Preparing Children For Their 11 Plus And Managing Exam Anxiety

Many young people will have spent the past year, if not longer, preparing for the upcoming 11 Plus exams meaning children, tutors and parents alike are more than au fait with the likes of verbal reasoning practice papers. The summer holidays mark the “home stretch” of revision as well as a much-needed period of relaxation before the exams and the start of a new school year but for some, the sense of exam anxiety will linger.

Nerves, stress and anxiety can play a huge role in exam performance, meaning all the preparation in the world can be futile if children aren’t prepared mentally and emotionally for an exam environment. In this post we aim to help you understand the causes, signs and coping techniques to help ease your child’s nerves and better their chances of success when they sit their 11 Plus.

So What Triggers 11 Plus Exam Anxiety?

Exam or test anxiety is quite a common form of stress that occurs before, during and sometimes after exams. It is commonly triggered by:

  • A feeling of unpreparedness in the lead up to exams
  • Excess pressure to succeed or fear of disappointing others – either stemming from self-placed pressure or from family and teachers
  • A feeling of inadequacy 

It can also be triggered by less obvious factors, like the manifestation of emotions following a big life transition. Whatever the reason, exam anxiety can take its toll mentally, emotionally and physically, which doesn’t put young people in good stead for a high-pressure exam environment. Spotting and managing stress can be crucial to your child’s success.

Tell Tale Signs That Your Child May Be Struggling With Exam Anxiety

You know your child better than anyone so will likely be able to spot if their behaviour is different than normal and establish whether something may be playing on their mind, like 11 plus exam anxiety. But a few tell tale signs to look out for include:

  • A short temper or notably more irritable than usual
  • Uncharacteristically quiet or withdrawn
  • Skin breakouts or rashes
  • A shift in appetite – either comfort eating or a sudden disinterest in food
  • Nail biting or teeth grinding
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent use of negative language like ‘stupid’ or ‘rubbish’ to refer to themselves, eluding to a feeling of inadequacy
  • Actively avoiding school
11 Plus Exam Preparation

How can Parents Help Manage The Stress and Prepare Children For An Exam Environment?

Building up the knowledge and skills a child needs to confidently sit the 11 Plus takes time but implementing the following techniques can be done quickly and easily to help them manage exam stress, nervousness and anxiety, and put them in good stead for September. 

In The Lead Up to the 11 Plus Exam

Promote healthy study habits

We all want the best for our children so there can be a tendency among parents to overdo it with practice papers and excess revision, which only feeds into the stress and pressure to do well. Simple changes like the below will help promote healthy study and balance, setting your child up for success.

Take regular breaks

Ensure there are regular opportunities for breaks from study to give them time to reset an unwind in between papers.

Encourage exercise

This could be anything from a short walk outdoors to a very active sport like tennis but encouraging exercise can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and alleviate stress. Group activities that provide an opportunity to interact with others are particularly positive during a stressful period. 

Adapt to your child’s learning style

Some children find it easier to study with background music on or in an environment with natural background noise, where others prefer silence. Either way, remember to be flexible to your child’s individual learning style.

Keep practising

You’ll likely have been doing practice papers with your child for a while now but one additional measure to consider is giving your child the opportunity to do practice papers in a timed and silent environment. That way, your child won’t be unfamiliar with exam conditions and subject to additional stress when the 11 Plus comes around.

Positive reinforcement

This is a tip that should carry throughout the exam process. Children experiencing exam anxiety are more likely to manage their stress if they feel supported by parents, tutors and teachers.

Express yourself

Encourage your child to talk openly about how they’re feeling in the lead up to the 11 Plus. Expressing their feelings can help them to rationalise their nerves and gives you the opportunity to tackle matters head on and offer advice to help minimise their anxiety. If they find it difficult to express themselves verbally, encouraging them to write down a couple of lines about their concerns, or draw something that visualises their feelings can help as a first step.


There are a lot of useful resources online that explain the best breathing techniques to self-soothe and calm nerves during stressful periods. Practising these with your child in the lead up to exams can be hugely beneficial as they can then implement these techniques and manage stress if nerves kick in in a test environment.

On 11 Plus Exam Day

On the day of the 11 Plus exam, children may need to venture outside of their beloved Coco Pops and have a more balanced breakfast that will sustain them throughout the exam. There’s not much that can be done by way of revision on the journey to school but there are lots of opportunities to give your child positive reminders that will help ease their nerves:

Remind children of their strengths

There’s no use in a child dwelling on the areas they feel less confident but pointing out the areas they excel in may help give them a confidence boost going into the exam.

Give a good luck charm

If possible, give your child a small good luck charm to take into their exam with them. Although there may not be a science behind good luck charms, having a token of good luck can help to increase confidence and self-belief during an exam. It also acts as a reminder that you’re thinking of them which is equally important.

Show your pride

It may sound obvious but remind your child that you’re proud of them regardless of how the test goes. This may sound obvious but as parents we often get caught up in wanting our children to do well that this simple step gets forgotten and the great weight of high expectations can often play a role mentally and affect exam performance. Helping to lift some of that pressure will in turn help alleviate 11 plus exam anxiety.

Use remaining time wisely

Remind children to re-read questions and answers if they have time to spare at the end.

A helpful reminder

Remind children that everyone finishes at different times but finishing slower doesn’t translate to poor performance.

After The 11 Plus Exam Is Done

Once the exam is over, the wait for results begins and that in itself can be just as nerve wracking. If your child is upset after the exam, take the opportunity to talk through the areas they feel they may have gone wrong so you can talk them through how to tackle future exams. This also allows you to identify areas where they might need the support of a tutor in future.

The end of the last exam is also a good time to remind your children and yourselves that dwelling on performance won’t help matters and if things haven’t gone to plan, that doesn’t mean the end of the line. 

The biggest thing you can do to relax your child(ren) after their last exam is to praise them for having done their best (because ultimately that’s the most important thing) and try to mark the end of the exams as a celebration to end this period on a positive note.

Useful resources:

Meditation techniques to self-calm during exams

Suggested breakfasts for exam day