Parents’ Guide to dealing with exam anxiety

In our Parents’ Guide to dealing with exam anxiety

Top tips for managing exam anxiety

After so much disruption to school education over the last two years, it’s no wonder that a lot of teens are feeling worried that they’ve missed out on learning. On top of that, even with national exams set to happen in 2022, we can’t blame teens who fear that they might be cancelled for a third year in a row. However anxious your teen is (or isn’t) about their studies, here are a few tips to helping them feel calm, confident and in control.

  • Work on their self-esteem.
  • Talk to their teachers.
  • one-to-one tutor can be a really effective way to give your teen the extra support they need. Lessons are all tailored to their learning style, and they can target issues like confidence and organisation.
  • Make your home a study-friendly environment.
  • Make sure they get enough sleep each night.
  • Equip them with coping mechanisms personalised for them.
  • Promote their independence. Since it’s vital for teens to have a sense of independence.
  • Finally, do make time for fun.
  • Even with important exams coming up, allow downtime. This will help them stay relaxed and keep a balanced lifestyle.
  • Keep communication open.

how to deal with exam anxiety guide

Keep their mobile phone outside of their bedroom

  • We know that even if switched off, a mobile phone in the room influences our cognitive capacity. It’s as if you’re doing something in a sleep-deprived state.
  • Use a consultative model. for example, by stating that, ‘The deal is, the mobile phone stays out of the room. How are we going to make sure you have enough access, so you find out what’s going on?’
  • Then you’re not penalising your young person by having the mobile phone out of the room. You’re allowing them to take control of how that happens. The non-negotiable part is that the phone stays out of the room.


Use technology and recruit the social world if you can’t be present

I work with lots of families with working parents, so one of the things you could do is think about using technology in an innovative way, You might drop in and do a FaceTime after 20 minutes.

If you learn to be able to teach someone, it’s embedded more richly than if you learn to simply pass a test. You might not be the person supporting the learning process, but there can be a social group that is.

how to deal with exam anxiety guide

Recognise that the teenage brain is unique and tailor exam support around that

As soon as you hit puberty, the brain is marinated in these pubertal hormones, and it means the brain changes state, There are some unique drives that we need to know about, as the adult supporting the teenager, so that we can capitalise on them and make sure that they reach their potential. Some of those drives might include a search for novelty, getting integrated into the peer group, a search for identity – thinking about independence and autonomy.

So, we want to think about how neuroscience and education can join hands and learn from one another, so that this young person can ride on a crest of a wave and get through this learning period – whether that be life skills or content in terms of exams – and make the most of this time.


Use the ‘consultative model’ if your teenager is reluctant to revise

You need to know what’s going on. Is this young person frightened about the idea of getting engaged because it feels like a big hill to climb, or do they not know where to start? Let’s imagine GSCEs – there’s a lot of content there, and it’s an organisational issue. You want to ask the question with genuine curiosity: What is it that’s stopping you getting going?

One of the key things we know about the teenage brain is that they respond really well to a consultative model – this is part of their drive towards being independent. So, I would ask that young person: What is it that’s stopping you going today? What do you think the hardest thing would be? Ask them to write their timetable and find out what you should do as a parent to keep them to their plan.


Identify whether it’s you or your child who is anxious

Parenting can be stressful, especially if you’re worried about your child. You’ll be in the best place to help them if you first prioritize your own mental and physical health. It’s especially hard as a busy parent to leave time in the day for yourself.

Is it the young person or the parent who is anxious? The strategies would be different depending on where the anxiety lies,

As parents, we all hold some anxiety about these exam periods because we are looking forward into future. Young people are more likely to be in the moment so I would want to think about that.


Parents’ Guide to dealing with teenage anxiety

Here, we cover:

  • Common mental health problems for teens.
  • Plus specifying strategies which parents can employ to help.

Your child’s teenage years are an exciting time, but they can be tricky too. With hormones going wild and bigger pressures at school, challenging mood swings are par for the course. With mental ill-health on the rise though, you’ll want to keep watch on whether their moods are normal, or if they need a bit of help.

