Student Stress and Exam Season

There’s no getting away from it. If you’re the parent of a teenager who’s approaching GCSEs, you’re probably in for a bit of a torrid time! Student stress and anxiety will be having a moment in the spotlight. As a full-time private tutor, it’s fair to say I witness numerous Jekyll and Hyde scenarios each year!

If your son or daughter is already prone to ‘Kevin the Teenager’ moments, the well-worn phrase, “You ain’t seen nothing yet” springs to mind!

If, on the other hand, your usually bubbly teen suddenly becomes quiet and withdrawn, that can be even more cause for concern.

For most of us, school exams are in the dim and distant past. And yet, we can still remember the fretting, the cramming and the so nervous you felt sick and dizzy moments far too clearly!

So, what exactly, as parents, are we to do?

There are no firm rights and wrongs to this because every home and every child is different. Here are a few of the themes that have proven to be successful when it comes to GCSE revision, exams and all that goes with it.

Firstly, it isn’t going to last forever. When compared to the tantrum-throwing years in most households, this is a momentary blip!

Secondly, you’re going to have to bite your tongue. I know, it probably goes against the grain, but you may need to lose in order to win…

Because they’re under so much perceived pressure, they can think the whole world’s against them. And who bears the brunt of that? Yes, the dutiful and loving parents!

You’ll notice I said perceived pressure. Some of it will undoubtedly be real. They’ll have fallen behind, or they may know that there are topics or even whole swathes of learning that just haven’t ‘stuck’. Therefore, they know their chances of recalling this information accurately, is diminished at best. This is a very real fear and one that takes a great deal of focus and commitment to overcome at this late stage.

Or, and I’ve had personal experience of this, everyone else is stressed and so they’re stressed. And so ensues a bizarre game of one-upmanship. Mystery illnesses, trips to the doctor, falling asleep in school, the list goes on and on. Most of our cherubs don’t even realise they’re being sucked into this tornado of emotion, not that it helps.

My advice when dealing with any stressed student, especially at GCSE and A Level time, is to give them space. They need to know you care, obviously. Yet, they’ll often push back disproportionately if they feel in any way smothered.

If you haven’t guessed, it’s a genuine case of not being able to do right for doing wrong!

And with that in mind, remembering this is indeed a blip, and something you’ll laugh about when the (hopefully) successful results are published. Life will quickly settle before the next drama ramps up. We know it’s going to happen. We were all teenage and painful once upon a time.

There’s more to say on this which I’ll come back to another day soon but for now, I’ll leave you with this thought.

We want our children to succeed and to be happy more than anything else in the world. Of course we do, It’s a natural part of parenting. And yet, the exams and their outcomes, are not the end of the world. This isn’t life or death and there are many bigger challenges ahead. If this exam season ends in (again, hopefully short-lived) tears and recriminations, there’s always a second chance.

So, when trying your absolute best not to admonish your teenager in the midst of their student stress and angst, just remember that you’re the voice of reason. Of perspective. It might be uninvited, unwanted and unwelcome, but you are the Gandalf to their Frodo.

It’s fun being a parent isn’t it?!




Muhammad Ali is an Islington-based private tutor who has successfully helped hundreds of students to maximise their academic potential.