Help my teenager manage exam stress

Boy studying for exams
Boy studying for exams
Boy studying for exams

School exams can be a very stressful time for teenagers, particularly year 12 exams. Some teenagers get stressed about every exam and others just one or two. But, the 2015 Mission Australia survey suggests that school and study are the top concerns for teenagers 15-19.

Stress around exam time can not only impact a teenager's mental health but also their physical health and general wellbeing. Having a stressed teenager in the house can also be difficult for the whole family. Helping your teenager manage their stress in the lead-up to exams can help them to study and also reduce the tension at home during the exam period.

Before reading the tips below, learn more about stress and the signs and symptoms to look out for in your teenager.

Top 5 tips for teenagers

Here are some tips for you to share with your teenager to help them with study and exam stress:

  • Write a study timetable and be organised. Having an organised study space and planning study time can help your teenager stay on track and achieve their goals. They may want to talk to their friends or teachers about things they have tried or, start a conversation on the ReachOut forums to talk to other teenagers also going through exams
  • Be prepared and understand what is required. Understanding exam requirements and what they will need to do can help them prepare and study effectively
  • Make time to relax, have fun and socialise. Taking breaks can help to reduce stress and reconnect with the world. Breaks should be a mix of relaxing, doing enjoyable things and socialising (online or face-to-face)
  • Eat well. Eating healthy food (rather than processed or fast-food) helps to maintain the required energy to study well
  • Be active. Exercise and physical activity is a great way to reduce stress during exams.

Top 7 tips for parents and families

These tips can help you support your teenager in the lead up to exams:

  • Talk about symptoms of stress at home and help your teenager to identify when and why they might be feeling stressed. By understanding what makes them stressed they can build the skills to cope better and reduce stress in the future. You may want to share some of your own experiences or tips for coping
  • Help them set up a quiet and comfortable place to study and help them get organised. Talk through their study planning and help them set achievable goals and break their tasks down into bite-sized pieces
  • Help them to write a study timetable that includes breaks and time to relax and socialise. Alternatively, GoConqr is a free online tool that they can use to make a study timetable
  • Give them some time off household chores during their exam period and schedule family time around their study timetable. Be responsive to their needs and don't ask them to stop studying for something that isn't urgent
  • Help them write a list of things they can do to relax. Making time to relax can help to reduce stress and calm their nerves. By identifying things that help them feel relaxed, they will have a toolkit for managing stress next time
  • Encourage them to be active, eat well and sleep well. Go for walks or be active as a whole family and make healthy meals (limiting caffeine and sugar - teenagers should not drink more than 100ml of caffeine per day)
  • Look after yourself. Take time out to relax, have fun and do something for yourself. Even if it's for ten minutes before the kids get up, practicing a little self-care every day can help to reduce your own stress. By taking care of your own wellbeing you will be in a better place to support your teenager through this stressful time.

What to do if your teenager isn't coping

If your teenager really isn't coping with their study load it may be time to seek further support from a professional. A psychologist or counsellor can help them learn strategies to manage their stress. You can also talk to their teachers or year advisor about ways to support them at school.

It is also important to talk about different types of achievement. Getting the right ATAR is not the only way to achieve their goals. Their school's career counsellor can help them to find alternate pathways to uni or assist in applying for special consideration.

More info:

Page last review by ReachOut Parents Clinical Advisory Group on