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Exams anxiety? Two pieces of Advice for Parents

07 May 2018

  • Richard Dyer

Today is the last day for our Year 11 students at our school before they embark on a short period of study leave for their GCSE and IGCSE examinations. For our students, this is an exciting time as they approach their first public exams. At this point, they should be well prepared and can approach the exams with confidence. In addition to sleep, exercise and nutrition, there is much they can do alongside their revision to ensure that they can perform at their peak. Here are two pieces of advice: one on the myth of multitasking; and one relating to reframing anxiety as excitement.

The myth of multitasking

Many parents of teenagers have experienced bewilderment and frustration at seeing their children attempt to engage in revision and homework while chatting online, watching YouTube videos and monitoring their Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram accounts. It is absolutely true that these attempts at multitasking are detrimental to learning, rendering study time inefficient and ineffective. Late night engagement with electronic devices also disrupts sleep patterns, further hindering retention of the day’s learning. We know this but what can we do to re-direct our children to more productive study behaviours? In short, cajole and support better behaviours rather than confront, and create a clear physical and temporal separation between study and play – different room, different time. This BBC article from last week expands on this theme and contains links to more parenting advise as our children approach exams: Can you really revise while chatting online?

Reframing anxiety as excitement

One of the limiting assumptions about the notion of emotional intelligence is that such intelligence is synonymous with empathy. The emotionally intelligent person is the one who connects, is sociable, and understands others. While that is one attribute associated with emotional intelligences, there is also the intelligence that allows one to understand one’s own feelings and emotions and to actually manage these productively. Apply that to exam nerves and it is possible to work these to one’s advantage.

So, students should know that when we experience performance nerves and anxiety, the heart beats faster, the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain increases, and we are much better able to perform our best. This is a good thing, up to a limit. When that limit approaches, the nervousness can paralyse rather than energise. So, an intelligent approach to managing the emotions related to anxiety can help. In 2013, Dr Alison Wood Brooks, from the Harvard Business School, set out to explore such approaches and the impact on performance, including performance in mathematics tests. In short, people who reappraise anxiety as excitement can change their mindset from a threat mindset (invoking possible exam paralysis) to an opportunity mindset and then, crucially, perform better in tests. Additional good news is that this is achieved with simple strategies such as self-talk (saying “I am excited” out loud) or self-messaging (writing or saying “Get excited”). This is far more effective than attempting to calm down, which tries to remove the emotion and the associated physiological manifestations. These physical manifestations (an oxygenated brain, for example) are a good thing. Just exploit them in a positive manner.

Parents can join in: get excited!


Brooks, A. W. (2013) “Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety and Excitement”, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, no. 3: pp 1144-1158

The full article can be found here:


For a short 86 second video summary, the inimitable DanPink explains:



Richard Dyer
The British International School Budapest