How Can We Better Support Young Teens Through Major Exams?

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How Can We Better Support Young Teens Through Major Exams?

The secrets to managing academic stress

By June Yong | 15 September 2020

“I wanted to do well in my PSLE so I felt a bit stressed when faced with all the past year papers that I was supposed to do in preparation for the big exam. But my family helped me through this tough time and I learnt some ways to overcome my stress.” — David, a Secondary One student

“The PSLE experience was extremely stressful and exhausting, as I was constantly worried about whether or not I would do well. What was most stressful for me was that I was very worried I would not be able to get into the school I was hoping to go to. I wanted to get back into MGS, and if I did not make the cut off point, I wasn’t sure which school to go to. Even though it is much easier for MGS primary students to get into MGS Secondary compared to those from other schools, I was still constantly fretting over whether I would be able to meet the cut-off point.” — Layla, a Secondary Two student

“A recent challenge I went through was completing a collaborative film project. It required a lot of physical and mental workmanship in terms of ideation and handling the technical aspect of creating a coherent story on screen. As I am still exploring the subject of Film from a new lens, this experience also drove me to think about how I am going to apply what I studied in film in the future. For instance, would I take on an active role in the industry and make my own ideas a working reality or opt for a regular academic route into a non-arts career.” — Lauren, a Year 5 student in the I.B. programme

“As the PSLE is a national exam, it felt more pressurising and daunting than the other exams I've experienced.” — Jonathan, a Secondary One student

The mere mention of the acronym P.S.L.E. can send a chill down a primary schooler’s spine.

As our children enter secondary school, they too come face-to-face with daunting challenges, considering the jump in the number of subjects and an increase in time-consuming project work.

I spoke to four youths — David, Layla, Lauren and Jonathan — on what helps and what doesn’t when it comes to handling academic stress.

What Students Can Do or Say

1. Be aware of your weaknesses and work on them

For David, he knew his weakness was carelessness, so he learnt to avoid this by making sure he read the questions and checked his answers thoroughly. He added, “I also practised and re-practised questions on those topics that I was weaker in. This helped me to eliminate those weak points and increase my confidence, hence reducing my stress levels.”

2. Take time off to relax or exercise

Layla coped with stress by taking some time to do what she enjoyed doing, like reading, while also making sure she had sufficient time to study.

David also made it a point to continue to swim and exercise regularly. He shared, “My family and I set aside time to go to church every week and to parks to play soccer and badminton regularly. I also enjoyed meeting up with my fellow PSLE church friends on Sundays.”

“I’m realising that it is more important to have a fruitful experience learning and growing as a person rather than just focusing on the outcome.”

3. Focus on working hard and worry less about the result

When it comes to major exams, it is easy to say “don’t worry” but in reality, it is almost impossible for a child to not to worry. How did these kids cope?

Layla said, “I just put all my energy into studying and tried not to worry about the end result. I also discussed some of my worries with my parents, and they were very encouraging. They told me that what was important was that I worked hard and tried my best in the examinations, and just to worry about the results later.”

For Lauren, where the pressure comes from major assignments, looking at life’s hurdles as a process of growth helps.

She explained, “I’m realising that it is more important to have a fruitful experience learning and growing as a person rather than just focusing on the outcome.”

4. Confide in family

Lauren manages her stresses by confiding in her family. She said, “I draw a lot of comfort from hearing the experiences others have to share about a similar challenge they are going through, whether it is work-related or a mentally and emotionally rough time.”

“Not only does it give me assurance, but it also encourages me to think divergently about the ways in which I can approach my problem,” she added.

What Parents Can Do or Say

1. Work out a revision schedule with your child

Parents can sit down with your child and work out a rough revision schedule for the various subjects, taking into consideration the timeline and amount of revision required for different subjects.

For Jonathan, what benefitted most was receiving practical advice from family and friends on managing his workload. He explained that this helped him to set more realistic goals in terms of his revision, and manage his time better.

“This is a time where everyone is encouraged to tell each other our experiences and feelings, and we pray together. That always made me feel good and positive.”

2. Listen when your child has something to share

In the busy-ness of life, we can sometimes forget to pause and tune in to our kids’ feelings.

One family ritual that worked well for David was their regular family sharing time. He described, “This is a time where everyone is encouraged to tell each other our experiences and feelings, and we pray together. That always made me feel good and positive.”

3. Help them see there are other options

When we set our heart on a particular outcome, it can be devastating when things don’t turn out the way we wanted, especially for a child.

Parents may want to help the child see that while you may aim for a particular school, there are other choices out there that are equally good and have their own merits. Help them devise a Plan B (and C), so they have something to fall back on in the event of less-than-ideal results. This can help relieve some of the stress.

As Layla shared, “My parents were reassuring; they told me that going to Methodist Girls’ School Secondary was not the only option, and that there were many other schools I could choose from.”

4. Help manage distractions

With the ubiquity of digital devices, it can be challenging for young teens to strike a balance between technology use and study time. As the major exams draw near, parents may need to step in to help our youth manage digital distractions.

As Jonathan shared, “I would start thinking about my digital devices every now and then, and would have an incredible urge to pick up the phone every time I received a notification. However, my family helped me through this by keeping away my devices during periods of revision.”

5. Refrain from reminding them that the PSLE is near

Layla shared that while she felt very well supported by her family and teachers, one not-so-helpful thing that they did was to constantly remind her that the PSLE was drawing near. These reminders, while well-meaning, were quite tiresome to hear after a while and only served to add to her stress.

As I listened to the thoughts of these teens, I realised how crucial it is not just to provide practical help in their preparation for major exams, but to also connect with them and be a constant source of emotional support. As the exam period draws near, let’s remember to encourage our teens and put the tips above into action!

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.


Friends may have shared the inevitable negative pressures of exam and PSLE preparation on the relationship with their children. Instead of fearing what's ahead, we can equip ourselves to be positive and compassionate in stressful situations, protecting our relationship as our tweens head into adolescence and secondary school. Find out more at our interactive PSLE Special: Empowered to be a Parent-Coach webinar on 9 July 2022!

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