Help your kids revise and reduce exam stress with these expert tips

Try to create a stress-free environment for your child to revise in (Picture: Getty Images)

During the Easter holidays, young people across the country will be preparing for their upcoming exams.

GCSEs and A Levels are scheduled for May and June this year, while Scottish Highers and National 5 tests will begin at the end of this month.

With the spectre of the exam hall looming large, this peak time for revision can be stressful for students.

Pressure to meet the expectations of parents and teachers is compounded by anxiety around not performing to their own standards. Results day narratives don’t help either, putting kids’ future life successes down to a few brief hours in front of an invigilator.

While we as adults know that this isn’t true, it can be hard for a parent to bridge the gap between reducing stress and prioritising study. Downplaying the importance of good results may demotivate your child, yet forcing them to revise doesn’t help anybody.

Dr Clare Daly, educational psychologist for affordable tutoring platform Swotties, has shared her tips for parent and carers to reduce academic stress during exam time.

Regardless of the scores they end up getting, your child will be feeling in control once they turn over that paper – and ready to give it their best shot.

Channel your inner Labrador

Clare tells ‘There’s no doubting that today’s teens have a lot on their plates. Not only have they lived through a global pandemic that caused massive educational disruption, but the war in Ukraine has also taken a toll.

‘And with exams back on this Summer for the first time in two years it’s no wonder that head teachers are reporting a huge rise in anxiety.’

College students moving around man at desk in classroom

It’s tough when it seems like so much of a young person’s life hinges on their exam results (Picture: Getty Images)

She advises adopting a positive and light attitude, and keeping expectations for your child realistic.

‘Let them know you love them whatever grades they get,’ adds Clare. ‘Channel your inner support animal – maybe a positive, bouncy happy Labrador who encourages fun and doesn’t nag.’

Highlighters to the ready

To help your child get the most out of their studying time this Easter, try creating a revision schedule with them.

Block out time when there are non-academic events planned with a highlighter. This means you’re all on the same page about when they’re studying or out, and work and social time are clearly delineated.

‘When they know what free time they have, they can then allocate time to study for each exam,’ says Clare.

She adds: ‘Subconsciously we often spend more time studying the subjects we prefer but it’s important to give all subjects roughly the same amount of revision time.’

Forget cheese, say tomato

Clare says: ‘Whatever you do, don’t expect your child to study all day, every day – it’s completely unrealistic and totally counterproductive.

‘The brain needs a break to embed all the things you study so that you can remember it later. It is absolutely ok to take breaks to do something fun like shopping with a friend or footie in the park – in fact, it is to be encouraged.’

She recommends the ‘Pomodoro’ (tomato) Technique to revise smarter but not harder.

This involves choosing a task, working on it ‘with 100% focus’ for 25 minutes (using a timer), then going on a five-minute break. Every four Pomodoros, they should then take a longer break of between 15 and 30 minutes.

African teen girl rubbing eyes tired from computer holding glasses

A revision schedule should have time for socialising and fun as well as study (Picture: Getty)

‘Research tells us that most people struggle to pay attention for more than 25 minutes,’ says Clare. ‘So this method of studying is considered the most effective for brain retention.’

She adds: ‘As a busy psychologist, I still use this approach now when I have got lots of tasks to complete – I like to use my tomato timer, which might make a fun gift for your teen.’

Get specific

Broad directions can make a task more daunting, sometimes to the point that it feels insurmountable.

To remedy this, Clare says: ‘Instead of writing “Revise Maths” in their study schedule, encourage your child to be more specific and write “revise and practice equations outlined in class notes page 3”.

‘Remind them to tick them off when they are done – ticking things off will make them feel more positive about their progress (and a set of new pens is another good gift idea for your revising teen).


Teenagers aren’t known for their get-up-and-go, but doing just that could impact their mental wellbeing as well as physical.

Clare says: ‘The most tried and trusted method to help with both is regular exercise.

‘This helps by pumping blood around the body faster which provides the brain with much-needed oxygen and increased oxygen increases energy and productivity.’

Clare recommends encouraging walks outside in nature, as well as other sports they’ve shown an interest in, cutting stress and giving your child a motivation boost for revision.

What to do if your teen isn’t revising? Nothing

Clare says: ‘I see so many students who have been hot-housed and pushed by their parents throughout their school life and just can’t cope when they are on their own at college, with no one to “make” them study or plan their study for them.

‘I sometimes ask parents, “Are you going to sit beside them in the examination hall too?”‘

Trust is key for helping your teen become a rounded and responsible adult, and as Clare adds, ‘if you badger them to revise, chances are it will have the opposite effect.’

Try to avoid ‘helicopter parent’ behaviours and let them be the driving force in their efforts.

To do this, Clare advises: ‘Be there for help if it’s asked for: dog walks, preparing a favourite lunch or snack as a treat, and encouraging them to take a break and see their pals.

‘Not as Chief Nag – as this will just amp up the exam anxiety!’

And of course, be ready and waiting with a celebratory/consolation hug once results day rolls around.

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