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How will exams be different this year and how to prepare for them

Over the last two years, exams have been hugely disrupted, leading to grades based on coursework, projects, and teacher assessments.

This means that children have missed out on the experience of taking exams they would have otherwise had, so may be anxious about sitting their exams, whether it be SATs, GCSEs or A Levels.

In this article, we will look at some of the changes that are in place as children sit their exams for the first time in two years and then offer some tips on how to help children manage their worries around exams during their time in school.

Child studying at home

The following changes have been announced:


SATs are often children’s first taste of exam pressure and although they fundamentally don’t have a lasting impact on their lives or education, they can still be stressful for children to prepare for and take.

KS1 and KS2 SATs will both take place this year. However, it has been announced that primary school SATs results will not be published in national league tables until 2023 to reflect the disruption to children’s learning.

GCSEs and A-Levels

  • Exam boards have published details of topics that will appear in exams – this doesn’t mean that children will be given enough detail to learn pre-prepared answers or learn by rote but will help to focus their preparation and revision.
  • Fewer topics will be covered in those subjects where it is not considered appropriate to provide advance details.
  • Support materials will also be available in some exams, for example, formulae sheets in Science.
  • GCSE and A Level examiners will be asked to be more generous than in previous years to account for disruptions in education caused by the pandemic. This means for example, that grade boundaries could be more generous in some cases, with lower scores across papers needed to secure a particular grade. This provides a safety net for children whose education may have been adversely affected by the pandemic to still be able to succeed to their capabilities.

Eight tips to help your child with exam anxiety

The interruption to schooling and exams over the last two years means that children may experience more stress and anxiety around exam time, which in itself can be a stressful time already.

You may find your child has disrupted sleep patterns, headaches and/or stomach pains, loses interest in eating, shows signs of excessive worry or has periods of low mood.

These are all symptoms of stress or anxiety and while they are normal, there are things we can do to help children to deal with exam-related pressure.

1. Provide reassurance (and avoid criticism)

Be positive, congratulate them on what they’ve already done, and let them know that failing isn’t the end of the world. Remind them of the bigger picture – exams aren’t the be all and end all.

2. Use relaxation techniques

These can be a useful resilience tool for children going forward. Practising breathing and calming techniques and taking part in activities such as yoga can help children to stay in the moment and self-regulate.

Sensory toys such as Sensory FX ASMR Bars and stress balls can also be useful in the classroom or on the way to school to help children calm down their nervous system.

3. Keep an open dialogue with your child and their school

Reassure your child it’s normal to feel nervous, in fact, it’s a natural reaction to exams.

It is also helpful to talk to their teacher and the school and find out whether there are strategies in place for children particularly struggling with stress (e.g. mindfulness activities or revision classes) or if there is an opportunity for extra help if your child needs it.

Activities such as Book of Beasties can also be a good tool for helping children to verbalise their anxious feelings or nerves.

4. Visualisation can also be a great way to help children channel and focus their nervous energy.

For example, getting them to close their eyes and imagine a positive outcome and what that might feel like.

This is also a helpful tool to teach children for future nerve-wracking events such as class presentations or sports competitions.

5. Make sure your child has something to eat and drink before they go off to school or for their exam

The brain needs fuel to function effectively and so it is important to try and eat something, even if the nerves curb their appetite.

A balanced diet around exam time is key for your child to get all the nutrients they need to be energised and focused.

6. Take a break to enjoy an unrelated activity

While it may not be the most obvious strategy for exam success, taking some time out is just as important as revising.

Whether it’s a nice walk, playing sports with friends, or watching a feel-good film, encourage your child to do something they enjoy the day or evening before their exam.

There’s no point cramming in knowledge at the last minute and this can do more harm than good in terms of stress levels.

7. Make sure they try and get a good night’s sleep

Good quality sleep improves thinking and concentration and will allow children to consolidate memories of the topics they have been studying.

8. Remind them it’s okay to skip questions and come back to them

The environment of tests or exams can be stressful for children, meaning that it’s easy to get worked up if things seem to be ‘going wrong’.

It’s important to remind them that it’s not always helpful to spend too long on one question, especially if they are finding it tricky.

Moving on to other questions that they are more comfortable with can build their confidence – they may even find once they return to it, they suddenly remember a lot more about what they have to say on the topic.

Key Takeaways

With no formal examinations having taken place for children the past two years, tests and exams can seem more stressful and anxiety-inducing than ever.

It is important to remind your child that while they are an important part of a school, your child’s exam performance does not represent everything that is wonderful about them as a person.