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Exam Stress

Most children and young people have exams and assessments during their school years.

It is normal for this to be a bit stressful. This will be more so for some children than others. Learning how to cope with pressure is an important skill.

Parents often feel the strain too. This can cause a lot of conflict and stress for the whole family.

Helping your child spot when they are feeling stressed and find ways to cope, and to ask for help when they need it is important. It will help them at exam time and in other challenges in life.

  • Often children and young people feel like it will be the ‘end of the world’ if they do not get the results they hope for. This understandably can make it feel very stressful

    Parents and teachers can sometimes accidentally reinforce this idea because they really want the young person to do the best they can.

    The reality is that not getting the results they wanted will be disappointing but is not the end of the story. Learning carries on throughout life and people find their strengths and talents at different times, some sooner than others.

    Sometimes children and young people feel under big pressure to ‘know what they want to do’ at their next life stage but this is not true – there is plenty of time to find the right path for them.

    The important thing is to discover what they enjoy and how they learn best – some children are good at academic learning and others learn best when things are more practical. Learn more about learning styles *here*.

    Sometimes expectations can be unrealistic. Use parent’s evenings ( take your child along if you can) as a chance to talk about upcoming exams;

    • Ask the teacher about your child’s strengths and challenges. This is important for you and your child so that goals are achievable.
    • Ask what your child should be aiming for and how they can work towards it.
    • Make a plan with your child and teacher about how they will get help if they need it.

    It is great if your child feels included in this chat – some young people find this easier than others.

    If they don’t feel able to join in you could check how they feel about it afterwards and email the teacher together with any questions or worries.

  • An important way to help reduce exam stress is to feel prepared. This is particularly hard for teenagers whose brain is going through a period of big change; it can make being organised harder. *Click here* to read more about the teenage brain.

    It is important to learn to balance study with ‘time out’ to relax and enjoy yourself.

    Help your child make a realistic study plan.

    • Starting earlier makes it easier it is to get a balance and for them to be able to enjoy time off.
    • Be realistic – putting less on the plan and it being completed is better than an overloaded and overwhelming plan. Build in regular breaks
    • Keep reviewing and changing the plan. Look at different ways of revising to find what works best for them. There are some revision ideas *here*.

    Although you have an important role in helping your child prepare it is important to remember that they are the only ones who can commit to do the work. Help them to think why they want to do their best – their priorities may be different to yours….

    DAD - ‘I want you to do well at maths so that you can get on a good college course, and have more chances of a good job’

    SON- ‘I want to do well at Maths so I’m in the same group as Sarah’…. (*Could we do this as a think bubble ‘love’ cartoon?)

    ….but their own motivators are going to be the strongest!

    Make sure your child knows that doing well at exams is not the most important measure of ‘success’ and that they bring a lot of pride and joy to you just by being themselves.

  • Some of the signs that exam stress is building up for your child might be;

    • Avoiding studying or studying all of the time.
    • Being irritable and /or down.
    • Not wanting to be with family or friends.
    • Not sleeping much or sleeping all the time.
    • Eating too much or too little.

    Learning to take care of your self and finding helpful ways to cope is an important part of managing stress.

    Getting rest, exercise and being with friends and family can help keep worry about exams in proportion.

    We have a lot of information on Just One Norfolk to help them and you take care of your emotional and physical wellbeing. Take a look at the 'Other Useful Pages' listed at the bottom of this page and *Click here* for some helpful self-care activities, videos and downloads. 

    If you feel worried about the impact of exam worries is having on your child speak to their school.

    You can call us at Just One Number to speak to a health professional.


  • After all of the preparation and build up waiting for the results can feel hard. It can make some young people focus on the ‘worst case scenario’.

    • Encourage your child to focus on the fact they have tried and the next steps will workout fine.
    • Talk with them about their ‘plan B’ if the ‘worst case’ did happen. This can help it feel more manageable.

    If on the day the results are not what they hoped it is natural for them to feel upset and disappointed.

    In time they may see that it ‘was not the end of the world’ but to begin with they will need your support as they adjust to the news.

    • You do not have to say something to ‘make it better’ just be there and let them know you care.
    • Avoid talking about ‘where they went wrong’ there may be ‘lessons’ to be learnt but not right now.
    • If the results mean they need to change their plans for ‘what next’ - help them find out about their options. School / college are usually very good at helping with this. They may already have made a ‘plan B’ that feels ok.

    Remind them about the qualities you see in them that are more important than results like; being a good friend, making people laugh, being a determined person. All things that will help them build a good future.

    If the results are what they wanted this is a great reward for their efforts.

    Point out to them the steps they have taken to success and this can be an experience they look back on as ‘evidence’ they can ‘do it’ next time they doubt themselves.

Who Can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of the Healthy Child Programme team.


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