Exam stress: Micro pigs, screaming and ball pools

By Sean Coughlan
Education correspondent

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image captionSty news: Micro pigs are helping students in Exeter with their exam nerves

It's the exam season, with students facing the angst of revision and pre-exam nerves. But in a growing tradition, universities and student unions are making increasingly elaborate efforts to tackle stress. Here are some of the de-stressing tactics.

Bouncy castle: Maybe it should be a bouncy ivory tower, but students at the University of Leicester can shake off their exam anxiety with an inflatable castle. There is also a soothing menagerie of ponies, sheep, goats, chickens and ducks for "students to pet and hold". The university seems to have turned de-stressing into a specialist subject, last year students were popping bubble wrap at organised "bubble wrap stations".

image copyrightUniversity of Leicester
image captionDreaming spires: Students at Leicester have got a de-stressing bouncy castle

Micro pigs: Students at the University of Exeter are being offered small pigs to help ease their exam fears. More pre-ham, than exam perhaps, but how does a miniature pig really help with a lack of academic confidence? The student newspaper promises they are more exciting than puppies, not least because they can "wear little hats".

Knitting: Who says students don't know how to live life in the fast lane? "Make sure you don't miss Knitter Natter's 'de-stressing' knitting session." That's the message for devil-may-care students at the University of Huddersfield. Instead of getting the needle over exams, they could run up a sweater in a knitting club. It's a good cause, supporting Age UK, but it's not exactly Paris 1968.

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image captionStudents at Plymouth want a ball pool big enough to take 50 people at the same time

Shetland pony: Is there a theme emerging? Small pigs, small horses? Bath Spa University is backing a Shetland pony as the best way of cutting stress. But there are no short measures, with a calf, ducklings, chicks, goats, sheep and a dog all available. Is this the exam season or an episode of All Creatures Great and Small?

Adult ball pool: It's not just children in shopping centres who can loll around in pits filled with brightly coloured plastic balls. Students at the University of Plymouth want something similar during the exam season, in a Stress Less Ball Pool. They want to raise funds for a ball pool big enough for 50 students at a time.

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image captionPaws for thought: "Puppy rooms" have become part of the exam season

Meditation: It almost seems old-fashioned in comparison, but Queen Mary University of London is offering an introduction to meditation to tackle exam stress. Leeds Beckett is offering skipping and a "reiki taster session" in its Stress Less Fest.

Primal screaming: This is a tradition for students in the United States. Harvard, Northwestern, and Columbia all have sessions of stress-busting primal screaming. At Northwestern in Illinois students howl on the Sunday evening before finals week. At Wisconsin, the university chancellor took part in the screaming and there was even an invitation to join in by social media.

Puppies: The University of Central Lancashire, known as Uclan (where Preston is only one consonant away from California), has a "puppy room" for stressed students to spend time winding down with cute puppies. And in case the puppies get stressed, they have their own "breakout room". There is also puppy therapy at Bristol University. It's not just random puppy handling. "About 20 dogs and puppies will be rotated throughout the day on 18 May, with students offered 15-minute slots." And it's a very scientific process. "Cuddling a puppy is a perfect way to release some endorphins," said a students' union representative.

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image captionNot a shaggy horse story, Shetland ponies have been soothing students in Bath Spa

Bearded dragons: It's not some kind of drinking game, but a type of reptile. Students at Reading University have opted out of fur and feathers and gone for reptiles and creepy crawlies. Bearded dragons, monitor lizards and boa constrictors have been deployed to help stressed students. How is a snake relaxing? If that doesn't seem very calming, there is a "mobile farm, meditation and t'ai chi sessions".

Sleep contest: Even sleeping has to be competitive in South Korea. At Duksung Women's University in Seoul, students are tackling exam stress by a competition to see which students can fall into the deepest sleep. They have blankets, pillows and eye masks, in an event sending the message that getting a good night's sleep is an important part of relaxing. Winning will be a very good Korea opportunity for them.