A young person’s guide to managing stress at exam time – and what we can all do to support them
More young Australians than ever before are experiencing mental ill-health, so ahead of Term 3, headspace is sharing top tips from young people and mental health professionals on how to look after your mental health and wellbeing during the potentially stressful school exam season.
Almost 40% of young people now report the experience of mental ill-health, many of whom are school students about to sit their end-of-year exams.
headspace knows this is a time of added pressure for many young people, and wants to share with them and their families tried and tested ways to reduce stress in the lead-up to exams.
1. 'Run your own race’
headspace Youth National Reference Group member Gerard-Lachlan Abadines, 17, is currently preparing for his Year 12 exams and says it’s important to “run your own race” at exam time.
“Hearing about how much studying everyone else is doing, or how everyone thought an exam went, can cause me to doubt myself,” the Western Sydney resident said.
“But it’s important to focus on running your own race and looking after yourself.”
2. Prepare for success
Gerard says it’s especially important for people experiencing mental ill-health not to leave exam preparations until the last minute.
“Trial exams helped me gain confidence that I will get through it, and the results gave me direction on what else I need to do to succeed,” Gerard said.
“I also find studying with friends helpful. It helps build support systems and keeps me accountable. It reminds me that I’m not alone in the process.
“As a young person living with mental ill-health, I’ve also tried to make time with my mental health professional to check-in during exam season, so we can talk about how I’m going and the sorts of supports I might need.”
3. Take time out from study
headspace also advises young people plan time away from studying to do things that make them feel happy and healthy.
“I like to carve out a few hours a day, or even a full day once a week, to do something with friends and family that doesn’t involve study. This time really helps alleviate some of the pressures that can build up.
“I also know I can turn to a trusted teacher, family member or friend when I need more support, or even visit headspace.”
4. On the day of the exam
Follow your usual routine. Eat a nutritious breakfast and try to calm your mind.
“I try to avoid the frenzy of exam day by putting some space between me and my classmates. Sometimes being in a big group of people feeling nervous about an exam compounds my stress and causes me to lose focus. I like to take that time for quiet reflection instead,” says Gerard.
5. You are more than your exam score
Carolyn Watts, Manager of headspace Vocational Programs, says it’s important young people remember exam results are not a measure of their worth.
“Exam results do not determine your future. Even if you don’t do as well as you’d like, you have so much more to offer and you will go on to have a happy, successful life after school.
“headspace is not only here to provide mental health support, but we can also help plan for the future via our Work and Study programs” says Ms Watts.
headspace Work and Study supports young people to get future-ready, connecting them with employers and further education providers, and by developing skills like resume writing, job-hunting and interviewing.
“headspace Work and Study provides personalised support with a specialist either over the phone, online via web chat or video conferencing, or in person at selected headspace centres. The service aims to develop the skills, capacity, and confidence of young people to help them on the pathway to reaching their work and study goals,” Ms Watts says.
6. Support your young person through exam season
“Families and friends of young people play an important role in providing this reassurance and perspective.
“Help your young person maintain a balanced lifestyle that includes activities for a healthy headspace: keeping active, getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining social connections.
“If you’re a parent or carer, check in with your young person about how they’re feeling.
“Listen to them without judgement, and if you detect they are feeling overwhelmed or upset, or if you notice changes in their appetite and sleeping patterns, these are signs they may need more support,” says Ms Watts.
For more tips on how to manage exam pressures, please visit: https://headspace.org.au/explore-topics/for-young-people/prepare-for-exams/
You can also find more information about headspace’s Work and Study program here: https://headspace.org.au/services/work-and-study-support/
headspace strongly encourages any young person, family member or friend in need of support to a local headspace centre or reach out to phone and online counselling service eheadspace. eheadspace is available seven days a week between 9am–1am (AEST) on 1800 650 890 or at headspace.org.au/eheadspace.
If you need to talk to someone immediately, Lifeline (13 11 14) and Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) are available to talk 24/7.
 National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing 2020-21, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2022