Mental Health Strategies to Support Students Experiencing Exam Stress

By Julia Swaigen

Posted in Featured, Local, Parent Education Resources, Special Ed. Tutoring, Tips & Advice

Mental Health Strategies to Support Students Experiencing Exam Stress

With the end of the school year comes final exams, which can be a stressful time for students of all ages (and the adults who love them). It’s no surprise that if students feel nervous or tense leading up to or during exams, they may experience test anxiety. This can impact their ability to study, retain information, and perform well academically during the examination. Our in-person and online tutoring service understands this firsthand as many students benefit from academic coaching and exam preparation. Yet, considering emotions and feelings are important too, which is why we have enlisted the help of Julia Swaigen, Registered Social Worker, Founder and Director of Attuned Families. In this guest blog, Julia tackles how to navigate mental health strategies to support students experiencing exam stress.

Exam season is known to be a stressful time for teenagers, which can lead to test anxiety. Teachers on Call’s online and in-person tutors know this firsthand, especially when it comes to helping students prepare for key subjects: English, French, Math and Science

When are end-of-school-year exams?

Exam timetables will depend on the type of school or program. For the public school system, pre-examination moratorium on major assignments and activities usually takes place in mid-June, with final exams at the end of the month. The independent school system tends to have exams at the beginning of June and finishes the school year mid-month. For students participating in AP and IB programmes (public and independent schools) grade 12 formal exams take place in the month of May.

Helping students during exam season.

Our online and in-person tutoring team believes that developing good study skills and habits will go a long way towards helping students feel confident and prepared. Yet when emotions run high, having mental health strategies in your parenting toolbox will be of great help. Read on for Julia Swaigen’s expert tips to support teens during this stressful time.

Guest Blog with Julia Swaigen, Founder and Director of Attuned Families

Exam season can be such a stressful time for students and families. From late-night study sessions to the pressure of performing well, the lead-up to exams can take a toll on everyone involved. As parents, it's natural to want to support your child through this challenging period, while minimizing the impact of the stress on the family as much as possible.

Here are some tips to help you navigate exam stress and support your child's well-being.

Understanding the Challenges

Before diving into tips, let's take a moment to understand why exam time can be so challenging for students. While most parents understand the stressors on an intellectual level, one of the best ways you can support your loved one is by tuning in on an emotional level - really taking a moment to envision what it would feel like to be in their shoes. When you are in that mental space, it’s easier to know intuitively how best to support them.

Exams come with a sense of pressure to perform well, whether from parents’, teachers’, or self-imposed expectations. This pressure can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm, making it difficult for students to concentrate and perform at their best. 

While exam stress is nothing new, it’s important to understand that now exam stress is happening in the midst of a children’s mental health crisis. Many children are already compromised by struggles with anxiety and other mental health challenges and a big stressor like exams can be destabilizing. Taking the time to reflect on what your child is feeling at this time and embrace the validity of those feelings is a critical step to take BEFORE considering solutions. 

Managing Stress as a Family

One of the most important things families can do during exam time is to create a supportive and calm environment at home. Encourage your child to take breaks when needed, eat well, get regular physical activity and get plenty of rest. These simple steps can go a long way in helping them manage stress and stay focused. 

Encouraging Open Communication

It's also crucial to keep the lines of communication open with your child. Encourage them to share their feelings and concerns about exams, and listen empathetically without judgement. Let them know that it's okay to feel stressed and that you're there to support them, no matter what. 

Remember that when we’re trying to communicate while under a lot of stress, we can come across as angry and say things we don’t mean. Try not to get pulled into arguments,  and don’t use this opportunity to teach them about how they should communicate with you respectfully. 

It’s totally healthy to have boundaries with your child, but during extra stressful times, it’s okay to let some things go. You can always address them later, when things have calmed down and you’re more likely to get the response you’re looking for then anyway.

Setting Realistic Expectations

While it's natural to want your child/teen to do well in exams, it's essential to set realistic expectations. Focus on their effort and progress rather than just the final result. Afterall, the skills developed in the process of exam preparation will help them throughout their life no matter what grade they get. 

You’ll also want to have realistic expectations about how they prepare for exams. Your child or teen is still going through an explosion of brain development and it’s quite typical for them to struggle with impulse control, self regulation and executive functioning, especially while under stress. Keep reminding yourself of this and be as supportive as you can.

Providing Practical Support

In addition to emotional support, there are practical ways you can help your child during exam time. Offer to quiz them on their study material, create a quiet study space at home and help them organize their study schedule. These small gestures can help them feel more prepared and confident going into exams.

Supporting your child to think and plan ahead is very important and helps set them up for success. Providing instrumental support, like having snacks ready and getting them some fun coloured pens, notebooks and any other supplies that will help them study is a nice supportive gesture that can be really encouraging for them.

Address Underlying Concerns

If you are really struggling to influence your child or teen and put these supports in place, there could be underlying relationship dynamics or mental health or well-being struggles that are getting in the way. 

The statistics around youth mental health are staggering. Mental Health concerns are very prevalent in youth and less than 20% of youth struggling with their Mental Health get proper treatment. While it may seem unrelated, we know that one of the impacts of Mental Health struggles in youth is lower academic achievement. 

Exam time inevitably comes with some degree of stress, but if your intuition as a parent is telling you that stress levels are higher than they should be, or you’re otherwise concerned about your child or teen’s Mental Health or well-being, reach out to a Mental Health Professional for assessment and support.

Taking Care of Yourself

Lastly, don't forget to take care of yourself during this stressful time. As a parent, your well-being is just as important as your child's. Make sure to carve out time for self-care, relaxation, and connection with others. Whether it's going for a walk with a friend, reading a book, or practising mindfulness, find what helps you manage your stress and make sure to prioritize it.


We hope you find Julia Swaigen’s mental health strategies helpful during exam season. If looking for more test-taking tips, check out Principal Judy’s previous blog on how to help your child prepare for multiple choice exams.

About Julia Swaigen:

Julia Swaigen MSW, RSW is the Founder and Director of Attuned Families. Julia has been working to improve Child, Family and School Mental Health for 18 years through her clinical and consultative work in Public Agencies, Public Schools, and Private and Independent Schools. Julia founded Attuned Families to provide more direct support, focused on Prevention, Early Intervention and Innovation in Child, Family and School Mental Health. While Julia has become very skilled through years of training and clinical practice, her own experience as a parent has kept her very approachable, and focused on making change doable. Attuned Families has 2 locations in Toronto, Ontario near High Park area (2150 Bloor St W, Suite #205, Toronto, Ontario M6S 1M5) and the Junction neighbourhood (96 Vine Ave Suite #7, Toronto, ON M6P 1V7). To learn more about in-person and online services, visit:

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