Anxiety affects us all at different times in life, and this rings true for our children, especially during high school assessment periods. Feeling agitated, tense, restless, sensitive to criticism or feeling unusually self-conscious, together with physical symptoms and unhelpful thoughts, are all tell-tale signs of anxiety in young people.

How to reduce exam anxiety

  1. Talk to your teenagers about how they are feeling
  2. Help them establish a routine
  3. Encourage short, frequent breaks
  4. Don’t underestimate importance of sleep

A whopping 65% of Australian students reported feeling very anxious even if well prepared for a test – which is 9% higher compared to the international average of 56% (64% for girls and 47% for boys). Concerningly, 50% of students who reported moderate to extreme stress over assessment, also reported that the number one source of pressure is themselves.

Anxiety and stress can have some pretty negative effects on academic performance and overall mental health. So, how can we help our kids cope?

1.    Talk to them about how they are feeling

Our students are currently living through very uncertain times throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which can certainly be a contributing factor to overall anxiety and stress. Talk to your children about the uncomfortable feelings they might be experiencing and share yours if it’s appropriate also. Your children might get some comfort out of knowing that they aren’t isolated in how they feel.

Helping your children label their tough emotions can increase their emotional intelligence and help them identify these emotions later in life. It’s always important to validate how your child is feeling, and listen to their concerns without minimising them or trying to fix the situation. Allow them some time and space to process, and offer them consistency, transparency and a shoulder to lean on.

A great way to put anxiety in perspective is to tell your child that anxiety can’t predict the future.

2.    Help them establish a routine

The human body loves routine, and keeping to a healthy routine can reduce anxiety by making day to day life appear more predictable. During heavy assessment periods, you can help your high school child by sitting down and establishing a routine with them – it is important to act as more of a guide and allow them to have some independence in how they structure their routine.

Ensure that they allow time for exercise, study, snacks and meals, but most importantly ensure that they allocate some of their time to themselves where they can do their preferred activity.

3.    Encourage short, frequent breaks

Short frequent breaks during intensive study periods for high school kids can positively affect attention and content retention. It is recommended to take a short 5-15-minute break every 90 minutes to improve both focus and memory. It’s a good idea to vary different break activities and find the one that works the best for your child. Refrain from doing activities that make it difficult to resume studying.

Here are some positive break ideas:

  • Go for a walk: our bodies can re-energise once we get blood moving
  • Stretch: stretching is a great way to alleviate built up muscle tension from studying
  • Sit outside in the sunshine with a snack: opt for lighter meals during study periods as too much food can make us feel lethargic
  • Express some creativity: creative activities like drawing, dancing, even singing can boost our mood and productivity
  • Meditate: meditation works to quiet and calm the mind and breathing exercises have been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. A great breathing exercise is called the 3, 2, 5. Inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and exhale for 5 seconds. This exercise works to calm the central nervous system

Once a healthy routine has been established, daily tasks and organisation become easier as they form into healthy habits.

4.    Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep

Sleep is so important for children as it not only plays a vital role in learning and memory but even having one night of sleep deprivation can worsen our anxiety. When the brain is suffering a lack of sleep, the amygdala (what drives our “fight or flight” response) is more likely to interpret non-threats as threats, which can fuel anxious thoughts. Anyone who is sleep-deprived will find it difficult to focus their attention, but a lack of sleep can also affect the way we learn and process new information.

Children aged 6-12 years should be getting 9-11 hours of sleep per night and teens aged 13-18 years need 8-10 hours.

Encourage your child to get the right amount of sleep every night, especially during heavy assessment periods. This will ensure that they’re well-rested and in an optimal headspace to absorb what they’re studying, and will hopefully aid in decreasing some of the anxiety they might be feeling.

 A little bit of assessment anxiety is normal

It’s completely normal for children and teens to experience mild assessment anxiety, and it can be managed with open communication with your children about their fears, helping them establish a healthy routine, and encouraging them to get enough sleep.

Support at Freshwater Christian College

Our Pastoral Care Team are always available to support students and are available to chat at any time. To schedule a time to discuss any concerns with our College Counsellor please contact

Written by guest writer Emma Neil from P.L.CREW

The P.L.CREW is a 21st Century professional learning community for educators. P.L.CREW is powered by Sentis Education, a global consultancy that partners with educators to improve the lives of people every day. 


Find out more about Freshwater Christian College

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PISA. (2017). Are Students Happy?: PISA 2015 results: students’ wellbeing. Paris: OECD Publishing.
Robinson, J. (2018, November 27). Australian Students more anxious about schoolwork. Retrieved from ACER:
Young, K. (2021). How to Help Children and Teens Through Anxiety at Bedtime. Retrieved from Hey Sigmund: