Handling 11+ exam stress

Posted by James Thomas

11+ exam stress.
Get a pass.

I’m writing this for both of you.

Parent and child.

I want every one in the family to avoid Eleven Plus exam stress.

Let’s be honest about 11+ exam pressure.

Are you a family that thinks sheer hard work and volume of work as the way to be successful?

Children simply can’t be driven too hard, or they will fail due to the pressure. Parents might persuade themselves that their children are coping well with the pressure, but often deep down they are not – and it will all come out on the day.


Do you feel the need to measure progress by doing test after test?exam

Children don’t learn by doing tests. Tests should only be used to for accuracy and speed. A student getting 80% on tests due to a lack of knowledge only improves if they learn more, they won’t improve by doing another test.


Children thinking their parents are married to 11+ success.

This puts children in an awful place: feeling like they will be letting their parents down if they do not succeed. This can be a sign of too much pressure.

Okay. It might be child imposed, but it’s there and it can lead to freezing on the day. The fear of failure will get to them.

They will feel a huge amount of pressure.  

Too much 11+ talk.

Conversations at home that continually revolve around the 11+. “How are you getting on with revision?”, “It doesn’t matter if you fail, we’ll still love you.”  “Don’t worry, you’ll do well all your brothers and sister passed, you’ll be just like them.” Not helpful.

And then there’s school gate chatter. Chatter in the classroom.

Walk away.

The 11+ and just the Eleven Plus.

studyAre you staying focused? Some parents go too far. Going beyond the syllabus can set a child up to fail.

If work is made to be too serious or dry, the pressure mounts.

Parents who drive their children beyond the syllabus being tested can set their children up to fail. Children only need a deeper understanding of the syllabus.

Parents who boast about their child doing year 7 or 8 work or even GCSE questions tend to be setting up their children to fail. The extra knowledge they have learnt means they may not be able to work accurately with simpler questions or be able to work quickly enough.

Children deliver their best work when they are rested, happy and confident.

11+ exam stress and what it does.

Basically stress overload means you can’t think straight. It’s harder to learn new things (revise). Be calm, remember things, think logically and be accurate on exam day.

Look for the signs.

stressed childYou know your child. The changes may be small and subtle, or staring you right in the face. Most notably:

  • Your child eats more or less
  • Sleeps too much, or too little
  • Withdraws from others, come across as cold, distant or snappy – door slamming etc.
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Showing nervous habits -nail biting, pacing.

11+ exam stress relief.

Let’s look at your breathing

child funBreathing exercises can help you relax. They make your body feel like it does when you are already relaxed. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. 

Keep a diary

I may ask you to keep a diary of your thoughts, feelings and actions in stressful situations and how they change over time – and what you can do to help yourself. 

For example:

  • Practice being in the exam room, be familiar with the space.
  • Exercise and smile – try being stressed then! Also getting out and exercising boosts confidence: you’re not hiding yourself away.
  • If you can take yourself to a place that “stresses you out”. Look around. Breathe deeply. Feel tall. Change how you think and feel in that moment. Forget the past, the future. Relax in the here and now.

And always remember. You’re not alone. You’re part of a team. We work together. You and me. I believe in you.

11+ stress - where children have the advantage.

By training I’m a hypnotherapist, a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist to give me my full title. We know that children respond better than grown ups to hypnotherapy. They have more vivid imaginations because they are more creative. They find it easier to imagine success.



James Thomas is a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist based in Lincolnshire. He runs The Gentle Mind Hypnotherapy Ltd.

He believes we are what we tell ourselves. That when we relax we are kinder to ourselves.



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Topics: Stress, Anxiety, Worry, Fear, Confidence, Exam

In a Nutshell



Be honest. Are you applying too much pressure?

Look for the signs of 11+ exam stress in your children.

And do something about it!


Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re worried you can bet lots of other children are. Only you’re different. You’re doing something about it.

Signs of stress.

  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sleep: too much, or too little
  • Mood swings
  • Distracted
  • Nail biting

Dealing with 11+ exam stress

I use hypnotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural therapy:

  • You learn to relax. To ACT, THINK and FEEL differently – for the better.
  • You learn to breathe calmly. Be in a calm state. Think more clearly.

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When we’re not ourselves we burn ourselves out. Physically and mentally. I want to help you be kind to yourself. Be a better version of yourself. In effect have a relaxed and gentle mind.