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With GSCE and A-level exams approaching, stress levels and anxiety for pupils and the people around them, may start to rise. Our Wellbeing team embeds practices that are based on education and awareness, prevention and therapeutic support, and our Wellbeing hub is where pupils can go to emotionally regulate and to seek help when needed. As part of our service, we want to share some useful information and tips to help support pupils, their families, and friends with ways to cope during exam season.

To start off, let’s briefly discuss what anxiety is. Anxiety is a normal human response when we feel threatened or unsafe. According to mental health charity Mind, our body experiences anxiety through our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. When you worry or fear that something bad “could happen” in the future, you can often feel anxious.

School exams can feel threatening and scary because the results could impact academic progression: a bad result can lead to unwanted consequences, such as not getting a place at your first choice of university. The best approach to combat fear is to talk about exam nerves openly and with a positive attitude – these feelings are normal, and some anxiety is expected.

Avoid talking about the impact exams could have on the future because this may add to the pressure and increase anxiety levels. Providing emotional support by offering words of encouragement, reassurance about their abilities, and praise for working hard and completing the exams is beneficial.

Practicing anxiety management techniques before exam time can also be a big help so that when anxious thoughts take hold it’s useful to have coping strategies in place.

Here are a few techniques to practice at home together:

  • Pause and take 10 deep breaths.
  • Say a positive message before, during and after an exam e.g. “I can do this. I’ve studied for it.”
  • Take time to remember other parts of life that are going well.

Some other practical tips for families to consider include:

  • During revision time, encourage regular breaks and limit digital screen time.
  • Allow time and space to talk and listen – check-in on feelings and thoughts.
  • Validate feelings and only offer to give advice if they explicitly ask for it.

Leading up to exams, it’s important to ensure home life is as calm and relaxing as possible.

  • Minimise noise and other distractions at home.
  • Being well rested and having an early night before an exam is essential.
  • Avoid committing to other non-essential external activities so there is enough time for revision without cramming.
  • Provide healthy meals and avoid energy drinks as their ingredients can exacerbate physical symptoms of anxiety.

After an exam try to focus on the positives – find out what went well, remind them that no matter what the results are you are still proud of them or offer to spend time with them doing something they enjoy.

As previously mentioned, anxiety is normal and in small doses, it can be managed. If anxious feelings last for a long time and it’s having a negative impact on daily life, we recommend seeking advice from a GP or mental health professional. At Highgate, we can offer one to one support to address any mental health and wellbeing concerns pupils may have. Pupils can speak with their Heads of House, Heads of Section, as well as our Wellbeing Practitioners or School Counsellors.

For any concerns, help or advice please contact us at: wellbeingsupport@highgateschoolschool.org.uk

About the author
Janelle Budinski, Wellbeing Practitioner
Janelle is based in the Health and Wellbeing team at the Senior School. Before Highgate she lived in Canada, where she co-created an art based programme for children on how to prepare for adulthood, with Family Futures Resource Network. When she’s feeling stressed, you can find her strumming her guitar or singing karaoke.