Exam Stress Is Rife In Kids This Year. Here Are The Signs To Look Out For

This year's pupils are the most "anxious and stressed out" exam cohort ever seen, apparently.
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Exam season is well under way – and this year seems to be far more stressful for lots of kids sitting tests.

It’s got so bad that year 6 pupils were reportedly left in tears recently because their SATs exams were so difficult, which schools minister Nick Gibb has since promised to look into.

And it isn’t just 11-12 year-olds who are feeling the strain. Across the board, this year’s school pupils are the most “anxious and stressed out” exam cohort ever seen, according to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

It’s part of a growing trend witnessed since the pandemic. In 2022, 82% of headteachers reported stress and anxiety among students to be higher than pre-pandemic, while 78% received more requests for students to take exams away from the main exam hall.

What are the signs of exam stress?

Stress can manifest in physical, mental and emotional ways and affect behaviour. If it’s impacting your child or teen, they might struggle with:

  • An upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Being irritable
  • Low mood
  • Lack of communication

What can you do if your child is struggling with exam stress?

Talk it through

The key thing is for parents to talk to their kids to get to the bottom of what exactly is causing their stress, according to Iain Kilpatrick, headteacher of Sidcot Independent School in Somerset.

In some cases, the issue could be something that can be addressed by working with the support of the school. Sometimes, special arrangements might be the solution to help students feel more comfortable and supported.

If they’re not opening up, talk to them about school in general like how friends are getting on or any sports/academics clubs they enjoy – taking the pressure off can be a welcome break and it can even make them more likely to talk about their experiences, adds the teacher.

Create a calm environment for revising

Creating a peaceful environment at home – aka no distractions such as loud music or television – will help your child focus better on their studies.

As part of this you might also want to help them plan their revision schedule, and make sure they have enough time to focus on each subject.

Encourage regular study breaks

We all know that if we don’t take breaks at work, it can lead to reduced productivity and focus – the same goes for your child’s revision.

Encourage them to take regular breaks to rest their mind and recharge their batteries. Suggest activities they enjoy (from walking to TikTok scrolling) and work that into their schedule.

Provide healthy meals

One of the biggest ways you can help your child is to keep them topped up with brain-boosting meals during exam season, as this can help them to de-stress and sleep better.

Snack foods also have their place in the mix – providing them in moderation can be a great incentive to structure revision around, says Kilpatrick. Staying well-hydrated is also key.

Encourage physical activity

Likewise, encourage them to get moving as exercise can be hugely beneficial for reducing stress and increasing energy. Perhaps you could offer to go on a bike ride with them, or for a walk?

Try mindfulness exercises

Studies have found that mindfulness exercises can reduce stress and increase students’ ability to stay engaged, which can help support their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Some examples include body scan meditation, the 5-4-3-2-1 technique and deep breathing exercises. Mindfulness exercises can even be practised in school before exams to help students de-stress.

Celebrate their efforts

Revision can often feel like a thankless task which is why it’s important to recognise and celebrate your child’s hard work and effort throughout the exam season, says Kilpatrick.

Praise can be a great mood-booster, so celebrate their efforts whenever you can.