Supporting your child with exams
A guide for parents
Most young people in the UK take their most significant exams between Years 10 and 13, depending on their location and the school. Some young people enjoy taking exams while others worry or get stressed and may need help and support. This guide offers advice to parents and carers and how you might be able to help.
Why is this important?
Young people do better academically at school if they are mentally and physically healthy.
Knowing how to deal with situations that might be stressful – like taking exams – equips them with skills vital for long term health and wellbeing, including knowing when to ask for help.
How can I support my child?
Every young person is different and what works for one might not be helpful for another. Here are some things that might be useful:
- Go to any meetings the school invites you to about exams. These can be a great opportunity to learn more about what will happen, and how you can support your child. Feel involved.
- If you have questions about the exams, ask the teachers and not your child.
- Support your child to keep on top of their work, but make sure they take time to rest and have fun too.
- Encourage your child to go outside and not spend too much time on their phone or computer.
- It's OK to be a little worried about exams but if your child appears stressed or anxious, encourage them to talk to their teacher.
The most helpful thing my parent/carer did was to offer me space to talk and communicate.
- Plan something nice and fun for the weekends before, during and after exams – you could invite a friend round, watch a movie or go for a walk. It will help give your child something to look forward to beyond exams.
- Make sure your child is eating and drinking well and getting enough sleep.
What should I do if I'm worried about my child?
It is normal for your child to worry about exams. There may be more of a problem if you notice any of the following:
Changes in behaviour
- Refusing to go to school/college or to engage with studies or revision.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Sudden increase or decrease in appetite.
- Paying less attention to personal hygiene.
- Isolating from others.
Changes in mood
- Unusually tearful or angry.
- Flat, uninterested mood.
- Expressing hopelessness.
- Obvious stress and anxiety about unimportant things.
- Loss of interest in regular hobbies.
If you see any of these signs, your child may need some extra support. This is what you can do:
- Talk to your child’s teachers. It's important that everyone works together to support your child. Ask if they have noticed the same things that are worrying you. You should inform the school if there is anything else going on at home that might be making your child more stressed.
- Talk to your child and ask what is worrying them. Maybe they are scared of failing their exams or running out of time. You can help your child more if you know exactly what the problem is.
- Be positive. Don't let them think that you are worried about the exams or worried about them passing.
- Encourage your child to talk to their teachers. Don't worry if your child prefers talking to their teacher rather than you – it's part of the teacher's job to prepare children for exams.
My child isn’t worried about exams – is that a problem?
No, not necessarily. Some young people enjoy taking exams – the build-up, preparation and completion of exams can be an extremely satisfying experience. Exams are usually a long time in coming, so the relief that they are finally approaching can often neutralise any fears or worries.
The most helpful thing my parent/carer said to me was not to waste energy on events outside of my grasp - control the controllables!
This can obviously quickly change if your child feels a particular exam hasn’t gone well or they run into difficulties whilst revising. Keep a close eye on how they’re doing but avoid trying to make your child worried in the hope it will make them work harder; it’s counterproductive and won’t help anyone.
If your child appears ambivalent about exams and isn’t engaging in the process, it may also be a symptom of anxiety. By opting out and choosing not to revise, they may appear not to care. However, this is probably a defence mechanism to help them manage impending failure; it’s easier to cope with bad grades if you haven’t tried hard.
In this instance:
- Avoid shouting – it’s a waste of time and energy and rarely makes a difference.
- Don’t remind them of the consequences of not taking exams, because, in reality, exams can usually all be re-taken at a later date.
- Approach the situation without judgement - it's not necessarily because they're being 'lazy' or not taking exams seriously. They need reassurance and encouragement not nagging and pressure.
- Contact the school as soon as possible.
What else should I know? Three key things
There are three key things you can remind your child about to help them keep a healthy perspective:
- Remember exams only assess what an individual has learnt. Whilst that’s important, so too are other things like their personality, integrity and how they treat others, none of which will be measured in a standardised exam.
- Doing their best is enough, and once an exam is done, ask how they feel it went. Don’t keep going over it because it won’t change anything. Say well done and let them move on.
- Exams can be tough, but they are soon over. Any stress or worry is short term and manageable, and will soon be in the past. Hang on!
If your child is worried or stressed, they will cope better if you can encourage them to take some or all of the actions in our graphic:
Supporting a child with low mood or depression
Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether your child is being 'moody' or whether they have depression, and it isn't always easy to get the right sort of help.
There are things you can do as a parent or carer and this guide will give you the information and the confidence to help you help your child.
If you have found this useful, you might like to read the rest of our series on Exam Guidance.
Also from the Charlie Waller Trust...
You may also like to take a look at these resources:
It’s never easy when your child is experiencing high levels of anxiety and it can be a difficult time for you as their parent or carer. As well as explaining more about anxiety, this guide gives you and your child practical ideas for how to address this common but upsetting experience.
Asking for help
This short booklet is written for young people to support them when they think they have a problem with their mental health or if they are worried about a friend's mental health.
Supporting a child with low mood or depression
Wellbeing Action Plans
This is our most popular resource to help children and young people stay mentally well. It has lots of ideas for maintaining your wellbeing and can be used again and again. There are two versions of the Wellbeing Action Plan, one for children (designed for Key Stage 2 but also suitable for Key Stage 3), and one for young people (ideal for older secondary school pupils or college students).
Free printed copies of our resources can be ordered via our shop.
Asking for help (young person)
A simple guide for young people to help talk about their feelings.View resource
Featuring useful facts, figures and information, this booklet also contains sources of help and what not to say to people experiencing depressionView resource
Guide to depression for parents and carers
This booklet aims to help recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their childView resource
Guide to depression for parents and carers (Welsh)
This booklet aims to help parents recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their childView resource
Life after lockdown Wellbeing Action Plan
During the coronavirus pandemic, we have all been through enormous change and some of us may experience further uncertainty and change in the coming weeks and monthsView resource
Low mood poster
Poster created in partnership with Bank Workers Charity highlighting common causes of low mood, how to help yourself feel better and information on where to get more help.View resource
Aiming high can sometimes come at a cost. This eight page guide looks at ‘unhealthy perfectionism’ – how to spot it and advice on how to develop effective interventions.View resource
Supporting a child with anxiety
A guide for parents and carers to help understand anxiety more clearly and begin to address it.View resource
Warning signs poster
A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.View resource
Wellbeing Action Plan (child)
A simple, resource to help young people keep themselves well and get them through difficult timesView resource
Was this article helpful?Your feedback helps us create better content so if this article helped, please leave a like below and let others know.
The Charlie Waller Trust
The Charlie Waller Trust is a registered charity in England and Wales 1109984. A company limited by guarantee. Registered company in England and Wales 5447902. Registered address: The Charlie Waller Trust, First Floor, 23 Kingfisher Court, Newbury, Berkshire, RG14 5SJ.
Copyright © 2023 The Charlie Waller Trust. All rights reserved.