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BPS Communications Team

Managing exam anxiety – advice for children and parents

26 May 2022 | by BPS Communications Team

With the start of exams upon us, and with many young people having not sat an exam due to the Pandemic, it’s expected that children and their parents might be experiencing stress and feeling anxious about what is to come. Co-chair of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology, Dr Victoria Lewis, shares some advice and tips for children, young people, parents and carers….

As exams begin, it is typical to feel stressed and anxious - this is normal and a little anxiety can be helpful, it leads us to take action, it is when it tips an optimal point that it can interfere with daily living and performance.  The last two years have brought extraordinary challenges for children and young people through educational disruption and where examinations may be a source of stress anyway, under these circumstances, the levels of stress and anxiety may be much higher.

Parents and carers can play a vital and really influential role in how children navigate the examination period with many practical things that can be done to create a positive environment and there are also many steps that children and young people can take for themselves.

It can be helpful for parents and carers to offer to support children and young people making a suitable revision timetable, considering what work to and when, but also supporting the planning of some fun and downtime.  It will be important that they can enter the examination period feeling as strong as possible, so taking care of the body and mind through healthy food and exercise as well as building in some fun and recreation.   

It’s important to provide space for children and young people to share how they are feeling through open conversation,  providing support rather than creating additional pressure and reassuring them that their grades and exams do not define them.  

Parents and carers can also look out for early signs of stress or changes in their children’s behaviours and to try to be flexible in terms of the support that might be needed. For example, whether children appear more withdrawn than normal or whether they seem not to want to take part in their normal activities such as sports.  If there is particular concern, it is important reach out to the teachers/support staff in school or if necessary, the educational psychologist or GP. 

For anyone sitting exams, looking after the self means planning time to get adequate rest and time to spend on yourself while still looking to maintain a helpful routine.  Breaks in long revision periods are important and relaxation and distraction can be very grounding. This could include trying a few different things such as yoga, different mindfulness apps, going for walks outside or other exercise.  It is good to find out what works for you.

Finally, positive self-talk will be important, and if any negative thoughts arise to challenge you, these can be redirected with more positive thinking.  A growth mindset can be helpful, rewarding effort as well as learning and progress.  Statements such as 'I'm not clever/ good enough', would be replaced by 'I will do my best' or ' I can handle this'.  Finally, if the results come in that aren't what you were hoping for, remember you can always have another go, one's success in life is rarely a straightforward trajectory.  I do wish all those taking exams, the very best for their preparation and performance.  GOOD LUCK!'

This blog represents the views of the individual author, not the DECP.

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