7 tips for managing exam stress

Teenage boy in green shirt studying at desk 2

School exams – and particularly Year 12 exams – can be a very stressful time for teenagers. The recent chaos caused by COVID-19 hasn't made things any easier, with students being forced to adjust to new routines and a changed style of learning. But while the world may be changing and rearranging itself daily, the importance of education, and the role that exams play in that landscape, hasn’t changed. 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 – particularly during this time, with many families spending more time together indoors.

Helping your teenager to deal with stress in the lead-up to exams can both benefit their study and reduce the tension at home during the exam period. Here's some tips on how to deal with exam stress with your teenager.

Give them time off chores

The pressure to perform well in an exam while preparing for it under challenging conditions is tough enough, so take a load off by excusing your teen from chores when they're deep in prep mode. They’ll appreciate the extra time to study or unwind, as well as the fact that you're looking out for them.

Encourage extracurricular activities

Right now, every day feels a bit like Groundhog Day. While it might sound surprising, given the COVID blur, your teen could easily slip into a routine of overindulging in study. Encourage them to step away from their desk occasionally and keep doing their regular activities. Whether it's taking a bike ride around the block to clear the head, or joining an online gaming session with their friends, it's essential that they occasionally switch off.

Help them set up a study space

Any parent working from home knows the stress that comes with being away from your usual setup. So, spare a thought for students attempting to study while not being able to access classrooms, libraries or their school resources. Creating order among the chaos by helping your teen to set up a dedicated study space can help give them a sense of control. Get them to pick and choose how the space looks and feels. The more ownership they have over the area, the more likely they are to feel comfortable and relaxed while working there.

Chat with them about life after exams

Talking about the future can seem scary, especially when things feel uncertain, but chances are your teen is more stressed about their life after the exams than you are. By approaching the subject and talking about what comes next, you can take the fear out of the unknown. When your teen knows they've got your support, they'll stress less about what the future holds.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule

While the lead into exam time is usually full of last-minute (and late-night) cramming, getting your teen to maintain a regular sleep routine will pay big dividends for them and the whole family. Disrupted sleep patterns are a sure-fire way to have a stressed-out teen on your hands. Add to that a big exam looming, and that's bad news for everyone at home. If a sleep schedule doesn’t fly, try reminding your teen of the benefits of uninterrupted sleep. If you're also working from home during COVID-19, schedule breakfast together as a family each day, so that everyone is awake and up at the same time.

Take study breaks and walks, cook up a storm

Distraction is often considered a dirty word when it comes to exam prep, but with everything that's going on in the world, taking the occasional break is a great way to stress less. Use break time to go for a walk with your teen and get some fresh air, or choose a recipe and get involved in a little lockdown cook-off.

Let them vent

Sometimes the best way to send stress packing is to let off a little steam. If your teen has been cooped up inside with their books and needs to vent, then be a sounding board. If they're on a roll and just need to get it all out, try not to offer advice or suggestions. Nod, smile and enjoy the show! Chances are, you and your child will feel better after it's all said and done.


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 exam stress management strategies. 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.

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  • I need to know more - Read our fact sheet on exam stress.