How To Manage Exam Results Anxiety

Many teenagers in the UK are currently waiting for their GCSE and A Level results. This is a big day as it is the culmination of years of studying, and the outcome may determine the next stage of your life; be that sixth form, college, university, an apprenticeship or the first step into the job market.

It is totally normal that anxiety around this day is common and to be expected. Furthermore, it can be daunting regardless of how well you have done, as it is a turning point and the end of what previously felt familiar.

The purpose of this article is to provide strategies for managing anxiety and adopting a positive growth mindset during this time.

Understanding Exam Results Anxiety

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to perceived danger.

It’s sole purpose is to keep you safe, however when you have a genuine fear of failure or are comparing yourselves with your peers, your body will prepare you to “fight or flight”.

From an evolutionary perspective, your body doesn’t understand the difference between running away from a tiger and the fear of receiving your exam results.

When you are fearful, the “smoke alarm” that is anxiety gets triggered.

You may also have put unreasonably high expectations on yourself, possibly comparing yourself to a high achieving sibling or family member who seemed to get great grades with half the effort that you have put in. This can result in you judging yourself unfavourably and using negative self-talk that can increase anxiety.

Even if your exam results exceed your expectations, it can still be a scary time. This may mean you will now have to start preparing for the next phase in life, applying for jobs or moving away to university. You may have uncertainty about your future, and this feeling is most likely unfamiliar.

It is worth remembering that anxiety is a natural response, however excessive anxiety will not serve you and may keep you stuck or playing small, due to the fear of moving forward. Excessive anxiety is detrimental so you need to cultivate a positive mindset to help you feel more in control of your situation.

Growth Mindset for Exam Results Anxiety

Cultivating a Positive Mindset

We all have a voice inside our head that may criticise everything we do, feel and say. The chatter can be relentless. What you tell yourself will very much determine how you feel about yourself, this in turn will determine how you behave and how well you can adjust to life’s challenges.

It is important to notice your thoughts as 95% of the thoughts you have today are the same thoughts that you had yesterday. This chatter is so familiar to you that you may not even realise what you are saying to yourself. You can use the worksheets in the Additional Resources below to help you achieve this.

As a rule, when you notice the thought or the chatter, ask yourself, “Would you speak to your best friend like this?” The answer will usually be “No” so you need to question why you are using such harsh words on yourself.

Strengthen Your Resiliency

Having experienced the disruption from the Covid lockdowns, you are already more resilient than you realise. You have faced huge challenges that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

However you coped during that time, know you have come out the other side of those years and you have learnt lessons from them. You had no role model to follow and there was so much uncertainty.

Congratulate yourself for getting through those years.  

Can you think of another time when you had to be resilient? What strategies did you use then? How can those strategies help you now?

 Speak to an anxiety specialist

Healthy Coping Techniques

In the lead up to exam results day, you will want to focus on some healthy coping techniques. The following video can give immediate results when you are feeling anxious.

  • Practice deep belly breathing as this sends a signal to your brain that you are OK. When you are feeling anxious, most people breathe high in their chests, and this limits the oxygen you can take in. Take a deep breath blowing out through your mouth, and then feel your tummy expand as you breathe in. Repeat for at least 10 breaths, or as long as you need to feel calmer.
  • Stay in the present moment as worrying about results day will not change the outcome. When you feel anxious, you are giving that situation multiple occasions to make you feel nervous and overwhelmed, even when you can not change or predict the outcome.
  • Exercise as this releases endorphins, the feel good hormones, and spend time doing something you enjoy. You will notice that when you are doing something you enjoy, you are less likely to worry about the future.
  • Surround yourself with people who you trust and help you to feel safe.
  • Ensure you eat healthy foods and stay hydrated. Prioritise getting enough sleep.

The Power of Positive Affirmations

Using positive affirmations can also impact how you feel about your results. An example of positive affirmations could include:

  • "I am more than my exam results." This affirmation reminds you that your self-worth is not solely related to your exam results. It acknowledges your identity goes way beyond your results and your true  qualities, skills and potential in life exceed your academic achievements.
  • "I embrace whatever comes my way." This affirmation cultivates a mindset of adaptability and resiliency. It acknowledges that life is full of uncertainties, and whatever the exam results may be, you are equipped to face challenges and use them as stepping stones for growth.

