What is it?

• Excessive worry about upcoming exams
• Fear of being evaluated
• Apprehension about the consequences
• Experienced by many normal students
• Not mysterious or difficult to understand
• Manageable by following a plan of helpful suggestions

How much stress is normal?

A little bit of stress is good for us. Adrenalin and Cortisol can help students focus and get on with their work. However, there are some students who find stressful situations overwhelming or place too much stress on themselves to gain the perfect results. If students start to give themselves negative messages like: ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m useless’ and ‘I’m going to fail’ then it’s time to start talking to them to find out ways to support them.

What are the signs a child or young person could be struggling?

• Regularly late for school when this is not a previous pattern
• Constant fatigue
• Forgetfulness
• Aches and pains for no apparent reason
• Poor appetite
• Social withdrawal
• Loss of interest in activities
• Increased anxiety and irritability
• “Flying off the handle”
• Speaking in a negative way about themselves
• Increased heart rate
• Migraines/headaches
• Blurred vision
• Dizziness

Who can help?

You can! We need to be honest with students. Exams are important – but they’re not the only way to a successful future. Lots of people achieve success in life without doing well in school exams.

• Encourage them to talk to other people that they trust: e.g. a family member, at school, youth group, arts centre, sports club, your social worker, a friend
• Give them a range of safe websites and leaflets to read. Sometimes it helps to talk to a safe person that they don’t know such as a counsellor at Childline or a support officer on the Young Minds blog.
• Suggest they talk to their family GP – The GP is a confidential health service open to everyone of all ages.
• Ask the school Mental Health Champion for further advice. This may involve ringing a CAMHs support worker for further ideas.

Recommended self-care and management tips?

Teach your pupils the following:-

1. Be prepared
Make sure they know what they are supposed to have learned and that they have all their notes, books and essays to hand. Do they know what format the exam takes and how the marks are allocated? If not, tell them. This can be particularly important with A-level stress and GCSE stress, when there are so many exams, all structured in different ways.

2. Make a plan
Show them visually how to make a revision plan and how to breakdown overwhelming tasks into manageable chunks. Do they need to spend more time on some subjects than others? Ensure they vary the timetable so that they don’t get bored. They can always update the plan, if necessary, as they go along.

3. Know when and where they work best
Remind students that they need to work when they are most alert. We all have slightly different body clocks and different revision styles. Wherever they feel calm and in control is the best place for dealing with exam stress.

4. Take a break
Research states that they can revise for 45 minutes before the brain cannot take in any further detail. Encourage them to build breaks into their timetable to stay refreshed.

5. Eat well
Keeping blood sugar levels steady so that they don’t have energy dips during the day and can sleep well at night is a vital way of dealing with exam stress. Lean protein (chicken), plenty of veg and carbs that release their energy slowly like wholegrain bread, rice and pasta will keep energy levels steady. They need to avoid sweets and biscuits to avoid that sugar dip.

6. Drink well
Keep hydrated with lots of water. Stay away from caffeine and energy drinks.

7. Get exercise
This is probably one of the best ways of dealing with exam stress. Anything from walking the dog to going for a swim, run or bike ride helps reduce physical tension that can lead to aches and pains, and releases natural feel-good brain chemicals. If they can’t get motivated, rope in friends – it’s much harder for them to make excuses.

8. Avoid stimulants
Caffeine, lots of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs can give them the impression that they are somehow dealing with exam stress. However they either slow students down or over stimulate them.

9. Sleep well
Turning screens off 30 minutes before bedtime and relaxing contributes to a better nights sleep. Encouraging students to research how to get a good nights sleep often reveals facts that they didn’t know and contributes to changes in behaviour.

10. Relaxation
Practice breathing and relaxation techniques regularly with students in lessons. See Mindfulness in Schools or Relax Kids for more information.

11. Talk about it with someone
We all find exams stressful. Encourage students to talk about their worries with a good friend, family member, teacher or a student counsellor. Reassure them that this is normal.

12. Reward yourself
Thought shower with them what treats they can build into their timetable. Help them to plan something exciting to celebrate the end of the exams.

13. Keep it in perspective
Ensure that students do not compare answers at the end of exams as they come out of the exam room. There is nothing they can do about it now! Give reassurance and encourage them to think of a positive reward before starting to think about the next exam.

Remind all students that it is good to do well in exams but that they aren’t the only thing that will help them succeed in life. Employers will be equally interested in other things, like their attitude, work-rate or ability to get on with others.

Services available

Pastoral Team in school
Discussion with parent
School nurse
School Mental Health Champion for a discussion with CAMHs
School interventions such as Circle of Friends, Mindfulness in Schools

ChildLine is the UK’s free, confidential helpline for children and young people. We’re here for advice and support, by phone and online, 24 hours a day. Whenever and wherever you need us, we’ll be there. • Phone: 0800 1111 (24 hours) • Website: www.childline.org.uk

Young Minds – For children and young people
We offer information to young people and children about mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Mind How to cope with student life: Exams
14 Ways to beat exam stress

Are they going to College or Uni? Try the Emoodji app.
Emoodji by Mind is a free app for the ups & downs of university life, from exam stress & homesickness to the joys of last exams done! Take a selfie, choose an emoji for your mood, maybe send it to friends – and track your mood over time

BBC Website Exam stress

13 Tips on how to deal with exam stress
How to deal with exam stress
Childline Leaflet: Beat Exam Stress
Childline – Beat exam stress

See Rise above – Exams! for advice from Snoochie Shy on dealing with exam stress and her de-stress and re-focus mix.

Mindfulness in Schools

Relax Kids
Regular relaxation at school or in dedicated settings can help improve a child’s lifestyle and encourage them to be positive, focussed and in control of their feelings.