Exam time can be stressful, not only for the students but for families as well. While some teenagers will sail through relatively easily, others will find the process overwhelming and stressful, possibly needing parental or caregiver support.
If your child experiences mental illness, anxiety or neurodiversity, you may need to provide a higher level of support prior to and during the exam period. But if you’re wondering what causes exam stress and how to manage exam anxiety in teenagers, don’t worry – there are plenty of resources to guide you.
What are the main causes of exam stress?
While a degree of stress at exam time can be expected, some students may experience higher than healthy levels. Common causes of exam stress include:
- The weight of teacher or family expectations to perform well.
- Pressure put upon them to achieve certain academic goals or standards.
- A lack of preparation – insufficient study or revision.
- Poor physical preparation – lack of sleep, inadequate diet, dehydration.
- Internal pressure – a high personal drive to succeed.
Students may feel stressed in the weeks leading up to exams, or they may hit panic mode on the day of their first exam. Irrespective of your child’s tendencies, it is important to pre-empt exam stress by having an early discussion about ways to cope with exams and how best to prepare for them.
How can I help my teen avoid exam anxiety?
Schoolchoice.com.au reports that in 2021 nearly 66% of high school students reported feeling stressed in the lead up to exams. They offer a range of strategies for parents to assist their children in coping with exams and avoiding high levels of stress, such as:
- Providing a suitable environment for study.
- Teaching them time management skills.
- Reminding them of the importance of taking study breaks.
- Ensuring they don’t neglect their health and wellbeing.
- Reminding them to try to get a good night’s sleep.
- Providing emotional support and encouragement – without pressure.
Providing a suitable place to study away from distractions with enough desk space for them to work comfortably is crucial. Studying on their bed is not recommended. To avoid sleep issues, the bed should be a sleep space only.
Time management skills are essential tools for juggling workloads. If necessary, speak with your school counsellor about ways to help your child manage their study time. Good organisation such as the use of diaries, study planners and methodical note-taking can help.
Downtime supports study time. Taking breaks has both physical and mental benefits, so encourage your child to take regular breaks and to continue a sport or pastime they enjoy.
Many students experience illness and high anxiety at exam time because they have failed to look after their health and wellbeing in the lead up. Teens should compare preparing for exams to comparing for a big sporting event – they need 8-10 hours of sleep each night along with good nutrition, hydration, and relaxation.
Family support and open communication is critical. Parents can apply the principles of P.A.C.E. (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy) advocated by Relational Minds Child and Family Mental Health Clinic to communicate with teens effectively.
Tips for reducing stress on exam day
As exam day looms, remind your teenager of the following tips for exam success:
- Make sure they are aware of what materials are and are not permitted in the exam room.
- They should make a list of what to take to each exam. That might include pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, rulers, calculators, dictionaries or text books for open book exams.
- Set more than one alarm to avoid sleeping in on exam day.
- Ensure they have double checked the exam venue, day and time.
- Provide reliable transport and ensure they arrive with plenty of time to spare.
- Take water to drink during the exam if permitted.
- Remind them it is ok to ask an exam invigilator or teacher to clarify an instruction, to use the toilet, or to explain anything pertaining to the exam process that they are unsure of.
Remember that the best way to help your child deal with exam stress is by setting up good study habits early on, and following through with all the suggestions outlined above. Doing these things can help your child to feel ready and confident when exam day arrives.