Feel free to personalise these affirmations to align with your own thoughts and feelings. Repeat them regularly, especially in moments of anxiety and fear, to help you reframe your mindset positively.

Exam Results Anxiety

Avoiding Negative Comparisons

As tempting as it may be on results day, what strategies can you put in place to limit scrolling through social media and comparing yourself to others? Remind yourself that people only post what they are willing for you to see, so the posts that come up on your feed may not be a true reflection of reality.

Focus on your own personal growth and resiliency, rather than seeking external validation from others. Life is a journey, you have not yet reached the destination so there are plenty of opportunities for you to redirect your path in life should you need to or wish to.

Speak to an anxiety specialist

Learn from Challenges

Trying something new or challenging can help you to grow. Most growth and learning occurs slightly outside of our comfort zone, in what is called the “stretch” zone.

Many really successful people have got where they are through stretching themselves, remaining curious, embracing their failures, and using them to learn from. You often hear stories about people being an overnight success story, however this is just not true. The majority of really successful people have put in the effort and implemented what they learn along the way, they have adjusted their strategies as needed, and been adaptable.

Inspirational people who overcame their challenges include:

  • Steve Jobs: The co-founder of Apple Inc. dropped out of college after just six months. Jobs' passion for technology and design, along with his innovative ideas and perseverance, eventually led him to create some of the most iconic devices in the tech industry.
  • Oprah Winfrey: Her early life was marked by adversity and challenges, she had a disruptive upbringing which included academic difficulties. However, her talk show, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," became a global phenomenon, and through her determination and resiliency, she went on to build a media empire that includes television, film, publishing and philanthropy.
  • Richard Branson: The founder of the Virgin Group struggled with dyslexia and he eventually dropped out of school at the age of 16. However, Branson's entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to take risks and learn from what did and didn’t work, led him to create Virgin Records. This company later expanded into a diverse range of businesses, including Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Mobile. His innovative approach and determination made him one of the most prominent business figures.

Instead of beating yourself up about lower-than-hoped-for grades, how can you see this as an opportunity to really think about what you want to do next?

Remain curious as you have been given the opportunity to re-evaluate your options and do what you love. 

Exam Anxiety

Prepare for Different Outcomes

Regardless of the outcome on results day, know that you will have multiple “sliding door” moments in life, and if one door closes, another one opens. Think back to a time when something didn’t work out quite how you expected, and the outcome was even better.

Remind yourself that many people go on to have careers they enjoy that are not related to their studies, so take this opportunity to think about how you really want your life to look like. Remember that you can have multiple different careers throughout your life and it is never too late to relearn something you are passionate about.

Your results do not need to define your future. In fact, life experiences can be far more valuable and build up resiliency for years to come. The more experiences you have in life, the more opportunity you have to learn.

Speak to an anxiety specialist

It's Good to Talk About Your Feelings

Know who you can talk to about feelings of anxiety or disappointment, and who can best support you right now. That may be friends, family or teachers, however, it may also be easier to talk to someone that is not as emotionally invested in your results.

You may also be anxious about telling your parents or caregivers about your results. Recognise that they too may need to have some time to adapt to a change of direction for you. They too may be disappointed for you. This could be based on their own vision of how your life might have looked, and was not necessarily a vision you shared.

You are not alone with how you are feeling right now.

If You Need Further Support

 If you need further support with your Mental Health, a trained Anxiety Specialist can prescribe a personalised plan and help you develop healthy coping strategies that are focused around your individual needs.

Taking care of your mental health is an essential part of your overall well-being. Left unresolved, anxiety can spiral out of control and have a significant impact on relationships, work, school and family life.

So if you want to take the next steps to have a happier life where your fears no longer hold you back, click the link below and book a free no obligation consultation call.

Speak to an anxiety specialist

Other Resources

Download the Anxious Thoughts Diary Worksheet

Download the Circle of Control and Influence Worksheet

Watch some Breathing Techniques to Reduce Anxiety

Read 5 Simple techniques to ease anxiety 

Read how to have a Supportive Conversation about Mental Health

Download my eBook on How to Help Your Anxious Child

How to help your anxious child

Download my eBook on Workplace Stress and Anxiety

 Managing Workplace Stress and Anxiety

Speak to an anxiety specialist