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Dealing with exam result anxiety: Advice for parents

January 24, 2022

Looking for parent advice on how to deal with exam result anxiety? We share some insights from a parent and educational professional. 

Sitting exams is stressful and we’re all aware of the immense pressure our children (and us as their parents) are under in the lead up to the exam date. At least once the exam is over we can de-stress, take a deep breath and put it to the back of our minds. The stress is gone for now – or is it? 

Nearly 80%* of school leaders in England have reported an increase in stress, anxiety and panic among their pupils. This is linked to an increased fear of academic failure and sadly does not end when the exam has been taken but lingers until the result arrives.  

Parent talking to anxious child

 

What is results anxiety?

Results anxiety is waiting for exam results stress. It refers to the nervous, agitated feelings you experience in the lead up to exam result day. 

 

Waiting for exam result stress

Without doubt waiting for exam results can be a nerve wracking experience. Feeling stressed at this time is normal. It can be helpful to understand the reasons your child might be feeling anxious about their results. These include:

  • Fear of failing to get a good mark needed for a certain school or course
  • Worrying about what the results might mean for their future
  • Fear of disappointing you (their family) or teachers who expect them to get good results
  • Worried about how they will compare to other people in class 
  • The stress of not knowing and having to wait

 

How to stop worrying about exam results

There are a number of things you can do to reduce the impact of exam stress and anxiety around the time of exam results. The goal is to help your child see that exams are just a small part of life and they do not define who they are as a person.

 

Pre-empt anxiety

My recommended approach is to seek prevention before they even sit exams. This will come from preparing for the exam and discussing the possible outcomes.

 

Exam preparation

Support your child with their exam preparation so they know they have done everything they can to get ready. You want your child to have a clear conscience and feel they have done their best.

 

How do other kids manage exam anxiety? 

Encourage your child to take a look at these top test tips from a fellow student to support them entering exams with confidence.

 

Do your research

Whether it’s an 11 Plus entrance exam, SATs, mocks or GCSEs it’s a good idea to know what is covered and where your child might struggle.

 

Seek support

You might speak to your child’s teacher about any concerns or approach a tutor to help guide you both through the exam process. 

Any preparation you can do before an exam will have a significant impact on how your child feels about the results.  

 

What to say to children who are worried about exam results

It’s important to put exams into context. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? 

They might be placed in a lower group at school, they might need to attend a different school or college than they intended, they might have to do the exam again.

  • Discuss the outcomes of passing or not passing in a calm, matter-of-fact way.
  • Try to remove emotion from the conversation. 
  • Remember that your child’s exam results are not a reflection on your parenting. 
  • Try to remove any of your own anxieties you might be feeling from the conversation. 
  • If they fail an exam that does not make them a failure. They are a good person with many talents.
  • You will support them on the next step of their journey whatever the outcome.  

 

What to do while waiting for exam results

  • Stay calm by making time to do something you enjoy together – a day out, games at home, sharing a movie.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Get out in nature and appreciate the world around you – have a walk, try out a new sport, challenge yourself with a hike. Show that achievements come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Spend time with a pet or animals at a local wildlife sanctuary or animal shelter. Stroking an animal is a great way to reduce tension.
  • Help someone. Whether a neighbour or a grandparent or with a younger sibling. Taking care of someone else is a wonderful way for your child to feel good about themselves whilst distracting from unhelpful exam thoughts.

 

Happy family in the countryside

 

How to deal with exam result anxiety

The first priority is to look after your child’s mental health. Reduce stress levels by practising mindfulness and self-care. This can really help manage the feelings that come from exam result anxiety. Try following these principles with your child:

Have fun

Add laughter to your day. Watch a funny film, play a silly game and do things that make you all feel happy.

 

Eat well

Food really does affect our mood. Choose fruit and veg packed with vitamins and minerals over processed food high in sugar helping the body to feel more balanced throughout the day.

 

Get active

Breathe deeply and try some yoga and stretching to release tension. Climb a hill, go for a run or bike ride to increase the heart rate and pump fresh oxygen around the body and brain.

 

Sleep

Your child needs sleep to thrive. Aim for a consistent routine that helps them to achieve at least 8-10 hours every night. The body works best if you can go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Remove anything creating night time distractions such as phones.

 

Be kind 

When emotions are running high it’s easy to snap at each other. Try to be patient and kind with your child and encourage them to be patient and kind to themselves. 

Ask them what they are thinking? Do they have a lot of negative thoughts? Give them some positive language that they can replace those thoughts with

 

Balance screen time

Gaming might be the perfect escape for your child right now but balance is always important. The same goes for time spent on social media. Try to ensure that equal time is given to physical exercise, time outside or time spent talking to friends or a family member face-to-face.

 

Exam results advice

Follow out tips for ways to support your child when the results come in.

How to deal with results day

Do not be tempted to attach rewards to exams before you know the results. For example, promising that you’ll go out for a celebratory meal or buy the latest game they’re after adds further pressure to an already stressful day. 

Instead let them know that whatever happens you’re there for them and will be there to support them on the next part of the journey.

 

How to deal with disappointing exam results

Most young people will experience a disappointing grade or exam result at some point during their journey through education. This is especially true of the 11 Plus where places are so highly contested that many thousands of children are disappointed every exam season. 

It can be especially hard to deal with the disappointment when your child feels they have put everything into the exam.

  • Firstly it’s important for your child to know they are not alone. Don’t try and analyse what went wrong immediately or jump to appealing the result. Give your child and yourself time to accept that it didn’t go to plan. 
  • Challenges like this will come along in life and it’s a test of our resilience to be able to pick ourselves up and move forward.
  • Do something that makes your child feel good and when some of the emotion has died down discuss what the next steps might look like.
  • If possible, talk to someone involved with the exam and find out what might have caused your child to lose marks. Is there anything different that they could do next time? 
  • Make a plan together of what the new path forward looks like. It might be going to a different school, getting some extra 11 Plus tuition support for areas of difficulty, trying to sit the exam again or adopting some new study techniques. 

 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or decide extra support is the way to go then Explore Learning’s dedicated tutors are here for you and your child every step of the way. Get in touch today and book a free consultation.

 

*https://markinstyle.co.uk/exam-stress-statistics/

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