What I’ve Learned About Exam Stress (from getting it all wrong)

how to reduce exam stressAre you wondering how to reduce exam stress for your teen? 

Like so many things in parenting, my tips for dealing with exam stress come from getting this stuff all wrong to begin with.

This Time Last Year: Exam Stress Overload

Flea attended a primary school that didn’t do SATS, so her Year 7 exams were really the first experience she’d ever had of exams.

Just before summer half-term, Flea came home with a booklet of exam tips. The children were advised to spend six hours a day revising for exams.

I must confess, I raised my eyes at that one. I’m not sure I spent six hours a day revising until I was doing my finals. But I wanted Flea to do well, so…

I helped Flea draw up a 10 day revision schedule for the holidays. Each day was split into 90-minute blocks, and allocated a subject. We pored through Flea’s books, identifying topics, adding them to the schedule.

The schedule allowed for one day off, which Flea spent with her friends. I also built in a couple of longer days, to offset some afternoons off and try to reduce exam stress.

But apart from that, Flea sat at her desk each day, making flashcards, doing quizzes and writing notes. I felt like the key to helping her do well was ensuring she was prepared.

Well… not quite.

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

By the time Flea went back to school she was so stressed and nervous, she could barely function.

The stress of the whole thing wound up making Flea forget essential kit for her Maths exam. She’d revised the wrong topics for Computer Science. She forgot huge swathes of information in her science exams.

Although most of her results were okay, some of them were flat out terrible. And honestly? I think it was my fault. I made those exams feel like a HUGE deal, when really they were just a litmus test for the school to see how the kids were faring.

When exams have that sort of build-up, there’s no point telling children that the results don’t matter. Because they feel HUGE.

I’ve never seen Flea more emotional than she was in that period. The resulting loss of confidence was catastrophic. Although it wasn’t the whole issue, those exams were a big part of why she ended up leaving that school not even two terms later.

So yeah, I definitely didn’t handle THAT parenting challenge perfectly.

exam stress tips for parents teens

What I’m Doing Differently This Year

This year, Flea will have end of year exams again at her new school. It’s the same idea – a week of exams, covering all her key subjects.

Here’s what we’re doing differently to reduce exam stress:

First up, there will be no week of solid revision before the exams.

We’re going on holiday to France. Flea’s bringing along her bestie, so there will be no time to hit the books. She’ll be too busy having a break.

There will be swimming and beaches and sunshine.

Because THAT’S what children need after a long time at school. A break!  I refuse to sacrifice another holiday to exam stress. If Flea wants to study, I suggest she does 30 minutes of reading in the morning, and then has the rest of the day off.

Second, we won’t be cramming.

The exams are still a few weeks away, and I’m advising Flea to do a little bit of revision here and there.

Flea is supposed to do an hour’s homework each night Monday to Friday but there’s rarely that much. So I’m asking her to spend 10 or 15 minutes a day just reading back through a topic, and testing herself.

My instinct is that learning over a longer period is more effective than cramming. And I’m not sure anyone ever learned anything effectively by sitting at a desk all day, every day.

What Really Matters

Here’s what I do know. My girl? She’ll do FINE.

Flea’s a smart girl with a good memory and honestly, she needs a win right now. She needs to regain the confidence she had in primary school that she’s a smart girl and she can do this stuff.

But if she doesn’t? That’s okay too.

Maybe the best way to reduce exam stress is reminding Flea that we love her regardless of exams. And that nobody is ever going to think less of her because of a second year science paper.


3 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned About Exam Stress (from getting it all wrong)”

  1. Good luck to Flea, this years plan sounds perfect. My girls are doing their SATS now and feeling very chilled about them. There has been no hot housing and all they are focusing on is the after party on Thursday. They are 10 years old, that’s what they should be focusing on as far as I’m concerned. Mich x

  2. I think exams are so much pressure on teenagers and parents too. I think it’s difficult to know to how to do right by them, so it sounds like you are doing an amazing job! I guess Flea will figure out the best revising strategy herself as she goes throughout school.

    Kay xx

  3. Six hours revision in year 7?! All three of mine have end of year exams in the same week – year 7, year 9 and year 12. My year 7 is at a girls’ grammar school and even though the exams are only a week away, they were specifically told not to revise in half term, because the school knows just how much pressure intelligent girls can put themselves under. My y9 boy has done an hour a day in half term and I’ve advised my y12 boy to do two hours, although most of the time he hasn’t done that much. We haven’t been on holiday and their friends are all revising anyway, so it’s not like they have any exciting alternatives!

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