Helping teens with exam stress

GCSE and A-Level exams are back after a two-year hiatus. If your children are taking their GCSEs and A-Levels this year, they might be unfamiliar with the pressure of sitting in an exam environment.

Some young people prefer course work and others thrive off the pressure of exams, but no matter what they prefer, exam time can be a stressful time.

 

What are the signs to look out for?

Signs of stress are not always obvious and can often go hand-in-hand with the rollercoaster of emotions teenagers are already going through. It might manifest in psychological ways such as worrying a lot, feeling tense and low mood, or have physical symptoms like headaches, stomach pains and lack of sleep. Watch out for changes in appetite too – they might lose interest in food or eat more than normal.

Here’s some practical tips to keep them calm, focused and prepared for in-person exams.

 

Make sure they’re eating well

As mentioned above, changes in appetite could be a symptom of stress in young people. While it’s easy to reach for the biscuits when we’re stressed and studying, a balanced diet is really important for your child's health and can help with concentration during exam periods.

 

Help them get enough sleep

Work with your child to find what revision style works for them – they might like short, sharp bursts with small breaks, or they might prefer to slog it out. It might be that they prefer studying first thing in the morning or later in the evening – everyone’s different – just make sure they get enough sleep. Most teenagers need 8 to 10 hours' sleep a night and a good night’s sleep will help thinking and concentration. Cramming all night before an exam is not recommended, so encourage them to wind down for half-an-hour before going to bed.

 

Encourage exercise

Exercise can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress. It doesn’t matter what it is – a walk round the block after studying and before bed will help clear the mind. Support them by going with them.

 

Turn to Tiktok

Yes, mobile phones and social media can often lead to distraction and procrastination, however over on TikTok, 22-year old Yehya Mougharbel is running ‘study with me’ sessions to some 469,000 followers. On the face of it, it’s nothing special but a few times a week in his university halls, he props his phone up on his bedroom desk, turns the camera on and broadcasts himself live while he studies. First done to make himself accountable for his studies, he encourages others to sit in quiet study alongside him in chunks of 50-minute slots. There’s no interaction, just a fellowship of other students looking to do the same thing.

 

Talk about it

Remind your children it’s normal to feel nervous about exams. Write a list of everything they need to take into an exam so they’re physically ready and get them to do some practice papers so they know what to expect. Make sure to set some time aside for so they can talk to you about any worries they might have and try to offer practical solutions where possible.

 

Don’t add to the pressure

Support group Childline says many children who contact them feel that most pressure at exam time comes from their family. Make sure to listen to them, support them and avoid criticism.

Your children might feel like they have to make a decision about what they want to do for the rest of their lives now – remind them that this isn’t true. If they don’t do as well as they expect, they can always resit, or they might find they’d like to do something else as the years go by, when they have more life experience. There’s a whole world of different opportunities out there, some of which aren’t obvious when kids are at school.

If you’re concerned about your teen’s reaction to stress and anxiety, then seek help from your GP. Young Minds has some great advice for both parents and young people going through exams too.

 

Celebrate

When the exams are over, help them celebrate by organising an end-of-exams treat. It could be a shopping or cinema trip or a day out with their friends. It doesn’t need to be big or expensive, just allow them to let their hair down.