Anxiety around predicted exam results

How to handle the emotional impact of calculated exam results

James Carter
Authored by James Carter
Posted: Tuesday, August 4, 2020 - 10:06

Waiting to find out your exam results is unavoidably stressful, but this year, students are waiting to receive results for exams they didn’t even get to take.

Normally you’d have a rough idea of how well (or badly) you might have done because you sat through the test, handed in the coursework, and know how well your mocks went. Coronavirus has seriously tampered with the system this summer though, meaning final grades are largely being drawn up based on predicted performance.

Marks are being calculated, and while for some young people the results will be a great relief, for others, it could be a major disappointment – and either way, it may not feel as though those calculated marks are a reflection of their true potential.

We spoke to an expert about how to respond to certain concerns and navigate an exam results season like no other…

The situation: ‘I did well, but my results don’t feel real or properly earned because I didn’t actually do the exam’

“Acknowledge all the other things that make your child brilliant and remind them that they are more than the sum of their exam results,” says ACP Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist Rachel Melville-Thomas (

“You could tell them they’re good at sport, they have brilliant ideas, or that they are a fun and loyal friend. Stress that these qualities will be really important in their future – plus, remind them that their good performance throughout the school year has earned them their results.”

The situation: ‘I did badly – can I just blame the system?’

“This has been a very weird time all over the world. Remind children that we cannot measure academic progress accurately at this time. The important thing is that all their school life they have been learning and they will carry on learning,” says Melville-Thomas.

“Their ability to learn doesn’t change because of a ‘bad grade’ and it isn’t going to help them progress to blame anyone or the system. What will help is to focus on their ability to move forward.”

The situation: ‘I wish I’d tried harder in my mocks. I didn’t know then how much they’d end up counting’

Melville stresses: “Kids need to understand they are following a system given to them by adults. We tend to encourage kids to work for their mocks, but to save their energy for their final exams. Ask them what they can learn from this experience before moving forward. And you may be able to appeal the grade if you’re unhappy with it.”

The situation: ‘What if these exam results – that don’t fully reflect what I’m capable of – affect the rest of my future?’

“While it is hard for them to imagine now, kids need to understand that their exam results will not affect the rest of their future – they have the chance to keep learning and be measured for their hard work at each stage of schooling,” says Melville-Thomas. “Ask them to imagine being 25, and picture how they’d like their life to look. [Then get them to] ask themselves how important their exam results are to them on a scale of one to 10.”

“Your adolescent may be flooded with relief because they didn’t face exams, or really angry that their hard work counted for nothing,” says Melville-Thomas. “You may notice that they are becoming demotivated, sleeping long hours and have trouble completing online work. Teenagers often think in a very binary way – believing they are either a success or a total failure – so they might be very anxious about the future.

“It’s important to notice this, show you understand and motivate them as much as you can by reassuring them that all their tutors and teachers will be committed to helping them find a way forward.

“Remind them that the work they have done so far will not be wasted. It is in their memories now, and if anything, can get stronger with more time to review later.

“Finally, their friends are going through the same thing – so let them talk it through with them. No one has a magic solution right now, but there will be time to get back on their journey. Assure them your love and approval is always there, no matter what tests and exams they do.”

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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