School Improvement & Development Conference 2023: Book your early-bird place

Kerry Hill

School Improvement Partner

  • National School Improvement Partner
  • Specialises in Primary Leadership, Closing The Gap, Wellbeing and SMSC

See more articles by Kerry Hill
See all news and articles

Exam Stress and Children’s Wellbeing

After a two-year hiatus, examinations are back on this summer's timetable, and Year 6 SATs start on 9th May just as Mental Health Awareness week begins.

In 2020, a Children's Commissioner report showed two thirds of students ranked exams (and homework) as their greatest cause of stress. When we experience stress it causes our bodies to be flooded with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, having a physiological effect on our bodies as well as mental health impact. So what can you do to support students in the coming weeks, whether they have SATs, GCSEs and A-levels?


  1. Encourage breathing exercises

Controlling our breathing through exercises is shown to help reduce our heart rates, calm our stress response systems and enable us to refocus back to the present moment. Mindfulness has been noted by research as an effective strategy to manage exam stress and breathing is a key component of mindful practice.


  1. Look after your body

Cramming sessions leading up to exams with minimal amounts of movement, and poor diets filled with snacks, can negatively impact on our wellbeing and physical health, reducing key things our bodies need like exercise. 

Exercise releases endorphins, known to support our sense of happiness, so it is important to have regular movement breaks and engage in exercise. Even just going for a walk in the fresh air can help. This also tops up our vitamin D, something else which supports wellbeing.

Try to ensure students are aware of the need for a healthy diet, including eating breakfast! Eating slow-release carbohydrates can help the body maintain energy levels throughout the day. Try to encourage students to have lower intakes of caffeine, especially at night-time.

If students are studying away from home, e.g. in study groups or in school, make sure they have healthy snacks to keep their energy levels up.


  1. A good night's sleep

When we are stressed or anxious, sleep can be negatively affected, and less sleep affects our abilities to focus and concentrate, and decrease our ability to recall and process information at speed. 

During examination periods, good sleep patterns can help our brains assimilate learning which can help us recall information. The NHS recommends that teens get 8-10 hours of sleep a day; they suggest 9-12 hours for primary children. Encourage setting a regular sleep routine including calming activities such as reading a book, having a non-caffeinated drink like herbal tea, listening to relaxing music, meditating, or having a bath. Encourage ‘detoxing’ from digital devices at least an hour before bedtime. Use blue light filters if you absolutely need your phone or tablet near the bed, and avoid late night cramming! All this can help to wind down your brain from the tensions of the day and support getting a good night's sleep. 


  1. Strategise

Developing strategies that work for each individual can support our wellbeing and ability to cope. Whether it is setting revision timetables, developing effective study techniques, planning effective breaks, or using a range of revision techniques – you need to come up with a plan. Study apps like Adapt can help students plan their timetables. 


  1. Pace yourself

‘Time stress’ can affect people when we panic due to feeling we do not have enough time to complete things. Try to encourage students to practise exam timings, like a mark a minute questions, as appropriate to the exams. Try to chunk sections to make them more manageable. If students get stuck and feel panic, take deep breathes, have a drink of water to stay hydrated and then take another look.


  1. Connect with others

Social connections are important for our wellbeing so encourage students not to isolate themselves when they study, or during the exam period. Social connectivity can support our self-esteem, self-confidence and overall wellbeing. 


  1. Grow your “inner supercoach”

Reinforcing positive self-talk messages can boost our confidence and sense of self-belief. Try to encourage students to ‘reframe’ negative thoughts into positive ones. Why not encourage them to write some positive messages to themselves and have them visibly around their study area? Or try standing in a superhero pose before each exam: research shows that this can make a difference!


  1. Support parents to support students

Pressure from parents can (perhaps unintentionally) add to the stress and anxiety for students. Aid your parents by sharing positive support strategies that they can use with their children.


  1. Recharge your batteries

What makes you feel good, and reenergises you? The exam period covers a number of weeks so build in time to relax and recharge, ready for your next block of revision or exams. This could be spending a few hours on a family outing, a meet-up with friends, going out for a meal, or going for a refreshing walk.


  1. Talk to someone 

If students are struggling make sure they know who they can talk to whether it is friends, family, education staff or professional services. 


For more information on supporting wellbeing at your school, visit or call our friendly head office team on 01206 625626.