Last Updated on 28th September 2023

Published: 10th June, 2021

Do you recall the stress of exam season when you were at school? Hours of studying, sleepless nights and then the big day arrives; you find your place in the exam hall, turn over the page and try desperately not to crumble under the pressure.

Of course, for the students of 2020/21, when they look back upon this time, their memories will be very different. For some of this year’s students, there will be no anxiety-filled exam days or exam moderators pacing the floor. Instead, some evaluations will have been ongoing throughout the year, using students’ work and classroom interactions. For many students, they will be graded through a series of end-of-year assessments.

The method of how students are being graded this year varies across the UK, but one thing will likely remain the same: students will be feeling the pressure about grades and the potential impact on their future. There is also the impact of technology and social media – seeing other people posting about their results, plans and worries can increase the pressure.

What’s In a Name?

Most schools are taking a different approach this year and ‘examinations’ aren’t on the timetable due to the disruption caused by Covid-19. Instead, many students will be going through assessments, which some pupils have nicknamed ‘ghost exams’. They might not show up on the timetable but assessments in various forms have been happening for some time during this period of Covid uncertainty.

illustration of a ghost, with a speech bubble saying ghost exams

However, the branding and even the technical differences might not matter when it comes to the impact on students’ stress levels. In addition, the changing nature and confusion in regard to the grading process could be a source of stress in itself.

We have also seen the role of algorithms in generating exam results last summer, which meant that computer-based systems were responsible for deciding grades. These algorithms are the very same systems that decide (by automation) on what to present to social media users on their feeds. This means that if a young person likes or interacts with posts about exams, assessments, and stress they are likely to see more of the same.

In places where grades will be determined by teachers (called teacher-assessed grades), pupils could have concerns over whether bias may impact their results. For example, a student may feel they didn’t ‘connect’ with a teacher, due to personality differences or as a consequence of virtual teaching.

For many students completing their exams, the grade they are about to achieve could not only determine the trajectory of their future but may also affect their life much sooner. For example, some students may be hoping to attend university. Others may have certain career paths in mind that are dependent on good grades. The uncertainty of what you will be doing or even where you will be living in matter of months is no small stress to bear. In addition, some young people may experience pressure to post about their results on social media and the potential to feel ‘public internet shame’ is pressing.

So How Can You Help?  

Although the process will vary depending on where the student you’re supporting is based, we’ve put together some practical tips that will be applicable for all:

  • Support their mental wellbeing by listening to worries and stress.
  • Ask open questions. This gives them the chance to air any problems, worries or stresses they have. It gives you a chance to reassure them and boost their self- esteem. 

  • Pay attention to feelings and worries of failure, disappointment and pressure. This is key to helping young people cope and to feel heard. 

  • Be flexible when it comes to your expectations; chores may have to take a backfoot for a while.  

  • Have a look together at apps and websites that could potentially help, such as yoga and mindfulness apps. You can read more about mindfulness on Mind’s Website and learn more about mindfulness in the videos below:

Don’t be afraid to seek support for children in your care if they display a number of the following signs:

  • Inability to sleep/eat/socialise.
  • Uncontrollable feelings of anxiety/anger/stress and worry.
  • Panic attacks, self-harm behaviours, and emotional outbursts.

Make sure they get enough sleep

  • The importance of sleep for cognitive performance cannot be overstated. It’s thought that when we sleep, our brains process information to create memories, a vital function when learning and retaining information.
  • The NHS recommend that young people get a minimum of 8 -10 hours of sleep per night.

Make sure they get enough exercise

  • Exercise has many benefits to our physical and mental health. Being outside in the fresh air will also boost energy levels and help young people’s ability to focus.  

  • Exercise releases endorphins (happy chemicals), which decrease stress and improve sleep. Encouraging young people to take a short walk or cycle a bike can help them de-stress and recharge.

Signpost to mental health organisations

  • Inform the young person/people you support about organisations that can help, such as Childline.

Printables and Further Resources:

  • Teachers and safeguarding professionals with access to our Safer Schools App can complete our Free CPD Certified Mental Health Awareness Course.
  • Parents and Carers with access to our Safer Schools App can find further resources on supporting the children in their care in the Health and Wellbeing section of their app.
  • To learn more about Safer Schools visit
mockup of resource called five ways young people can cope with stress

5 Ways Young People Can Cope With Stress
Download this printable guide to helping with stress and anxiety.

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Scheduler for Lower Primary

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mockup of "My Day" resource

Scheduler for Upper Primary
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Information, Advice and Guidance  

  • Parents and professionals can contact Family Lives (formerly parent line).
  • Parents and professionals can contact the NSPCC helpline.
  • For online safety information visit Our Safety Centre.
  • If you have immediate concerns about the safety of a child or young person you should contact the emergency services on 999.

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