Exam stress overwhelming for thousands of children

Thousands of young people are turning to Childline for help as they struggle to cope with the pressure of exam stress

Boy in bedroomChildline delivered 3,135 counselling sessions on exam stress in 2016/17 – a rise of 11% over the past 2 years.

1 in 5 of these took place in May as pupils faced upcoming exams with many telling counsellors they were struggling with subjects, excessive workloads and feeling unprepared.

12-15 year olds were most likely to be counselled about exam stress but this year saw the biggest rise - up 21% on 2015/16 - amongst 16-18 year olds, many of whom will have been preparing for A-levels to determine university places.

"I am about to take my GCSEs and I am under so much pressure as my parents are expecting me to do really well. I am going to revision classes and trying really hard but I feel like it is not good enough for them. My parents don't allow me to do anything else apart from revision and if I try and talk to them it always ends up in an argument."
Childline caller

Effects of exam stress

Young people contacting Childline have told us that exam stress can lead to:

    • depression and anxiety
    • panic attacks
    • low self-esteem
    • self-harming and suicidal thoughts
    • worsening of pre-existing mental health conditions.

Helping children and young people cope with exams

Childline advises that young people:

  • take regular breaks from revising and do some exercise
  • go to bed at a reasonable time and try and get some sleep
  • try to think positively – even if you don't feel like it, a positive attitude will help you during your revision
  • take some water into the test with you if you can — keeping hydrated by drinking water will help you concentrate.

Find more information about beating exam stress and revision, or visit the Childline YouTube channel to watch our series of videos on coping with exams.

Children and young people can also call Childline's free confidential helpline on 0800 1111 or get support from a counsellor online through 1-2-1 chat.

Tips for parents

  • Don’t place unnecessary pressure on your children to gain certain grades. 
  • Encourage children to take regular breaks, eat snacks and exercise.
  • Help them revise by leaving them the space and time to do so.
  • Be supportive and help your child with their worries by talking to them.

Find more advice on supporting your child with exam stress.

Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC said: 

Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC"Every year we hear from thousands of children who are struggling to cope with the pressure to succeed in exams.

Exams are important but worrying and panicking about them can be counterproductive, leaving young people unable to revise and prepare. It is vital that young people are supported by family, friends and teachers during the exam period to help them do the best they can. Childline is also here 24/7 for any young person needing confidential support and advice."