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“Post-Exam Stress Disorder” Still Causes Nightmare For One In 10 Adults

Young people receive their GCSE results next week, which might also be an unpleasant reminder for parents as one in 10 adults still have nightmares about their own exam experiences and results.

This is according to research from MyTutor that explored how stressful experiences during school and university assessments can follow us through life. Coined Post-Exam Stress Disorder, a range of different anxieties still exists in half (48%) of adults, ranging from recurring nightmares to a fear of failure in life.

By far the most common bad dream is failing a test, experienced by four in 10 (39%) of those affected. Similarly, one in six (17%) are tortured by nightmares about not revising enough, while 11 percent turn up ‘inappropriately dressed’ for their test – be that in their pyjamas or without clothes at all.

Psychologist Dr Kate Jenkins, who specialises in counselling adults with PTSD, has come across persistent exam nightmares in many of her patients. Dr Jenkins said: “Dreams often reflect our deepest fears – humiliation, abandonment, being attacked but unable to scream. Exam dreams may be experienced by those who fear being measured against others and found lacking in some way – a manifestation of imposter syndrome perhaps? The nocturnal representations of a feeling of “intellectual fraudulence.”Woman dealing with Post-Exam Stress Disorder

Women are nearly 50 percent more likely to dream about failing an exam than men (29% vs 20%), indicating a lingering lack of academic confidence disproportionately affects women. Meanwhile, men were more than twice as likely (16% vs 7%) to dream about being inappropriately dressed or being given the wrong paper (9% vs 4%), indicating worries about logistics were more prevalent.

Such is the impact of exams on our psyche, one in four adults (24%) say that their sense of self-esteem is linked to the grades they ended up with at school or university. A similar proportion (22%) say their performance at school has affected their confidence in the workplace.

Better interventions at school could help prevent this kind of long-term impact, however. One in five (19%) adults think that celebrating other forms of achievement could act as a way to reduce the importance placed on exams, as well as the associated stress. Similarly, almost one in five (19%) say a change as simple as making exam settings more relaxed would make a big difference.

Meanwhile, one in nine (11%) say that one-to-one academic support and mentorship would give young people the framework to be more confident about exams and see them as a less stressful experience. 

Bertie Hubbard, CEO of MyTutor said: “Exam season can be a very distressing time of year for students, with results day often the pinnacle. And the concern is that the stress of exams doesn’t stop with being a student. While we can’t stop recurring nightmares years down the line, more can be done to make the exam period better for the next generation of pupils. 

“We know that one-to-one support can have a big impact, giving students the opportunity to run through revision one-to-one in more depth. So whether the next step is resitting some GCSEs or moving on to A levels, MyTutor offers flexible access to a wide range of tutors who can help provide that extra bit of confidence ahead of exams.”


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