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As young people across the U.K. receive their exam results, we’ve created this guide to help you support them before, during and after exam results day. You’ll find advice of things to do and say, as well as learn some of the signs of exam results-related stress and practical steps to take to help.
A lot can hinge on exam results – plans for further education, ambitions of dream careers, and hopes to stay with friends in academia.
There’s also the often-unspoken pressure of meeting expectations, whether that’s within the family unit, a friendship group or, for today’s digital generation, the social media space and online world.
To help the young people in your care navigate through the emotional process surrounding exam results day, we’ve created a timeline of advice for your reference.
A poll of parents commissioned by specialist school’s insurer Zurich Municipal found the biggest cause of anxiety for children aged 15-17-years-old is school related concerns, including exams, with over half of parents (57%) citing this as the root of their child’s worry.
The Week Before Exam Results Day
Talk and Listen
While waiting for exam results, a young person will likely be going through a range of emotions and – without a conversational outlet – bottling them up. Encourage open conversation in which they can express these emotions. Openly talking about hopes and fears and acknowledging feelings of worry, failure, disappointment, and related pressures will help. This will help to build resilience, reaffirm trust and foster confidence about the future for your young person.
Find the best of our mental health digital resources here.
Remember, some young people might prefer to communicate by other means, such as through writing or art. Don’t discount these methods as not being communicative! If the young person in your care feels more confident expressing themselves in this way, make sure to create opportunities that enable this, like going to a café together to write or taking drawing materials to the beach.
What to Say to Someone Waiting for Exam Results?
Ask open questions, such as:
How do you feel about results day?
What emotions are you feeling as exam results approach?
Is there anything you’d like me to do in order to support you?
Verbally reassure them of your love and support by saying phrases like:
We love you and are proud of you every day – your exam grades won’t change that.
No matter what your results are, I am here to support you through whatever the next steps might be.
I am here to help and always ready to listen to your thoughts and feelings.
Although we strongly encourage keeping the conversation open, try to occasionally take their mind off the incoming results with some fun things to do. Time can move very slowly while you’re waiting for something!
Plan a day out or two, a movie night, or arrange an outdoor activity to ensure they are not dwelling on the exam results day ahead. You may even find that, due to being in a different environment, the young person in your care ‘opens up’ and initiates a conversation about how they’re feeling. Although you have planned the activity as a distraction, don’t discourage them or shut the conversation down – allow them to use this opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings.
The Day Before Exam Results Day
Even if you can’t physically be with the young person in your care at every moment, make sure they know you’re around should they need you. If you’re working but have access to your phone at certain times, let them know when your breaks are and that you’ll keep your phone on you during these times so if they want to text or ring you, they can. If you can’t access your phone, let them know what time you’ll be home or suggest another Trusted Adult who they could talk to.
Offer an Activity
Ask if the young person in your care would like to do anything in particular on the day or evening before exam results. Come up with a list of suggestions you think they’d like – they may be too distracted and stressed to think of things on their own. Here are some examples of activities you could do:
Go for walk
Watch a film or binge watch a TV programme (favourite snacks at the ready!)
Go out for dinner or get a take-away
Ask if they’d like to have their friend(s) over
Every young person will be different in how they handle exam results stress, so don’t be too worried if the young person in your care declines any offer of activities. They may just deal with stress better by not making a fuss about it or by sitting quietly watching YouTube or passing time playing their favourite game online with friends. Let them take the lead.
Exam Results Day
Stay Cool, Calm, and Collected
You may feel like you’re just as much of a nervous wreck as the young person in your care, but try not to show it! Try taking some deep breaths before you encounter them in the morning – they might be looking to you for emotional reassurance, even subconsciously.
React Carefully and Conscientiously
Remember, your words matter. At times like these, the reactions of a parent or carer can be a huge deal to a young person. Your words will carry a heavy weight and the young person in your care may be dreading the thought of telling you what their results are.
Discuss Social Media Spin
Remind the young person in your care that, despite how it may seem to them when looking on social media, many people will have mixed emotions about their grades. They aren’t alone if they are feeling disappointed and disheartened with their results, despite how it appears online!
Encourage the young person to ‘take a break’ from checking their social media feeds and/or dwelling on their results. If they received good or exceptional grades, discuss with them about how they can post in a way that celebrates their own success but won’t overwhelm or upset others who are disappointed with theirs.
Healthy Sharing Habits
For those happy with their results, social media will be an obvious place to turn to express their happiness and share in celebrations or excitement about their future. This is, of course, a very normal thing to do in this age of social media and is not necessarily an action to be discouraged. However, over-celebrating online may make friends or strangers on social media who are disappointed with their results, feel isolated, sad, disappointed in themselves etc.
Likewise, if the young person in your care is stressed about their exam results, over-sharing those feelings on social media could lead to vulnerability. This is both from those who wish to take advantage of people feeling isolated and upset, and also because turning to social media for support or ‘the answers’ can often backfire. If someone is feeling low and using social media to express that and find attention and help, not receiving this support could just compound their original negative feelings and further any sense of isolation.
Suggest Celebrating, No Matter the Results
Even if the results weren’t what everyone was hoping for, consider planning an event or activity to acknowledge the hard work and effort put in across the school year. It could be something lowkey, like a family dinner. If the young person seems like they don’t want to talk about it or would prefer not to make a fuss, maybe a trip to the cinema or a walk outside in nature would be more appropriate.
The Days and Weeks After Exam Results Day
Keep Talking and Listening
Again, keep encouraging open dialogue by a) being as present as possible (or having another Trusted Adult who is) and b) asking open questions and giving plenty of time to listen.
If the results weren’t what the young person wanted, emphasise during conversation that this is not the be-all-end-all for their future. Plenty of people go on to have great careers without having achieved academic success at school. Also, many people live happy lives without degrees or what is stereotypically thought of as a ‘successful career’.
Mention Next Steps
If exam results day didn’t bring the results they were hoping for, ask the young person in your care if they’d like to discuss other options and next steps. For example, if they need to repeat exams or an assessment, how would they go about that? Or is there an alternative university course they could enrol in?
If they don’t want to talk about it at that time, reassure them that you’ll be there to talk about it when they’re ready. Remember, they might not actually know what they want to do, so you can also offer to research ideas with them. Ask their school if there’s a career advisor available to speak to.
Know the Signs and Symptoms
Watch out for the following signs and symptoms that your child or young person is not coping, particularly if they received results that they were unhappy with.
Feeling depressed, anxious, upset, or having panic attacks. Self-harming or expressing suicidal thoughts. Crying easily. Seeming indifferent or uninterested in their usual activities. Unusually happy or manic. Swinging between different emotional states.
You should consider seeking support for children in your care if they display a number of these signs.
Further Support, Advice, and Guidance
Mental Health Organisations
Inform the young person/people you support about organisations that can help, such as Childline – online or on the phone, 0800 1111 or YoungMinds.
Parents and professionals can contact Family Lives (formerly parent line).