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Battling Exam Anxiety What it looks like, and how parents can help

Some kids may have perceived it to be a benefit through the pandemic, the cancellation of exams. As we returned to a mostly normal school year and are closing in on the end of the first semester for secondary school students, many are feeling a little under prepared and overwhelmed about exam week. For many, this will be the first time they are writing an exam.

As we move ahead, putting the pandemic behind us, how do we help kid move forward and be ok with getting back to “normal?”

Pathstone Mental Health is ready with an arsenal of strategies to help students prepare for exam day/week.

Students need to also ensure, they are getting rest and are eating well.

Caffeine, sugar, cannabis and nicotine are known substances that will increase anxiety.

In advance:

  • Make sure you know the time and location of your exam.
  • Know how the exam will be formatted and the content of the exam. This will allow you to better prepare.
  • Have the proper equipment you need to complete the exam, be it pencils, sharpener, calculator etc.


You can reduce anxiety by being well prepared.

Spread your studying out, versus cramming it all into a

Study effectively

  • Reduce anxiety by being well prepared
  • Spread your studying over the whole term rather than “cramming.”  Feeling that you don’t have enough time to cover everything increases anxiety.
  • Study in 50-minute blocks with 10-minute activity or nutrition breaks.
  • Learn memory enhancement techniques.
  • See the Student Learning Commons: Exams for additional resources.
  • Study by getting comfortable with what you will have to do in the exam: writing answers to practice questions under a time limit while sitting at a desk.

Prepare to write the exam

  • Eliminate extraneous sources of anxiety such as how to get to the exam room by figuring that out in advance.
  • Think about what commonly distracts you during exams (e.g.: frequent clock-watching, noise from other students etc.) and develop strategies in advance for dealing with these distractions.
  • Get as much rest as possible the night before the exam.
  • Wear a watch to monitor your time.
  • Wear layered clothing so you can control your temperature during the exam.
  • Only go to the exam room a few minutes early to avoid encountering anxious people.

Adjust your attitude

  • Maintain an attitude of doing the best you can under the circumstances, rather than requiring perfection from yourself.
  • Plan a reward for yourself after the exam. Praise yourself as you write the exam; e.g.,“half done and so far, so good.”

Change unhelpful thoughts

  • Learn, and practice over time, how to challenge your negative thoughts (e.g., “I’m going to fail.”).
  • See SFU’s Health and Counselling Services’s resources on emotion healthy resources.

Use test-taking strategies

  • Do a “memory dump” of information you are afraid you will forget on the back of the exam when you first receive it.
  • Read through the exam at the beginning and figure out how much time to spend on each question, according to what each question is worth.
  • To build confidence, start with questions you know rather than focusing on the ones you don’t.
  • Start with any multiple-choice or True/False section to gain clues that might help you answer other questions.
  • Take 30-second “mini-breaks” at specified points during the exam to use a relaxation strategy such as closing your eyes, relaxing your hands, and breathing deeply.

If your thoughts are racing and your mind becomes cluttered with worries:

  • Don’t focus on getting rid of the anxiety because that will only feed the anxiety;
  • Mentally yell “STOP” to break the cycle;
  • Take a 30-second “mini-break”;
  • Concentrate hard on a specific sensation (e.g.: the hum of the lights in the room) to clear your mind of anxiety; OR
  • Be with your anxiety – concentrate on your physical symptoms. If you can completely experience a physical sensation, it often disappears.

Use anxiety reduction techniques

  • Learn and practice, on a daily basis, relaxation and visualization techniques so they will come easily to you at exam time.
  • Check SFU’s Health and Counselling Service’s resources on Self-Guided: Well-being & Resilience.
  • While preparing for the exam, visualize a positive exam-writing experience. Seneca College has helpful techniques on memory and the SLC has additional resources on exam anxiety.

Pathstone Mental Health operates treatment programs, a crisis and support line, video counseling and nine in-person walk-in clinics for children 18 years old and under in the Niagara Region. They are in the process of trying to meet the high demand for counseling among school-age children in Niagara and are reaching out with helpful strategies, because all kids can use this support no matter where they live. During the past year they have seen 10,045 kids which is a whopping 40% increase since before the pandemic, with an unprecedented 550 plus kids on the waitlist for programs. And the demand for kids’ mental health services isn’t expected to go away anytime soon according to Erin Clayton, RSW and RP, Clinical Manager of Outreach Services, Youth Justice and High-Risk Therapist at Pathstone.

“1 in every 5 children will experience a mental health struggle but that statistic is expected to increase to 1 in every 4 children as a result of the pressures caused by the pandemic,” explains Clayton. “Because the start of a new school year, specifically, can be extra tough for kids who already suffer from mental health issues, we put together a “prep kit” full of tips to try and help as many kids and their families with the transition as possible.”

Pathstone’s tips on how to help kids get the 2022/23 school year off to a heathy start:

If you’re a parent who wants to measure your own readiness to identify and support your child’s mental health struggles this school year, visit to take a short quiz and find next-step resources.

If you suspect your child is struggling with their mental health, reach out to Pathstone. Their Crisis & Support line operates 24/7 at 1-800-263-4944 and their in-person mental health walk-in clinics are for youth 18 and under, as well as parents and caregivers who have questions about how to best support their kids. For locations and hours of operation, visit

About Pathstone Mental Health

Pathstone Mental Health is a community-based organization whose mission it is to provide innovative and effective treatment for all children in Niagara struggling with mental health issues. Thanks to support from our donors and volunteers, we are able to address and meet the needs of more children and their families. As the primary provider of mental health services for children in Niagara, we are also a lead agency for the province of Ontario. Note, Crisis Services are offered 24/7 by calling 1-800-263-4944.


For more information, to schedule an interview with Erin Clayton, or for high-resolution photography, please contact The PR Department at 416-535-3939. Email:


PathstoneBattling Exam Anxiety What it looks like, and how parents can help