How to help your teenager cope with stress and unexpected exam results.
Increasing numbers of teenagers are seeking help to deal with exam-related stress.
According to Childline, thousands of young people a year ask for counselling to deal with the stress of exams and the pressure surrounding results.
Jon McLeod is head of admissions at Blackpool Sixth Form College and sees first hand how much of an impact this stress can have – not just on teenagers but also their families.
Speaking about some of the issues parents are likely to face, he said: “Their teen is likely to be very stressed by the experience as it's the first time they've really had to experience the outcome of public examinations and the tension which goes with that.
“They may react to the experience in ways which are difficult to predict and be very touchy about talking about it.”
He said a key factor is teenagers’ expectations when receiving results.
“It's a very natural reaction to focus on what has not gone as well as predicted and this means even teenagers who do very well in their GCSEs by any standards can feel let down or that they have let themselves or others down.
“Clearly a major issue at this stage can be self-comparison with peers – your teen may feel their results don't measure up to what other classmates or relatives' children have achieved.
“It's important to help them keep the focus on their results and help bolster their self-confidence in what they have achieved.
“There is also the added pressure of the results being the gateway to their next step, whether that be college or an apprenticeship.
“This can add an extra layer of anxiety, especially if the youngster is not clear about what the exact requirements are for their chosen next step.”
So how can you help your teenager cope with exam results?
1. Keep calm and reassure them
“The most important thing is to be calm and listen to what your son or daughter is saying and be aware of what they are feeling,” said Mr McLeod.
“It is important not to dismiss it and even more important not to enter into a 'blame-game' by saying 'You should have worked harder’.
“Keep the focus on the present and any decisions which need to be made.”
2. Consider new options
Whatever your teenager’s results are there will always be a way forward.
“What may appear in the heat of the moment to be a disaster from the teen's point of view can often be resolved quite quickly,” said Mr McLeod.
For example, Blackpool Sixth offers a Route3 programme which is a three-year programme leading to exactly the same outcomes as the two-year level 3 programme.
“With this programme we are able to help a lot of students who have just missed out on the grades they need to progress directly to the next level of qualifications.
“In the long-run, it really doesn't matter whether the student needs to do an extra year to achieve level 3 qualifications – they will still have exactly the same opportunities to progress to university or alternative forms of education and training.”
3. Encourage them to play to their strengths
If your teenager excels at practical assessments rather than exams this could be reflected in their results.
If this is the case, encourage them to think about vocational study as a positive rather than a ‘second choice’.
A-levels and BTECs can now be studied in almost any combination to make it even easier to play to your teenager’s strengths.
BTEC level 3 qualifications are equivalent to A-levels, can be used to accumulate UCAS points and are highly regarded by employers.
Of course, it might be that your teenager’s results are higher than predicted, making them realise they are better suited to academic study than they thought.
In this case, it is very straightforward to discuss changing options at college enrolment days.
“At Blackpool Sixth when we make the young person the offer of a place, we remind them they will only need to confirm their choices at enrolment,” said Mr McLeod.
“They can, of course, adjust their choices when they have received their results and this can also mean opting for courses which have an entrance requirement which they may not have expected to meet but have done.
“Equally, even if you haven't applied to a particular college or other provider because you felt your grades wouldn't be high enough, contact them and it's very likely that they will be able to help you.”
4. Get in touch
Whether results are better or worse than expected, encourage your teenager to talk to their college or apprenticeship provider as soon as possible.
Check for enrolment day dates and dedicated phone lines which will give them access to personalised advice and support.
“There are always plenty of people who will be very happy to provide support and offer guidance,” said Mr McLeod.
“For instance, if a student has applied to Blackpool Sixth, we always ask them to come and speak to us if they are unclear about how results might affect entry to their chosen courses.
“We also run an 'enrolment hotline' on results day and for a few days after to deal with any phone enquiries and offer support.”
5. Don’t be afraid to question
Occasionally there are genuine issues with results.
If they seem wrong or part of a grade is missing ask members of school staff when results are handed out.
If the school feels there has been an error they may be able to request a re-mark.
However, Mr McLeod emphasises this will only happen in ‘exceptional circumstances’ and there is always the risk that a re-mark could lead to a lower grade.
Re-marks can also take weeks and, in the meantime, colleges and other providers can only work from the official results although they will usually be able to adjust your teenager’s course programme if an appropriate re-mark comes through.
So, what would Mr McLeod’s final advice be for helping your teenager cope with GCSE results?
“Focus on the positives and on any decisions which need to be made.”
Blackpool Sixth Form College is holding enrolment days on August 23 and August 24.
An enrolment hotline, offering advice and support will also be open from August 23 to the start of September on 01253 307097.
More information about enrolment at Blackpool Sixth is available at: blackpoolsixth.ac.uk/enrolment