4 tips to help teens cope with exam results disappointment, as experts warn A-level and GCSE results could be lower this year after post-pandemic ‘grade inflation’ stopped

Exams to be held under normal conditions for the first time since 2019

Disappointed teenage girl after collecting exam results
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Exam conditions are returning to pre-pandemic levels this year, with experts warning this could result in a downturn in grades. A psychologist shares 4 tips to help teens deal with disappointment.

There are a lot of bases to cover when seeing your teen through their exams. You've probably experienced an element of exam stress, and supported your youngster through this challenging aspect of sitting multiple tests. Many parents research the exam diet, ensuring their fridge is stocked with nutritionist-backed foods to keep minds well-fed. In light of the recent leaked exam papers, caregivers have needed to remind their children that searching for them is classed as malpractice, and can result in disqualification.

Having carried out all the preparation you need to get your teen through their exams, the next stage is to consider what could happen if they don't get the grades they were hoping for. Educational Psychologist and Goodtoknow resident expert, Dr Patricia Britto, spoke to us about the types of disappointment teens might experience, and what they might look like. She says "Young people are likely to experience either two types of disappointment such as outcome-related or person-related, which can have a negative impact on their emotional well-being."

She explains "When young people experience outcome-related disappointment, such as their results do not match their expectations or what they had predicted, it can yield a sense of loss. Those who experience person-related disappointment from their exam results may feel that they or others caused the disappointing outcome, which can also lead them to experience the process of loss and grief."

"Young people are likely to experience either two types of disappointment such as outcome-related or person-related, which can have a negative impact on their emotional well-being."

Dr Patricia Britto, Psychologist

Dr Britto's explanation is especially pertinent in light of the news that experts warn GCSE and A-level results will be lower this year. Exams will be taken in full pre-pandemic conditions - this will mean attending in person, and sitting in silence at single, forward facing tables until the exam ends, for the first time since 2019. Years in between have seen students given information about exam topics, and other precautions put in place to counteract the loss of learning caused by school closures. 

According to Wales Online, the extra measures taken to mitigate lost learning since 2019 has led to record high results some deem to be 'grade inflation.' Such measures include students awarded results based on teacher assessments when exams were cancelled. In 2022, candidates resumed sitting exams at school, but were offered extra support in the form of advance information on topics covered in the tests, and a more 'supportive grading approach.'

Kerry Davies, head of general qualifications monitoring and standards at Qualifications Wales, has warned of lower results this year as exam conditions return to pre-pandemic standards. She said "It’s important that everyone has a clear and shared understanding about the value of learners’ grades and that’s why it’s vital we continue our journey to pre-pandemic assessment arrangements. Overall we expect that national results this summer are likely to be lower than they were in 2023."

To help parents prepare for their teen not getting the results they hoped for, Dr Britto shares her tips for helping deal with results disappointment.

4 tips to help deal with results disappointment

  1. Sit with your feelings. Dr Britto suggests parents allow teens to have their feelings, and not to rush them into feeling OK too quickly. She suggests that young people experiencing disappointment might make statements such as "I’m so useless; I will never pass anything again", which are normal, but require the nurturing support of parents in the aftermath. 
  2. Don't blame yourself or others. Again, your child's initial reactions could include chastising themselves for what they consider to be a 'failure.' They might lash out at parents for their perceived errors. Dr Britto says "Young people may begin to have a negative self-concept and self-esteem when they do not achieve what they had hoped for, which can have a negative effect on their overall well-being." Again, allow them to have their feelings, before encouraging them that all is not lost.
  3. Think about alternative outcomes for the future.  They might not have the results they want, but your child can still achieve their dreams - they might just look a little different, or they could take a longer route to get there. Dr Britto tells us "Discuss with them what they'll need to do to achieve the results they desire. