Exam stress is a major concern for students in this country, with 75% saying they felt very stressed or stressed because of their Leaving Certificate exam. That’s according to a recent report titled So, How Was School Today? carried out by Comhairle na Nóg’s network of youth councils.

Exam time isn’t an easy period for students – or parents – but are there things you can do as a parent to alleviate the pressure, at least a little?

Parents staying calm (or appearing to do so!) is something that the ISPCC recommends. “Children can sense stress in their parents and don’t need this extra burden on them during exam times, so keep the house as calm as possible,” they say.

“Parents are advised to reduce stress on themselves by going for a walk, playing sport or any activity that can release nervous tension and distract the mind.”

If your teenager isn’t as organised as he or she should be, it might help to go through their study plan, the ISPCC says, helping them to break up their work into manageable pieces as well as scheduling social time for a healthy balance.

Watching out for changes in behaviour is also important. “If there are any notable changes, have a chat and ask how you can help.”

Food-wise, make sure your teenager is eating healthily, they say. “Often exam pressures mean your child eats snack foods and misses out on a nutritious and balanced diet.”

Encourage them to avoid staying up late to cram also, as sufficient sleep is needed to help memory and mood.

Assure them that exams aren’t the “be all and end all” of your child’s life also. “We are all more defined by how we act and respond to life events than by the score we achieve on a test. Remember, there are always other options out there.”

Also, don’t make too many demands on your teenager’s time during the exam period, and let them know that you are there to support them unconditionally – regardless of the exam results.

The ISPCC has an exam stress leaflet that can be helpful.


Food – and the right type of it – is the focus of the INDI (Irish Nutrition and Diatetic Institute) when it comes to exams. Good nutrition shouldn’t slide down the priority list at this time, their dietitians say, not when endurance is vital during this “mental marathon” period. You don’t want to feel jittery or sluggish, so the following tips could be very helpful:

1 Don’t skip meals, particularly not breakfast

The brain uses up 20% of the energy we need every day. When you wake up, your body hasn’t had any food for several hours. Breakfast gives you the energy you need to face the day as well as providing some essential vitamins and minerals.

2 Choose quick and healthy meals – and avoid the junk food

Try to avoid the pitfalls of eating only high-fat, nutrient-poor food choices like frozen dinners and takeaways. Go for things like baked beans or scrambled egg on wholegrain toast or a baked potato topped with tinned tuna, beans or grated cheese – ready in minutes.

Don’t forget that frozen veg is packed with nutrients and great when you are under time pressure too.

3 Prepare some homemade meals and freeze

Make some proper meals and freeze them in individual portions in preparation for the weeks coming up to exams and during exam time – a great help.

4 Smart snacking

Forget the cakes, biscuits, chocolate and sweets – you will experience a slump soon after your “sugar rush”. Instead, choose fresh fruit, popcorn, fruit scones, dried fruit, yoghurt or nuts to keep you going throughout the day.

5 Stay hydrated

Not drinking enough water can make you feel sluggish, irritable and tired and can affect your concentration. Keep a glass of fluid (fruit juice, herbal teas, water) nearby when studying and take a bottle of water into the exam (if you can). Also, reduce your intake of caffeine drinks – coffee and tea – as they can act as diuretics, making you want to use the toilet, not ideal during an exam especially.

6 Work, rest and play

Break your study during the day with short bursts of exercise. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to recall information as well as you should. Relax before bedtime and avoid caffeine.

7 Banish brain fog

Good Food Ireland organisation recommends choosing foods that will banish brain fog, like oily fish (cans of sardines, mackerel on toast. Go for eggs, green vegetables like spinach, broccoli and kale for those important vitamins and antioxidants. Superfoods like blackcurrants are great for Vitamin K and brain function, and teas like peppermint tea can help concentration.

8 Can those energy drinks

Energy drinks are not advised, says safefood. “They are not a ‘quick-fix’ solution. Too much caffeine is dangerous and can cause heart arrhythmia. Some energy drinks contain up to 17 teaspoons of sugar and the equivalent of two to three cups of coffee.” This is according to Safefood.eu’s Dr Marian O’Reilly, who issued a warning last year after a 16-year-old boy in the US died after drinking three energy drinks within two hours.

9 Try natural remedies

Health food stores suggest products like Peace & Calm, Kalms or Rescue Remedy to help anxiety and exhaustion. A few drops of lavender on a tissue near your pillow can help with restful sleep also, they say. CL

>> Sleep easy

Dr Mark Harrold, author of Coping with Stress: Techniques and strategies that will make you feel better has these suggestions for a good night’s sleep for us all – exams or no exams:

  • • Avoid caffeine from 6pm.
  • • Avoid exercise three hours before bedtime.
  • • Go to bed before 11pm.
  • • Leave phones and tablets outside the bedroom.
  • • Have room temperature 18°C.
  • • Avoid news before bedtime.
  • • No TV in the room.
  • • Pastel colours for peaceful environment.
  • • Change sheets regularly.
  • • Dark room.
  • >> Tips for parents


    Keep grass cutting and vacuuming until students are out of the house. Ask other family members to keep the noise down.


  • • Parents saying they aren’t doing enough study.
  • • That parents don’t listen.
  • • That parents compare them too often with other people.
  • • That teenagers feel that nothing they do is good enough for their parents.
  • Schooldays.ie tips FOR PARENTS:

  • • Get up earlier during exam time to help you stay relaxed.
  • • A calm parent creates a calm home.
  • • Have the healthy food they like in stock.
  • • Notice effort and you will get more.
  • • Encourage, support, praise and affirm.
  • • Preparation and active relaxation ease stress.
  • • The most important “A” is an A in emotional health!
  • • Get a copy of the exam timetable so that dates are not mixed up.
  • • Don’t snap back – even if you’re tempted.
  • • Keep extra pens, calculator, etc handy in case something is mislaid.
  • • Avoid post-mortems.
  • • Try out a mindfulness YouTube video to relax – parents and students!
  • • Try 7/11 breathing: breathe in for a count of seven and out for 11.
  • • Do a body scan if you can’t sleep: become aware of your body from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, in stages.

  • • Irish students experience much higher levels of anxiety than their European counterparts in the lead-up to exams, a 2017 OECD Pisa study showed.
  • • Researchers found that more than 63% of Irish students felt anxious about tests, even if they were well prepared.
  • • In all, 46% of Irish students surveyed said they felt even tense when studying – 10% more than the average OECD student.

    The Irish Second-Level Students’ Union has these sensible suggestions:

  • • Along with good nutrition, exercise and regular breaks, they suggest laughing, breathing deeper before and during exams to allow more oxygen to the body and brain.
  • • Think positively but if you are feeling panicky let someone know and they will help you.
  • • Try not to analyse exams after you have done them. Believe in yourself and let it be.
  • Top tip for mental health

    The best way for parents to reduce the stress is not to criticize. Support and reassure. Don’t pressurize your child into succeeding where you have failed yourself. Communicate.


    Seeds are superheroes - a great source of the healthy fats that our brain needs to function at its best. Milled flax seed is good, along with chia and sunflower seeds. Pumpkin seeds also contain high levels of zine – valuable for thinking and memory.