Taking exams can be a highly stressful time for families. The nature of the exam system has changed significantly over the past five years and is very different from the experience that many parents had. The good news is that young people have access to much more information and support than ever before – providing you know where to look and how to use it!
The system will continue to change as new exam specifications and assessment methods are introduced and bed in. Combine this with a greater degree of uncertainty about the future and the fact that growing up is tough anyway and you have a recipe for high stress. As parents or carers the role that you play is vital in helping your son or daughter navigate a path through this tricky landscape. Knowing that someone is in their corner has a hugely positive impact on the way that young people are able to approach preparing for and performing in exams.
Creating an environment that is high challenge and low threat. For young people taking exams is a high stakes test. They perceive the implications of ‘not making the grade’ and many are worried about what comes next. We all know the world will keep turning but that it is choices that change rather than existence. As parents presenting a challenge to make the most progress possible – doing your best- by working hard is the key. Valuing hard work and engagement with the process of exam preparation rather than concentrating on the results will bring better results in the long term.

Herein lies the problem; there is a danger that if young people focus on the outcome rather than the process that their fears will become reality. A student who takes this view is operating in a high challenge high threat environment. The consequences of not making the grade are seen as catastrophic – this installs a fear of failure, often creating paralysis and an unwillingness to start or engage with preparation for exams – better not to start or do anything than risk the alternative!

The student operating in a high challenge, low threat environment focuses on the process. They recognise that the systematic process of high effort preparation is the thing that will yield results and the range of choices that they want.

Being the support network is the best way that you can help. This is easier to say than do! 

One powerful way of providing that support is asking questions that engage you as a part of the process that your son or daughter is going through.

A really helpful model for framing these questions is the GROW model. GROW stands for:

  1. Goal
  2. Reality
  3. Options
  4. What next?


  • Where would you like to be in September?
  • What will it take in terms of results to get you there?
  • What steps will you take to achieve these results? This week? This month?
  • What will your key milestones to success be?
  • Whose goals are they? Theirs? Yours?


  • How close are you to achieving the results you want?
  • Which key milestones have you achieved?
  • How hard are you working to achieve? Amount of time? Is it sufficient to bring about the results you want?


  • What options have you got to move your current performance closer to your desired level?
  • Who might be able to help you?
  • What is your back up plan?

What next?

  • What steps will you take to move your current performance closer to your desired level?
  • What will you do tomorrow?
  • What will you have achieved by the end of the week?
  • What could be the small steps / goals towards getting back on track?

Keep any eye out for stress levels rising – if they seem to be rising then start by having conversations and seek further help if things seem to be getting out of control.

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