Women's Corner

How to get your children through exam season

Q My daughter is currently taking her GCSE exams and veers from intense stress and anxiety about the prospect to total inertia, where she has periods of not doing any revision at all. 

On the one hand, I’m worried about her burning herself out; on the other, I fear that she won’t do herself justice. 

It has led to a lot of arguments already and we’ve still got a month to go before she is done. What can I do to help her — and me — through it?

A It is normal for a child (and her parents) to get anxious before taking exams. We have four children, and before they had to do an important test I often felt a bit worried on their behalf.

Although there was a sense of simmering tension running up to exams, they tended to wait until the pressure was on and the adrenaline had kicked in before launching into full-on revision mode. Not the ideal strategy.

A concerned parent asked GP and mother-of-four Dr Clare Bailey what she can do to help her daughter get through her GCSE exams

The main thing is to reassure your daughter that she is not alone. Most children feel stressed and worried in the lead-up to exams. In fact, a small amount of stress can actually boost focus and performance. But make it clear that you are always there for her, offering encouragement and reassurance when needed.

To reduce the risk of your daughter getting overwhelmed, it helps to try to plan ahead and offer help. Perhaps draw up a revision timetable. Keep it relatively short, then break up what seems an insurmountable challenge into doable chunks.

It is, of course, important that you don’t add to your daughter’s pressure. According to Childline, many children who contact them around exam time feel that most pressure comes from their family. 

It’s natural to want your child to do their best, but take a step back and remember they need downtime, too. Having opportunities to relax will reduce anxiety and lessen brain overload.

Creating the right environment in which to study is important. Make a calm, clutter-free space for study with minimal distractions (such as phones and games).

Have an open and honest conversation with your daughter about how to keep phones off, or ideally out of the room, when working. This may require monitoring on your part. Try to remain calm and consistent if you feel you have to remove them. 

Dr Clare Bailey (pictured) encourages parents to make sure their children are getting enough sleep and eating well during the exam season

Dr Clare Bailey (pictured) encourages parents to make sure their children are getting enough sleep and eating well during the exam season


  • Ensure your daughter starts the day with a healthy breakfast, plus plenty of water. Dehydration reduces brain function.
  • Last-minute panic can be banished with box breathing. Inhale through your nose to a count of four, then exhale through your mouth to a count of four. A minute or so of doing this really calms things down.
  • Just before the exam, she could try running on the spot, doing a few squats or star jumps to get the blood flowing.
  • Afterwards, do take her out to celebrate. You will both deserve it.

Sleep is also crucial. A Belgian study of 621 students found those who got a good night’s sleep of more than seven hours did 10 per cent better than those who slept less than that. And if sleep was interrupted, what about a short nap?

Eating well is vital and she should be encouraged to sit down with the family to do so. She may be tempted to eat lots of unhealthy snacks but these can lower mood and motivation. So, encourage her to eat plenty of healthy protein (such as eggs, fish, meat, tofu, Greek yoghurt, nuts and seeds) and lots of fibre (from fruit, vegetables, beans and pulses).

A Mediterranean-style diet supports a healthy gut microbiome, which will keep her sharp and boost her mood. So on the morning of exam days, you might give her an omelette with cheese, ham or smoked salmon. Or scrambled eggs or kippers on wholemeal bread. Avoid sugary cereals or just toast, which could leave her sluggish and soon hungrier.

If there is one food good for your brain, I would suggest eating oily fish such as salmon, trout, kippers or mackerel twice a week to boost omega-3 levels (or take quality supplements regularly).

Exercise is a great way to cut stress and clear the mind. It will increase blood flow to the brain, improving mental relaxation.

One thing I found really useful when I was doing exams was active learning — I would do lots of past test papers instead of spending my whole time trying to cram fresh facts into my brain. If she gets questions wrong, remind her that it’s a positive part of the process — setbacks lead to learning and growth. All the better for taking the real exams.

  • You can write to Clare at drclarebailey@dailymail.co.uk or Daily Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY.

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  • Source of information and images “dailymail

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