Paediatric Association of Jamaica

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Friday, 23 February 2018 12:14

Are exams stressful to our kids?

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What has happened to the idyllic life of childhood? Are we burdening our children with too many things?  Are our children stressed out, over-structured and hurried?  Tests and exams can be a challenging part of school life for children and teens as well as for their parents or caregivers. Many of our children are engaged in at least one extra lesson or class almost every day and on the weekend’s marathons classes on Saturdays and two classes on Sundays to pass the high-stakes exams such as GSAT and CSEC! 

As we try to get our children to get to the top of the academic mountain successfully, the push to pass examinations becomes hurdles that they may glide over or crash into. 
Parents expect the best for and from their children and as such pressure them to succeed.  Sometimes, this pressure can be too much for some children and manifests itself as stress. 

Children who are experiencing exam stress may manifest it as anxiety and nervousness. What are some of the signs of stress that we need to look out for in our children?

  • worrying a lot- not only about exams but about achieving in school in general
  • feeling tense and getting lots of headaches and stomach pains
  • not sleeping well- too much or too little
  • being irritable and testy
  • losing interest in food or eat more than usual
  • not enjoying activities they previously enjoyed
  • seeming negative and low in their mood, and
  • seeming hopeless about the future

Teachers, parents, and caregivers need to be aware of these signs and seek assistance for the child.

In order to assist our children in coping with examination stress we need to be aware of what are possible causes of this stress.  Three main causes are:

  • Poor preparation: This is one of the main reasons why children feel stressed. They may not have enough time to cover material or they are not aware of test taking strategies to be used with different types of exams or tests.
  • Pressure from family: The expectations from the immediate family to be successful especially if there are other siblings who have done exceptionally well
  • Pressure from within: Children can have their own personal high standards that make them worried about achieving at the level they have set for themselves.


"Not all stress is bad. A certain amount of stress drives healthy competition in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. Good stress induces a student to strive for her personal best on an exam, a term paper or on the debate team."(Wilde, 2016)

How to help them cope?

Evaluation/exams are a natural part of the educational landscape and as such our children should learn how to cope with them. Firstly we need to know that “Exams are important but our children’s whole life does not depend on them”.

We need to be aware of our children’s ability to handle exam stress. We would need to assist them in coping.  Some suggestions are:

  • Listen and notice any expressions of anxiety
  • Talk with them about their feelings and exam nerves
  • Don’t over schedule them
  • Look at how you define success and how you communicate this to your children.
  • Ensure they get enough sleep
  • Limit media/screen time
  • Encourage balanced meals and healthy snacks
  • Help them to study and learn strategies to take exams

Exams are stressful in themselves, don’t add to the stress, but relieve it!


Contributed by
Avril Z Daley PhD, Clinical Psychologist

Read 386 times Last modified on Friday, 14 December 2018 14:27