- Be sure to get enough sleep
- Eat well before an exam
- Do practice exams
- Talk about their nerves
- Try teaching others
- Request extra time
- When to seek professional help for exam anxiety
Most students will experience anxiety around exams at some point. In fact, according to a study published by the British Psychological Society, 80% of young people have felt that exam pressure negatively impacted their mental health. Exam anxiety can feel like an unavoidable part of schooling, impacting students from primary school all the way up to A-Levels.
There are many reasons students can have exam anxiety, such as fear of failure, not understanding the material, or overwhelming pressure to perform. Though exam anxiety may feel unrelenting, there are many ways to help alleviate that anxiety. We’re here to show you some of our best tips for getting rid of pre-test nerves and setting your student up for confidence and success.
Be sure to get enough sleep
As you likely know all too well, everything feels so much worse when you’re overtired! Lack of sleep can often make negative emotions like anxiety feel insurmountable. More than that, lack of sleep significantly impacts cognitive function, making it much harder to recall information and focus on a task at hand. In short, not getting enough sleep is bad for your anxiety and your test-taking abilities.
It’s important that students get enough sleep the night before an exam. Whether it’s a basic spelling test or GCSE’s, adequate rest is essential. How many hours does your child need to be well-rested, though?
The amount of sleep needed varies from age to age. Primary school students (ages 6-12) need 9-12 hours of sleep per night. Once your child reaches their teenage years, their sleep needs don’t change too much, still requiring 8-10 hours a night–yet studies have found that 90% of British teens don’t get adequate rest every night!
However, there are things you can do to ensure your child gets adequate rest the night before a big exam. Limit your child’s screen time as best you can. If you have a teen who’s very attached to their phone, encourage them to leave it in the living room or kitchen a night before an exam.
Anxiety can make it difficult to get shut-eye. If your child’s worries are keeping them up the night before a big test, do what you can to help quiet their mind so they can rest. Younger kids may want to sleep in your bed with you or have a special toy with them to feel safe. To help your teen, encourage them to practice breathwork or meditation to help quiet their minds.
Eat well before an exam
There are few things more distracting than a tummy grumbling from hunger! Eating well before an exam is an essential part of ensuring success. Your student’s body needs fuel to focus and help their brain work as best it can.
If you’re seeking an extra jolt of brainpower for your student, these foods that are proven to have brain-boosting abilities:
- Whole grains provide the kind of complex carbohydrates needed for ideal brain function.
- Omega - 3 is a complex fatty acid that helps increase brain function as well. You can find it in foods like salmon, olive oil, soybeans, chia seeds, and walnuts.
- Berries are rich in gallic acid, an important antioxidant. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries–really any kind of berry gives you a great gallic acid boost!
- Eating your veggies is important for exam prep, too! Leafy greens like spinach and kale are full of Vitamin K, which helps the brain’s neuropathways thrive.
- Dark chocolate is a yummy treat that also packs an antioxidant punch.
These are some of the best foods to improve brain function. However, it’s most important to just eat something before an exam. Anxiety can make it difficult to stomach food. If your child is really anxious, encourage them to have small bites of bread or crackers, and to try a cup of hot tea. While caffeine can help your child stay alert, encourage them to limit their coffee or energy drink intake the morning of an exam. Too much caffeine can only exacerbate anxiety.
Do practice exams
Practice makes perfect, and that often applies to exams, too! For many students, it’s not knowing what will be on an exam that makes it so stressful. This is particularly true for standardised tests like GCSEs or A-Levels.
Practice tests are a great way to help students feel more comfortable going into an exam. Rather than just simply studying and memorising, which is often a passive activity, practice tests force students to actively engage with the material and see where the gaps in their knowledge are. Practice tests also help familarise students with a test format, which can help them feel more prepared and in turn reduce nerves.
Your child’s school may offer practice tests before big exams like GCSEs, and teachers can be a great resource to direct your child to further practice exam opportunities. Test-prep books with practice exams can also be found at many bookstores and online. However, if your child is seeking more individualised help for a practice exam, a tutor can provide customised support to help your student feel more secure in their ability to do well on an exam.
GoStudent’s world-class tutors utilise our innovative online learning platform to help students ace their practice exams and feel more prepared for the real thing.
Talk about their nerves
Your child may be so anxious and overwhelmed about their upcoming exam that they don’t want to talk about it. However, talking about it is one of the most important (and easiest!) ways to cope with anxiety.
Start a conversation with your child about their exam anxiety. If they’re concerned about GCSE’s or A-Levels, they likely feel the pressure of performing well to be set up for a good future. This is a lot for a teenager to bear! When talking with your child about their exam anxiety, let them know that you are there to support them no matter what. Come up with an action plan together to help alleviate some of their test anxiety, such as tutoring, practice exams, and a study schedule.
You can also encourage your student to speak with someone else about their exam worries. An older sibling, cousin, or friend who has recently been through the same exams can help provide some perspective. Peers and classmates can also be helpful to talk to–knowing they aren’t alone in their anxieties is a great relief.
Try teaching others
Though your student’s exam anxiety may be all they can think about, it can be helpful to remember that they’ve made it through school this far! Even if your child feels like they don’t know enough to do well on their exam, they have plenty of knowledge they can pass on to others. Becoming a tutor can be an enriching, motivating, and empowering activity. It can also help your child gain perspective, and realise that they are smart and knowledgeable, giving them the confidence they need to do well on their exam. GoStudent is always looking for passionate new tutors to join the team–why not check it out?
Request extra time
If your student is worried they won’t have enough time to complete their exam, requesting extra time can be a solution. Some teachers and schools will grant extra time to students upon request if they are anxious about finishing an exam in time. Extra time is mandated for students with certain learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD. However, tests administered by the government, including GSCEs, may require specific documentation to allow students to have extra time.
At the beginning of the school year, speak with your child’s teachers and other school officials to ensure all the proper documentation is on file so that when test time comes around, your student will get the accommodations they need.
When to seek professional help for exam anxiety
Exam anxiety is normal, and something most students encounter at least once throughout their schooling. However, persistent, all-encompassing anxiety requires extra care.
If your child’s anxiety extends outside just schooling or isn’t alleviated by any of the methods outlined above, enlisting professional help can be crucial. How can you tell if your child’s anxiety is normal or requires treatment, though?
Signs of an anxiety disorder, such as general anxiety disorder, can include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Extreme self-consciousness or sensitivity to criticism
- Withdrawl from socialising with friends
- Frequent stomachs or headaches
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Repeated reassurance-seeking
- Substance abuse
- Sudden fits of rage
If your child is frequently exhibiting any of these signs, they may be living with an anxiety disorder. If you suspect that’s the case, start by talking with your child. Let them know you can tell they are feeling stressed and anxious, and that you want to help them. They may not even realise that how they feel is abnormal or something that can be fixed.
Your child may be apprehensive to get professional help, but remind them that getting help is what they need to feel better. If you’re unsure where to go, your child’s school counsellor or GP can help put you in touch with a qualified professional. Treatment can include talk therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or in some cases, medication.
Exam anxiety is normal. However, it’s something that can be alleviated. With a little preparation, focus, and help, your child can feel ready to take on the world–or at least their GCSEs.