GCSEs are taking place through May and June for students nearing the end of their secondary school time.

But a new study suggests that more than half of young people taking exams have felt so anxious before an exam that they felt they could not do it, with girls more likely to feel this way than boys.

The study, carried out by the National Citizen Service (NCS), found that 51 per cent of the 1,000 16 to 17-year-olds they asked had cried due to exam stress.

Of the males and females asked, 29 per cent of males said they had felt this way, along with 73 per cent of girls.

Within the same group, 48 per cent of the students said they felt so anxious before an exam that they thought they might be sick.

However, it appears County Gazette readers are less sympathetic. During our own poll we asked ‘Are exams too stressful for school children?’. Out of the four options given, 39 per cent said ‘no - everyone’s been through exams’, 33 per cent said ‘yes - there should be other ways to assess them’, 22 per cent said ‘yes - but examination is necessary’ and six per cent said ‘no - but other methods should be looked at’ at the time the paper went to press.

But what can be done to prevent the fears of an exam that is real for many students?

The NCS says that it is working with mindfulness experts to give teenagers and their parents practical help on easing stress during the exam season.

Somerset County Gazette:

Angie Ward, from Taunton-based Mindfulness UK, said: “Mindfulness is about being fully aware of whatever is going on in the present moment without judging it or trying to change it.

“It is a mind body-based approach that helps you change the way you think and feel about your experiences, especially stressful ones, like taking an exam.

“A mindfulness programme supports young people to identify when they are stressed and to understand the effects both psychologically and physically. Understanding the basics of how the brain works is a fundamental part of learning how to practice mindfulness, supporting young people to develop awareness about mind traps and negative thought patterns that escalate symptoms of stress and anxiety.

“Mindfulness allows people to learn how to just be with their experience, creating a space for them to choose how they wish to respond, rather than reacting.

“Elementary neuroscience underpins all the mindfulness skill, techniques, and practices, enabling participants to really understand, engage and embrace the benefits.

“Cultivating self-compassion helps us to be more accepting and nurturing of ourselves, noticing and befriending out experiences rather than staying in habitual habits such as catastrophizing, saying things like ‘I can’t do it…I won’t pass...I’ll let everyone down.’”

“Mindfulness teaches how to be aware of thoughts and their affects and involves training the brain to come back to the practice each time it wanders.

“Many schools that have undertaken the MindfulnessUK Minding Your Health in Education Programme have fed back the benefits of using Mindfulness and Compassion in the run up to exams, developing emotional resilience through familiar practices that the learner can easily access before and during exam times.”

Top mindfulness tips include: focussing attention on the breath for a few minutes, focusing attention on an object, such as a pebble, grounding – feeling your feet on the floor, self-soothing, and being kind to yourself.

Somerset County Gazette:

Jenny Veal, headteacher at Taunton Academy, said:”Although most children would say they do not like sitting exams, practising routines and methods of revision is the best way to take the stress out of the whole experience.

“We do this throughout the school year to get them used to exam procedures and to reduce any anxiety.

“Being a little nervous is good as small amounts of adrenaline can aid performance. However, no child should be overly anxious about their summer exams and if this is the case we always offer appropriate support and guidance.”

Childline, a service run by the NSPCC, says that every year it receives thousands of calls from children struggling with anxiety caused by exam pressure.

Somerset County Gazette:

Sharon Copsey, NSPCC regional head of service for South West England, said: “Every year Childline receives thousands of children who are struggling to cope with the pressure to succeed in exams.

“For some this can feel so insurmountable that it causes crippling anxiety and stress and in some cases contributes to mental health issues or even suicidal thoughts and feelings.

“Exams are important but worrying and panicking about them can be counterproductive, leaving young people unable to revise and prepare.

“It is vital that young people are supported by family, friends and teachers during the exam period to help them do the best they can. Childline is also here 24/7 for any young person needing any confidential support and advice.”