How to avoid exam stress: Strategies & tips

Test season is in full swing and children across the UK may be experiencing all of the nerves, worry and stress that can come with sitting exams. We’ve got some useful advice on how to avoid exam stress and support them through it!



Causes of exam stress and anxiety

It’s completely normal to feel a little stressed when thinking about or preparing for exams. Children can experience a lot of pressure to do well which can lead to feelings of anxiety or fear around the exams. 


Causes of exam stress can include;

  • Feeling unprepared
  • High expectations from school, family or friends
  • Wanting to impress or keep up with their peers
  • A feeling of competition
  • Fear of failure or disappointing themselves or others
  • Feeling overwhelmed 
  • Issues with memory 
  • Anxiety around exam hall conditions or exam time restrictions
  • Stress from other areas of life 
  • The need to do well in order to get into a certain school or on a certain course
  • The uncertainty around what’s going to come up 


Exam stress symptoms

Stress is the body’s way of dealing with pressure. It can leave you feeling anxious, low or confused. 


Everyone experiences stress differently. However, some common signs of exam stress in children include;

  • Feeling low or overwhelmed
  • Loss of appetite or change in eating patterns
  • Sweaty or clammy hands
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Nail-biting, fidgeting or other repetitive habits
  • Experiencing ‘mind-blank’
  • Headaches or tension
  • Poor sleep
  • A lack of motivation
  • Anxiety around school


How to deal with exam stress: tips

We’ve got some tips and advice on how to help your child manage stress levels during revision and exam season…

Celebrate the effort

One of the main worries children can have is that they will let you down. This can become a serious distraction for children, which can have a negative impact on their performance.

A good way of avoiding this kind of worry is by focusing on the effort and practice that your child is doing. Celebrate the successes they achieve during their focused revision and remind them if they can’t do something – “they just can’t do it yet”. 

Let them know how proud you are of the progress they are making. This encourages children to work as hard as they can in preparation, but doesn’t overwhelm them with talk of the end results. Exams are a chance for children to show off how much they know, and often talking about it in that way can ease some of the pressure they may be feeling.

Find 11 Plus resources here!


Avoid clashing!

Often, with a child under pressure and a parent wanting the absolute best for them, tempers can flare and arguments can happen! If you feel your child isn’t doing enough, it’s often because they feel lost and don’t know where to start. Help them to break everything into small tasks so they can start seeing small successes and boost confidence.

Avoid using accusatory, overly-critical language like, “If you don’t work harder, you are going to fail”. Try approaching with questions to encourage your child to see the problem by themselves. “How is your revision going?”, “What are your tricky spots?”, “If you have 30 minutes to look at something today what do you think would make the most difference?” – these are all good questions to ask.


Be prepared

Inevitably, there will be children disappointed with their exam results and it’s important for you to be supportive. Remind them that there are always options – whether your child gets great results or doesn’t do quite as well as they hoped, there are paths that can be taken either way.

Sit with your child and discuss these options together. It could involve a different school/college/university, or it could be looking into the possibility of re-takes. Research is important at this stage, but remember there are always options!


Take regular breaks!

At times, if tension is building or your child is starting to feel the strain a little too much, the best thing to do can be to take a step away from the exam preparation for a while! Find something relaxing and enjoyable to do and completely forget about test preparation. Whether that’s watching their favourite TV show together or kicking a ball around. However, if there is a timetable in place make sure that it is still possible to cover everything in time.


Prioritise sleep and wellbeing

Better wellbeing can do wonders for exam-related stress. From getting a good night’s sleep to making time for hobbies and fun activities, looking after ourselves is vital for our mental health and ability to tackle challenges. 

If you or your child feel stressed, try these better wellbeing tips for families:

  • Avoid screens before bed
  • Practice some meditation exercises such as deep breaths or visualisations
  • Include lots of study breaks in your routine
  • Find fun ways to let off steam like sports or dance
  • Look for extra help to tackle tricky areas


Find more health and wellbeing resources for young people and families here. 


Build confidence with exam tuition

Sometimes, children need a helping hand when it comes to preparing for exams and building their confidence. 

An expert tutor or tuition centre could help your child to maximise their revision time and build on the core skills that are required for exam success. From when to start preparing for the 11 Plus to targeted activities and techniques – the right tutor will understand the exam inside and out and have the tools to help your child manage their stress and enter the exam with confidence. 

We hope these tips for coping with exam stress help you and your child navigate exam periods. For more help preparing for exams, our revision resources are full of techniques and activities for families. 


At Explore Learning, we offer great exam preparation tuition, such as 11 Plus tuition and Entrance Exams courses. Why not get in touch to see if we could help?