Exam periods, whether 11 Plus exams or GCSE exams, can be stressful for students. Feeling some pressure is perfectly normal, but when exam stress builds up it can have a significant impact not just on learning but your child’s life outside of school. So let’s take a look at exam stress, how to identify the causes and how to reduce it.

A little bit of exam stress is to be expected leading up to exams. But when it builds up it can cause your child to struggle with anxiety and depression and can affect their eating and sleeping habits. While your child may come to you themselves to talk about these issues, it’s important to recognise the signs of exam stress yourself so that you can help them before it becomes a bigger issue.

What is exam stress?

Stress looks different for everyone and there’s no one size fits all solution to stress. Exam stress is a very specific kind of stress though and can be quite similar from one child to the other in the way it presents.

Exam stress isn’t always just getting nervous on exam day or exam results anxiety. It can be a slow building feeling over weeks before the exams take place. The stress doesn’t stop when the exam is over as, for a lot of children, this stress sticks around until results day. For children that experience exam stress, it can be very overwhelming and feel like a constant weight that’s with them in the run-up to the exam period, during the exam period all the way through to results day.

That’s a long time to feel stressed for anyone and it can have a significant impact on student’s mental health and wellbeing!

What causes exam stress?

Sometimes preventative measures can be the best course of action to reduce exam stress. To understand how to do it, we need to know what exactly causes exam stress.

There are a lot of factors when it comes to exam stress for children. Particularly as they’re going into their GCSEs, exams can feel like a huge deciding factor in their future, which can be a very worrying thought for a teenager. Here are some of the main causes of exam stress for children…

  • Worrying about how they’ll feel and perform in the exams

  • Feeling like they’ve not prepared for their exams or left their revision too late

  • Pressure from teachers, parents, carers or even themselves

  • Comparing themselves to others in their classes and believing they need to do as well as their friends

  • Worrying about the future impact their exams results might have, like getting into university or getting jobs

  • Worrying about the change from secondary school into college, sixth form or whichever path they choose to take and their results may impact that.

So there’s definitely a lot that could be going on in your child’s mind as they prepare for their exams, and these are just some of the possible causes of exam stress. Take your time to check in with them and their mental health regularly in advance of their exams and try to encourage them to start doing little bits of revision as early as possible. And of course, remind your child that you’re there, and their teachers are there, to support them through their exams.

We have a list of great revision guides, including getting started with revision and developing vital revision skills.

How to deal with exam stress

Teaching your child to manage their own exam stress is an invaluable lesson that can stick with them for life. While it’s important to help them as much as you can when they experience this stress, allowing them to deal with exam stresscan be great when you’re busy, when they’re in school or when they just need some alone time.

So, give them some simple reminders of how to deal with exam stress…

  • Take little breaks regularly rather than studying for hours at a time

  • If a particular problem they’re studying gets overwhelming, take a minute to step away from it, breathe and come back refreshed

  • Make sure they’re still making time for the things they love doing outside of studying

  • Remind them to be kind to themselves, set realistic goals for the day and don’t overdo it

  • Encourage them to focus on personal achievements and not compare themselves to their friends or classmates – everyone learns differently and excels in different subjects

  • Keep focusing on their physical health, making sure they do light exercise, eat healthily and have a regular sleep pattern

  • Talk about how they’re feeling with friends, family and their teachers to get reassurance that they’re not in this alone.

  • Encourage them to ask for help and the support they may need. Remind your child that it’s okay to ask for help. You’ll always be there for them to provide the support they need, but remind them that it’s okay to ask their teacher for extra help if they need it.

  • Advise them to let someone know if they’re having a hard time. You’ll have a difficult time finding anyone that hasn’t experienced exam stress, so remind your child that they don’t have to go through it alone. People will understand what they’re going through, so your child doesn’t have to be scared about opening up and asking for help.

And above all, tell your child to keep reminding themselves that their exams won’t last forever, they will get through them and whatever happens, they’ll be okay on the other side of their exams.

How to reduce exam stress

Even with thorough preparation, exam stress can still affect students. As a parent or guardian, you can play a significant role in helping your child manage this stress. Here are some strategies to assist your child in navigating these challenges:

Find out where the stress is coming from

It’s easy to resign exam stress to something that “just happens” and has to be dealt with. Each child may experience stress differently, so it’s important to have open discussions about what aspects of exams are particularly stressful for them. Consider these questions:

  • Are they comparing themselves to classmates?

