How to deal with exam stress

students on computer

Taking exams is a stressful thing for both you and your teen to deal with. Causes of exam stress include feeling under pressure to perform, worrying about the future, and finding it hard to focus. You may be worrying for them and wondering how you can support them. The good news is there are things you can do to help with teenage exam stress.

This article can help if you want to:

  • learn about the different causes of stress at exam time and how these can affect your teen

  • find out how to spot when your teen isn't coping with exams

  • help your teen focus and deal with exam pressure.

Common stresses and pressures at exam time

Exam time brings with it many extra stresses and pressures. Some are easy to spot, and others can be less obvious. Here are some things for you to consider when exam time comes around:

  • When stress goes from helping to hindering

A bit of stress for a short period of time can be productive as it can motivate you to perform at your best.. But when it starts to get in the way of your teen being able to study, that’s when you might need to offer some extra support. Things you can do to help reduce your teen’s stress include making sure they take regular breaks, eat healthy meals and don’t drink too much caffeine, and also by encouraging them to go to sleep at a reasonable time. Check out our 7 tips for managing exam stress.

  • The pressure of expectation

Talking about results and the future with your teen is a great way to know you’re on the same page. It also shows them that they can come to you to discuss decisions they’re trying to make. Before having a conversation think about what your expectations are by taking our quick online quiz. And make sure they know that their exam results aren’t the be all and end all by supporting them to managing their expectations.

  • Trouble focusing

Whilst social media can help your teen connect and unwind the constant notifications and ‘always on’ nature of it can sometimes get a bit distracting. You can help them focus by suggesting social media-free times and by keeping TV and music volumes down while they’re studying. Read how to manage distractions for more ideas.

  • When school just doesn't suit your teen

The education system and the way schooling is structured suits some, but it doesn’t suit everybody. This can lead to a lot of stress and frustration for your teen. Find out what you can do when school isn’t working.

  • Post school options

Year 12 exams can feel like the most important thing in life. Reminding your teen that there are options whatever happens, and that people who’ve had set backs still go on to achieve great things, can relieve the pressure. Watch these personal stories for inspiration.

  • The stress on you as a parent during Year 12

The stress and exhaustion of the year can take its toll on you and the rest of the family too. Take care of yourself by making sure you still spend time doing things you enjoy and by exercising and getting enough rest. Have a look at these tips for how to survive Year 12 as a parent or carer.

Common signs your teenager is feeling stressed

If you're unsure how your teen is coping, look out for these changes in their mood or behaviour, then use our resources to support them. Teenage stress symptoms include:

  • being withdrawn or disengaged

  • a loss of interest in the things they usually enjoy

  • changes in their sleeping or eating habits

  • feeling grumpy or irritable.

Other ways you can support your teen at exam time

It’s important that your teen knows that you are there for them during stressful times, you can learn about how to have great conversations here. As well as this, supporting them to know their own limits and when things are getting too much gives them great self-awareness skills for the future, so talk often and early about signs and symptoms of stress.

If your teen has been stressed for a while, have a chat with them about what’s going on. Share the stories of other young people going through exam stress with them, or direct them to our helpful toolbox of handy health apps to help them manage their stress. If you’re still worried, talk to your GP and have a look at other things to try. You can also connect with other parents who are in the same situation as you, in our anonymous parent forums. Here you can discuss any issue or experience that your teen is encountering.