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exam time

How to Help Your Teen Through Exams

Exam time is upon us again –  ALREADY! #eek!

As a parent it can be difficult to watch your child going through exam stress – any stress  – but exam stress has an extra set of flavours to it. There are fears attached to exam stress that are unique and come together in a most unpleasant cocktail – the fear of failure, of their teachers’ criticism, their examiners’ criticism, of not achieving a dreamt of future, of falling behind peers.

And the fear of disappointing you, their parents.

With that in mind I thought it might be helpful to share some ‘Do and Don’t’ tips with you. They are evidence-based and doable,  and my sincere hope is that they will help you support your teenager (and maybe yourself too!!)

Countdown to exams Do’s and Don’t’s:


1. Encourage your son/daughter to stick to their routine (studying, sleeping, eating) – now is not the time to make big changes, to anything.

2. Suggest they use summary cards to whittle down notes to key points. Some schools teach this, some don’t. I think it’s best not to make assumptions! (If they’re dyslexic it’s even better if you use yellow cards with red pen apparently).

3. Make sure they eat – unfortunately, girls in particular will be thinking about their beach body for the post exam splurge. Monitor this as best you can and be the voice that challenges the “be-thin-at-all-costs” mantra.

4. Encourage them to sleep. They’ll be tempted to pull all nighters – you may have done it yourself?? ( #GuiltyAsCharged!) Understandable but ineffective. We need to have slept well to be able to reproduce learned material well and this fact is easily forgotten or ignored by a stressed young brain!

5. Get them out in the air. This is super important – even though it might trigger an argument. If they complain of being too tired, explain that they may be experiencing study induced inertia. If they get out they’ll notice their energy level will come back up. It will. It might help to go with them – have a walk, a run, a rant, a giggle! All conscious and temporary distraction is good.

6. Create space for them to talk if (when) they are stressed. Even if it’s not to you. Remind them to choose someone who will actually listen and be helpful.

7. Remind them to take a lot of breaks.

8. Encourage them to study at a desk if possible, not in bed, or on a couch. (I have reasons for this but am trying to keep it short).

9. This might sound odd but  also encourage them to wear the same perfume/ aftershave/ deodorant studying as when taking your exams (as above).

10. Teach them to visualise themselves succeeding. Mental rehearsal works (yes, there’s proof of that too!)

exam time


1: Let them (insofar as this is something you can actually control!!) over-do caffeine or vitamin supplements that they’re not used to just because they heard or read somewhere that they help concentration.

2: Warn them about study drugs that people are trying to sell off to students. All they care about is money (goes for all drugs, but I digress…) and we now know that the side effects can actually damage cognitive performance.

3: Don’t expose them to relatives or adults who are pressuring them (as opposed to encouraging you) to perform well. They may well have their own regrets and are now foisting them on your child. If you’ve realised that you do this yourself it’s not too late to stop!!

6: Don’t talk to your friends  who have kids in the same class before the exams if there’s a chance it will make you, and possibly as a result your child,  anxious. It’s OK to avoid people now unless they’re supportive and calming.

Actually, that’s always ok. That’s not just an exam tip 😉

7. Avoid chats, FB threads and parents/students who are panicking and negative and lying about how much work their kids have done and encourage your child to do the same. (“He still hasn’t opened a BOOK!!” –  you know the ones….!!)

8. Remind your teen to keep having fun – So TV shows, Netflix, music,  socialising – all the things that make them laugh or feel good, they need to keep doing them. And do them as a family too! Your teen really needs to feel a part of something supportive now. And they need to know that even when they are craaazy with stress that you still like and want to spend time with them. (You do, right??;))

Just watch the screen time late at night and remember our brains need screen time rest for 30 mins before sleepyweepy time. Especially a brain that has exams coming!

Sleepyweepy time!

Good luck to all – and if you have tips that I haven’t thought of please do add them below!

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
Feel free to follow Sally on: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin


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