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Coping with exam stress

Coping with exams

Media last reviewed: 30/07/2013

Next review due: 30/07/2015

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

Watch out for stress

Look out for signs of exam stress. Children who experience stress may be irritable, not sleep well, lose interest in food, worry a lot and 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 air their worries and keep things in perspective.

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

Ensure 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.

Encourage sleep

Good sleep will improve thinking and concentration. Most teenagers need between eight and 10 hours' sleep a night. Learn more in How much sleep do kids need?

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 hours of panicky last-minute study.

Be flexible

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

Discuss their nerves

Remind your child that feeling nervous 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

Make sure your kids are active. Exercise can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress. Walking, cycling, swimming, football and dancing are all effective.

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 celebrate with a treat. These can be a real encouragement for the next time they have a test.

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

More information

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


Page last reviewed: 24/08/2012

Next review due: 24/08/2014

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