High School Exam Support Tips for Parents

Adolescent psychologist Collett Smart shares tips for parents guiding their teenagers through the tricky exam season.

By Salt 106.5 Network Friday 18 Nov 2022ParentingReading Time: 5 minutes

Exam time can be a stressful period for the whole family. I’m thinking ‘first year of High School’ exams, the bigger ‘final years of school’ exams and the ‘end of each year’ exams in general.

Some teens adjust to a study routine quite easily, others find it tricky every single year. Each child is different, even in the same family. Most parents are keen to find some high school exam support tips.

As parents and carers there are lots of small things we can do to practically help our teens during this time.

My Top High School Exam Support Tips

Manage expectations. Try to maintain realistic expectations. By this stage parents know what their children are truly capable of.

Keep things in perspective. I find that some students and even parents place different amounts of emphasis on the exam ‘event’. Try to keep in mind that exams are not the only thing happening in a teenager’s life. They’re still enrolled in sports or other activities, navigating friendships, juggling new jobs. It’s good for them to maintain healthy connections and activities, between study times, even if times are adjusted slightly. It also helps with planning and time management, which are long term life skills.

Encouraging independence is helpful, but we sometimes assume that teens know how to study, when in fact no one has ever given them any guidance. Look out for this and then support your teen in getting small habits going from the start of high school.

Give guidance. Teens with ADHD or other learning challenges will often still need adult guidance with study timetabling and routines throughout school.

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Practical Support Ideas

  • Help your teen to choose a study space. Preferably somewhere quiet. Discourage sitting on their bed to study. Their brain needs a good place to rest at night and beds need to be associated with sleep rather than study.
  • Start a good practice in the early years of encouraging set breaks from social media and phones. Although, allow for some times they can still check in with friends online, as friends provide much needed support during stressful periods.
  • Encourage teens to eat some balanced meals. If you are able, have some healthy snacks within reach. Provide a good healthy breakfast on exam mornings so that they have fuel in the tank to help their brain concentrate.
  • Discourage caffeine intake. Some teens try to stay awake by drinking lots of coffee or energy drinks. This often has more negative effects like causing digestive problems and wreaks havoc with sleep patterns.
  • Encourage good sleep hygiene practices. I know we know this as adults (isn’t hindsight wonderful?) , but cramming just creates more stress and less rest time. 9+ hours of sleep in the teen years is vital for the brain to actually process the information learned and lay it down into the long-term memory.
  • Don’t stop all sport or physical activity at this time, as exercise increases oxygen to the brain and also reduces stress. It’s a really healthy downtime activity between study periods.

Emotional Support Ideas

  • Remember that exam time is often very emotionally charged. Expect that your teen may be more sensitive and emotions may be a little raw, due to stress. Try not to over-react to small issues. Extend some grace (us adults get like this too when we are under pressure).
  • Avoid conflict over minor matters, like when they forget to pick up their socks or leave a bag at the door.
  • Extend kindness and make some concessions around housework or chores during this time. In our house we try to model that we all help each other out during pressurised periods in life.
  • Remind yourself (and then your teen) that most people are not good at everything or every subject. That’s ok. It’s what makes us all unique.
  • Highlight the strengths and successes that your teen has achieved over the last few years. Of course, we can all grow in other areas, but resilient kids work well drawing on their strengths, not over analysing their weaknesses.
  • Bring them warm or cool drinks and even a few of their favourite study snacks.
  • Continue to hug and affirm your teen.

For School Leaving Students

I’ve gone through the ‘final year’ season twice as a parent. I have one left to go! It is a big year emotionally, for many, no matter how much we try to downplay the pressure.

Young people are not only anxious about their final results, but this is a time when there is a lot of pressure on them to ‘know’ what they want to do in the future. Most still don’t. That’s ok. Some take a year or two to find what they love.

They’re excited to leave school, but they are also nervous – even if they don’t show it. They will still need our support a great deal in the year or so after school (just in different, not smothering, ways).

In my ‘final exam’ episode of my podcast, I mention how I often say to my undergrad students, “Just get on a path and keep moving forward. You’ll new meet people and find new exists onto new pathways that interest you along the way, but you can’t discover new options if you’re stationary.”

  • Talk about how proud you are that they have made it to their final year of school.
  • Remind your child that this is only a short period in their lives, so just doing the best that they can do is what is important. This is not to minimise the importance of the discipline of studying for their final exams but recognising it is only ONE pathway to their future.
  • Teacher, Nicole Maxfield-Carr advises, “In the lead up, look at positive job options which do not require a degree or trade. If other interests are catered to there is not so much pressure. Talk about how proud you are that they have made it to this point. Let them know that a perfect grade does not equal a perfect life.
  • For today’s generation there is a very strong possibility that what they study will not be the career they end up in. Ashely Fell from McCrindle Research reminds us that this generation of young people is likely to have 18 different jobs in their adult lifetime.

When Their Exam Results Aren’t Great

  • Talk about options even before results come out!
  • Focus on their strengths.
  • When results come out, focus on what they have achieved and remind them again that there are many avenues to get to the career they would like.
  • Take time to reassess the situation and other possible options.
  • If they are disappointed, begin seeking advice and visit a career counsellor fairly quickly, so that your child can gain perspective.

Final Thoughts

School is an important place in all our lives, but some teens find it more stressful than others. Our job is to help our children learn responsibility but also to model compassion and kindness when things are tough!


Article supplied with thanks to Raising Teenagers. Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Sydney, Australia. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring Hope to parents of tweens and teens.

Feature image: Photo by Yustinus Tjiuwanda on Unsplash