Exam stress

Writing in notebook

If your teen is studying for, or in the middle of writing exams right now, then you may be interested in reading about how to make this period of time less stressful for everyone, but especially for your son or daughter.

First, I’d like to normalize the stress and anxiety that is bound to occur. In fact, some anxiety while studying and writing exams is not a bad thing. An increase in adrenaline can help one be on higher alert and often, perform better. Its when the anxiety becomes debilitating that there’s cause for concern. In that case, or if your teen struggles with extreme test or exam taking anxiety, the school may be willing to make accommodations for them.

One of the ways you can suggest that your teen reduce their anxiety is by preparing and planning well. Creating a study time table can often alleviate the extra stress of figuring out, in the heat of battle, what needs to be prepared for next. If this is done in advance, before they have a million bits of information already swirling around in their heads, they can just follow their own good direction. In addition, preparing their notes for study, by highlighting or using sticky notes, can also help.

As parents we can help considerably too, mostly by removing other pressures and responsibilities off their plate. So, for example, if you typically expect that they take out the garbage or do their own laundry, how about offering to take care of it for them during this period of time? Perhaps even go that extra mile by offering to prepare meals or snacks that they may typically take care of on their own? Let them know that you’re doing this so that all they have to take care of is their personal hygiene and focussing on studying and writing their exams.

Another form of pressure that we sometimes unintentionally impose on our children is academic. I get that we live in a highly competitive world and that we’re afraid that if our children aren’t academically successful, that they may be left behind or not get where they want to be. However, keep in mind that there is no guarantee that academic success in high school, for example, means success in later life – whether that’s related to career or general happiness or satisfaction. So, try not to focus all your energy on the end grade – but rather focus on the process – the hard work your teen is putting into studying, their strong work ethic, their ability to keep focussed without being distracted. Also, help your teen work towards their personal best. Its difficult not to compare one’s grade to others, but everyone has different strengths and so comparing oneself, as well as trying to live up to the expectations of others, is not a good thing.

Also, help your teen recognize that studying for shorter periods (45 minutes, for example) with more focussed attention, rather than pushing themselves to study for 2 hours, for example, with waning attention, leads to being more productive. Since technology, in particular, is a big form of distraction, taking breaks every 45 minutes to check their phones may be a “reward” after focussed attention. Better yet, if your teen buys into it, help them realize the benefits of clearing their heads by heading outside to breathe in some fresh air instead or playing with a pet, or even popping bubble wrap, both of which have been found to reduce stress.

Although teens typically don’t get enough sleep, this is a time to get as much rest as possible. Sleep helps to consolidate what they’ve learnt and also helps them be more alert the following day for studying or writing an exam.

And finally, if your teen is interested or willing, plan something fun to do after their last exam is written. Celebrate the beginning of time off from school, a chance to rejuvenate and rest their brains – and yours, too!