers, seeking support can make a significant difference in managing exam stress. For young people in wheelchairs, it may also mean seeking support from disability services on campus or in the community.
Visualization is a powerful tool that can help you manage exam stress. Take some time to visualize yourself succeeding in your exams, and focus on the positive outcomes you hope to achieve. This can help you stay motivated, focused, and confident throughout the exam period.
Take deep breaths
Taking deep breaths is a simple yet effective way to manage exam stress. When you feel overwhelmed or anxious, take a moment to breathe deeply, focusing on your breath as it enters and exits your body. This can help calm your mind and body, and reduce feelings of stress or anxiety
Managing exam stress is a crucial part of exam success, and with the right strategies and support, young people in wheelchairs can approach exams with confidence and ease. By planning ahead, practicing self-care, seeking support, visualizing success, and taking deep breaths, you can manage exam stress and achieve your goals. Remember to be kind to yourself during this time and know that you are capable of success.