Preparing for Exams

Exam stress: Tips for the anxious

Thousands of pupils across England are about to start their GCSE exams, marking the beginning of what can often be a stressful and anxious time for teenagers and parents alike.


Nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens recommends making breakfast the most important meal of the day, filling up on energy-giving oats and eggs, which contain a nutrient called choline – thought to help cognitive performance and improve memory as we age.

As for revision snacks, consultant Dr Alex Richardson recommends popcorn over crisps as it is higher in fibre, so releases energy more slowly, and is lower in calories.

Make sure your child is well hydrated, as mild dehydration can lead to tiredness, headaches and diminished concentration.

The European Food Safety Authority recommends eight to 10 glasses a day, but sparkling water still counts, and can be made less boring by adding lemon, lime, cucumber or mint.

Research has suggested students who take water into the exam hall may even improve their grades.


It won’t come as a surprise to parents that teenagers need (and like) a lot of sleep. In fact, they need eight to nine hours a night.

But exam season can see priorities change.

Lisa Artis from the Sleep Council argues a good night’s sleep is more beneficial than doing last-minute revision into the early hours.

“When you sleep well, you function and perform better, and your memory is better, meaning you retain what you have revised,” she said.

For those too nervous to sleep, Lisa says the hour before bed time is crucial.

“Have a good routine before bed. Relaxing properly will help sleep when you’re stressed or anxious. Avoid screen time – including television – and get off social media.”


Parenting coach Anita Cleare says it’s important to “find ways of being supportive without being imposing”.

“They know the exams are important. Us ramping up the pressure is not going to help,” she said.

While some parents may opt for large rewards, pending results, Anita suggested smaller rewards throughout the process.

“These can be little things like a takeaway or a trip to the cinema after a certain number of hours of revision.

Clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew has been advising a lot of concerned parents in recent months.

“I tell them to look after their teenagers almost as if you would a younger child. You have got to nurture them through this time,” she says.

This can be anything from preparing their favourite dinners to offering to run them a bath.

“Give them permission to take a break from revision in between working hard.”

Dr Andrew suggests writing a weekly revision timetable, with scheduled gaps for socialising or exercise.

“A moderate level of anxiety will help us perform, but beyond that, we start to be impaired by it.”

Laura Lea BBC 2016