  • Do they feel a lot of pressure from their teachers or perhaps you?

  • Have they prepared or do they feel they don’t know how to prepare?

  • Is their self-esteem surrounding learning, or in general, quite low?

If your child isn’t sure what’s specifically causing them stress, ask them about these points and reassure them that they can be honest. Remember, identifying the causes of exam stress is the first step in developing effective coping strategies.

Talk to your child about exam stress

Remind your child that feeling nervous about big events in life, like exams, is completely normal. Let them know that it’s okay to talk about it with you, their teachers or their friends at school.

Your child may worry that doing badly in their exams can be the end of the world for them. While it’s important to encourage them and support them to do their best, it’s also good to take some of that pressure off.

Remind them that life extends beyond exams and regardless of the results, numerous opportunities await. This perspective can truly lessen the stress and allow them to focus on studying more effectively.

Promote healthy study habits

It can be easy for your child to fall into a studying hole when their exams are right around the corner. But it’s important they take little breaks from studying so their brains have a chance to recharge, and the information has time to sink in.

Encourage regular breaks during each study session. Suggest light exercises, such as walking, which can help reduce stress levels. If your child mixes some exercise in with their studying routine, they’ll find themselves less stressed and able to retain information more easily.

Encourage healthy lifestyle

Staying healthy is an important part of learning – in fact, healthy eating and learning have many ties! Make sure your child’s eating and sleeping habits don’t slip during exam periods. They may be tempted to stay up late and get some more studying in before their exams, but it’s actually far better in the long run if your child sticks to a regular sleeping pattern.

Stress can also be linked to poor eating habits. So that means cutting out sugary drinks and food (with the exception of an occasional treat) as they can leave your child feeling sleepy and lacking in energy, despite the initial energy boost of the sugar and caffeine. Opt for healthier alternatives like fruits and balanced meals to keep the energy levels stable – this can help reduce exam stress.

Parents - take the pressure off!

Reflect on your role in your child’s exam preparation. It’s possible to inadvertently exert additional pressure. If you notice you may be doing it, open communication is key – ask your child if they feel pressured by your expectations.

Discuss how you can support their exam preparation while maintaining a pressure-free environment. Finding a balance between encouraging healthy study habits and recognising their stress levels is essential for children’s wellbeing during the exam period.

The importance of home learning environment to reduce exam stress

The home learning environment can play a crucial role in reducing exam stress. A calm, organised and supportive space at home can significantly ease exam stress and the pressure students feel during exam periods. It’s essential to create an atmosphere that fosters concentration and relaxation, free from distractions.

This includes having a dedicated study area and ensuring emotional support is available for when your child needs it. A nurturing home learning environment not only helps to minimise exam stress but also enhances your child’s ability to focus and absorb information, leading to more effective study sessions and ultimately, a better performance in exams.

Leveraging school support for managing exam stress

Teachers play a pivotal role in guiding students through exam preparations. Encourage your child to see their teachers as allies in managing exam stress. It’s important for them to feel comfortable discussing their anxieties with teachers who can offer support and guidance. In a case where your child hesitates to approach a teacher, consider whether they might prefer you to speak to them on their behalf.

Of course, we all had our favourite and least favourite teachers when we were in school. And so if your child finds it difficult to talk to their teacher, ask if they’d like you to step in. Tell their teacher that your child is struggling with the pressure of their exams and ask if there’s anything that can be done to help ease exam stress. Teachers have experience in providing tailored revision strategies, assistance on challenging topics and suggesting structured study opportunities. This kind of support can help your child in dealing with exam stress and alleviating some pressure.

Can tuition help with exam stress?

Preparing for exams can be daunting for some children. It can seem like everything depends upon doing well, which can cause a lot of pressure to build up and lead to some serious exam stress.

At Explore Learning we’re champions in dealing with exam stress. Our expert tutors are highly experienced and can help your child understand topics that they’re struggling with, even down to the most specific problems. They can also help your child develop exam revision techniques that will really benefit them when they are preparing and studying at home.

Find out how Explore Learning can help your child prepare for their exams. Why not book a free trial and see how well we can support your child?

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