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Exam stress and how it affects teachers - and parents

22 May 2017

It’s normal to assume that the only people getting stressed at exam time are the pupils. And it’s a fair point; they are the ones who have been revising like mad for the last few weeks. It’s the students who have to walk into that vast, intimidating hall and try by any means to get the jumble of facts, dates, statistics and general information out of their head and onto the exam paper. The pressure on our young people is growing each year as testing and examinations become more rigorous and increasingly frequent.

But exam stress also affects teachers and parents and often in very different ways.


There’s plenty of media attention about how stress affects students at this busy time, but what can teachers do to support their pupils while keeping their own stress levels down? It’s too easy to just reinforce general positive wellbeing tips. But, it’s probably the advice you’re giving you own pupils during the exam season, and they are the foundation to keeping your stress levels balanced. So, eat well, try to unwind after work – even when your days are stretched out beyond your normal work hours – and try your best to get a decent night’s sleep.
The great thing about teaching is that you are all going through the same experience at the same time, so seek out your fellow teachers, grab a coffee and take a chance to talk and listen to each other’s experiences. Staff rooms may have a ‘bunker’ mentality during the exam season so stick together and support each other by drawing on your shared experiences and sharing your strengths as a team.

What can teachers do to help?

You can build on your experiences of taking exams, and you’re a teacher, so you probably had to take quite a few of them!

  • Try to remember what you did during your exam years, what were your most successful coping strategies?
  • How did you manage your revision planning?
  • How did you get to sleep when you were worried about your exams?
  • How did you manage your relationship with your parent’s expectations?

Being prepared for all eventualities is important too, so as well as offering positive advice to your pupils, reassure them that there is life after exams – for you too! – and reassure them that should things not go well; they will get the support and help they need.


As always, TES offers some great resources and hints and tips for getting through the exam period with your nerves intact and your blood pressure at a safe level. There are also plenty of resources that you can download and use in your classroom, and the Guardian has numerous articles that may also be useful.

How to teach…coping with exam stress
How to teach revision
Mindfulness Exercises


You are probably a seasoned veteran at dealing with anxious parents at exam time, and you may be one yourself. Most parents are eager to see their children succeed and sometimes unintentionally pass this stress onto them. Sometimes this desire for exam success by a parent may surface by nagging or even arguing with their kids when it is more about how much they care for them. Some stress can be a great motivation, but parents need to resist the urge to nag and possibly exacerbate an already overwhelmed child.

So what can parents do to help?
  • Keep a sense of perspective during the exam seasons and remember that exams are part of the process of education and not the end of it.
  • Encourage their children to remain focused and committed to their exams but keep a keen sense of perspective should things not turn out the way they want them.
  • Let children revise in the way that suits them. If they can only revise by sitting in the middle of the room covered in paper and with books strewn around, don’t try to get them to tidy up and sit at a desk just because this is the way they revised.
  • Have faith that children know what’s best for them, offer them encouragement and help if they want it. As with so many things in life, communication is the key so if they want to talk, let them talk, if they want to listen, let them listen.
  • Allow a child to take full control of their revision timetable – the last thing you want is for your child to feel helpless at such an important time in their lives


The Guardian has some excellent revision resources for parents here.
Exam Stress: A revision guide for the anxious
How to exam proof your teenager's bedroom

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