Today one in five teens has a diagnosable mental health condition. And on average, people wait 8-10 years after first experiencing mental health problems before seeking help. Of course, if problems are noticed and tackled when they first come up, you can help your child with the tools they need to be happy sooner rather than later.

If you think that your teen needs some professional help, find out if they can see a school counsellor, or if it’s more serious, their GP can help you work out a plan of action together.

There are lots of common issues that you can help your teen with if you have the right tips. Keep reading for a break-down of some key pain-points, and what you can to do help as a parent.



  • Get practical when reassuring anxious teens

Perpetual reassurance rarely helps. I would get practical about this. The three things we know help in terms of learning material is: rest, active learning and sleep. Have a bit of wakeful rest – a short period of active learning and then a rest. Then make sure they’re getting good quality sleep – it’s the glue of the memory.

Also, think about learning in a calm environment. If you get that info across to a young, conscientious person so they have a realistic timetable that’s not overwhelming, they’ll take that on board.


  • Keep calm and allow them to share

If you start to yell, the teenage brain will see that as a threat, Try not to let that emotion bleed into the conversation with your teenager. It’s ok to feel those emotions but take them to your partner or your friend and let it all hang out. Sort through them with that adult context, and then once you’re clear-headed and calm, go back into negotiations with your young person.

  • Be realistic about the impact of Covid-19

For the Year 13 kids who are doing A-levels in England and Wales, they haven’t had any gateway exams before. I think there is some anxiety in some of the families I talk to at work, that they haven’t had the experience of GCSEs, so will they be ok?

I think it’s worth bearing in mind that many young people in the world have only one set of gateway exams, and in fact, there’s a push in the education and neuroscience community to rethink GCSEs in their entirety.


  • Be mindful of the message you’re sending out at home

Recognise what message you’re sending at home, If the first question you ask when they come in the door is ‘How was the test? What was your mark? What did everyone else get?’, you’re giving them the message that academic work is your priority.

Of course, exams are important. But if you ask any parent, the only thing they care about is that their kid is alright. So, think about the messages you’re giving. ‘You can be fabulous and not perfect’ is something you might say out loud and act out and talk about in words and actions.

Praise a conscientious kid for taking a break, for seeing their friends, for taking care of themselves. Holding that balance and perspective is really one of our key tasks as a parent.

  • Differentiate between ‘good stress’ and ‘bad stress’

We want to differentiate between chronic and perpetual stress, which is overwhelming and toxic, particularly for the developing brain, and short bursts of stress, which can be embraced and can push you to find something about yourself that is wonderful,

There’s a group at Stanford who looked at the different mindsets about stress. If you consider a short burst of stress ‘extra energy’, your brain and your body react in a different way and you’re more likely to build resilience. Think about that mindset at home as well – exam nerves are extra energy, this is rocket fuel to get you through your exam. That can really change the way you can consider the experience of stress.

  • Tackle perfectionist tendencies

For a child that has lost that perspective, it might be about showing that their value to you is not about their exam results. You can say: ‘I don’t want to know what your exam mark is, I want to know that you’re looking after yourself… The thing that matters to me is that you’re engaged with this, you’re enjoying it and you’re doing your best’.

If that young person has perfectionist tendencies – and girls sometimes are more likely to have these – I would want to keep an eye on that, because sometimes it can build a bit of momentum.

how to deal with exam anxiety guide

Teenager body image

  • Ask them how they feel when they’re socialising online. If they feel they can tell you things, it’s much easier to find the source of any problems.
  • As teens’ bodies change and grow, they can feel insecure about how they look. In the age of Instagram influencers and selfies though, this is increasingly common for teens. That’s both girls and boys.
  • Ask them what they think is normal behaviour online, and have a discussion about it. They might not realise that some behaviour is harmful. So, help them change what they see.
  • Peer pressure is a danger zone. Another big problem for teens today is negative peer pressure and forms of bullying online.
  • Cyberbullying is another danger zone. So, if your teen follows influencers who post images that brag about their bodies, it can be helpful to remind them of what’s normal. Even more importantly, what they’re seeing online isn’t real. Or, assuming it is, it isn’t normal. Can they make the choice to unfollow accounts that make them feel bad about themselves? If so then they’re learning how to be more resilient…


Parents’ Guide to dealing with exam anxiety