Exam Anxiety

We are in the thick of exams. The first Zach has ever experienced. I’m hoping we get out alive. Exam anxiety is very real.

We had three 14 year old boys downstairs. They were studying for music and practicing their instruments: Zach a violin, Liam a viola and Oliver, a cello. Part of their exam was to play Oh Come All Ye Faithful as a trio, record it and send it in to their teacher.

Oh how exams have changed! I used to stress that my pencil would break and all my pens would run out, or that I’d forget to put pants on before I went to school. Now they don’t even have to wear pants during exams, they just have to worry about technology.

Every symptom and sign of exam stress and tension has affected us already. We spent most of last night near tears struggling to make things come together. When I was in high school, I had four 3-hour exams to write for each class, no matter what the subject. Seemed simple enough to know what to expect and to study for it. Study. Show up (wearing pants). Write. Leave.

For music class, Zach had to create 12 different video recordings of scales, arpeggios and songs, all on a less than stellar, well seasoned violin that wouldn’t hold a tune. A string broke and life as we knew it ended. I started in on the ‘well if you had done this last week when you knew about it…’, but stopped myself. He was exponentially stressed already and this was a good opportunity to try and teach yet another lesson or two – patience and problem solving. We put a message out on Facebook and, through the magic of social media, we had beauty of a violin in our hands within an hour. Thanks Lucas and Sarah!

A little practice, several (dozen) retakes, a few requests ‘to be able to swear’ and the recordings were complete. Another 40 minutes creating a google slide document, an email to his teacher and his music exam was DONE.

I’ll be buying this on a t-shirt for Zach here.

The boys downstairs were giggling, wrestling and letting off steam in between takes, with a lot of discussion about how hard it is to stay on beat together. I even went down with a snack to find them attempting to record themselves ‘playing’ with a concert worthy recording of their song playing in the background. Air guitars be damned. More giggles. Sneaky, sneaky.

It all came together though. I could even recognize the song in their final recording. They don’t even have to go to school tomorrow, but I urged them to make an appearance to make sure their files were delivered properly and the teacher received them.

I asked each of them what the most stressful part of exams were.

Zach: “The actual studying and being prepared. You don’t know if you’re prepared enough. It’s hard.”

Liam: “In certain scenarios, if teachers don’t give you the tools you need, it will be harder to learn the lessons you need in life. That things can go wrong or badly if you’re missing something. If you don’t do well, it could impact the rest of your life.”

Oliver: “The most stressful part is probably the build up. The exams aren’t stressful, but when teachers are constantly talking about studying for three hours, etc. etc. it feels like pressure and you don’t know how to organize, how to spend your time to maximize your grade in each of the exams. It’s a lot to take in.”

The consensus was that these moments are critical and crucial to their future.

I get that they are, but are we putting so much pressure on memorizing and test performance (the age old argument) and less on enjoying learning, encouraging creativity and curiosity?

Exam time is appearing to be a delicate balance between finding that place where you’re pushing your child to step up to the requirements of studying, organizing their time, memorizing etc. (they are almost adults, no?) AND making sure they realize that these marks they will receive DO NOT DEFINE THEM.

I want Zach to believe in the qualities that he will never be graded on. The things that make him my Zach. Empathy. Curiosity. Honesty. Compassion. Morality. Humility. Grit. Oh yes, and his fascinating superpower of retaining scintillating basketball statistics and captivating Fortnite data. Breathe. Balance.


When your children are studying, tears are falling, emotions are running high, and the stress is taking over, take a moment to remind them of their most beautiful qualities (if their antics are making you forget, find some inspirational qualities here). For some tips on dealing with exam stress and anxiety, visit this site.

Good luck kids! You’ve got this mom and dad.



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