Coping with exam stress

Tests and exams can be a challenging part of school life for both children and parents. But there are ways to ease the stress.

Watch out for exam stress

Children who experience stress may:

  • be irritable
  • not sleep well
  • lose interest in food
  • worry a lot
  • appear depressed or negative

Headaches and stomach pains can also be stress-related.

Having someone to talk to about their work can help. Support from a parent, tutor or study buddy can help children share their worries and keep things in perspective.

If you feel your child isn't coping, talk to their teachers at school.

Make sure your child eats well

A balanced diet is vital for your child's health, and can help them to feel well during exam periods.

Some parents find that too many high-fat, high-sugar and high-caffeine foods and drinks (such as cola, sweets, chocolate, burgers and chips) make their children hyperactive, irritable and moody.

Read more about eating healthily.

Help your child get enough sleep

Good sleep will improve thinking and concentration. Most teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a night. 

Allow half an hour or so for kids to wind down between studying, watching TV or using a computer and going to bed to help them get a good night's sleep.

Cramming all night before an exam is usually a bad idea. Sleep will benefit your child far more than a few hours of panicky last-minute study.

Be flexible during exams

Family Lives advises parents to be flexible around exam time. When your child is revising all day, don't worry about household jobs that are left undone or untidy bedrooms.

Staying calm yourself can help. Remember, exams don't last forever.

Help them to study

Help your child revise by making sure they have somewhere comfortable to study. Help them draw up a revision schedule or ask the school for one.

Talk about exam nerves

Remind your child that feeling anxious is normal. Nervousness is a natural reaction to exams.

The key is to put these nerves to positive use. Being reminded of what they do know and the time they have put into study can help them feel confident.

Encourage exercise during exams

Make sure your kids are active. Exercise can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress. You could try:

Read more about the benefits of physical activity.

Don't add to the pressure

Support group ChildLine says that many of the children who contact them feel that the greatest pressure at exam time comes from their family.

"Keep things in perspective," says Rosanne Pearce, a senior supervisor. "Listen to them, give support and avoid criticism."

Before they go in for a test or exam, be reassuring and positive. Make sure they know that failing isn't the end of the world, and that if things don't go well they may be able to take the exam again.

After each exam, encourage your child to talk it through with you. Then move on and focus on the next test, rather than dwelling on things that can't be changed.

Make time for treats

When the exams are over, help your child celebrate by organising an end-of-exams treat.

Don't use rewards as bribes. Instead, encourage your child to work for their own satisfaction, offering small, frequent treats.

For more information, read Mind's advice on tackling exam stress.

Steps to deal with stress

For more information on coping with stress in general, click below to download 'Steps to deal with stress: a simple guide to stressing less and enjoying life more'. It's full of advice that the whole family can use.

Steps to deal with stress

Last updated:
04 January 2023

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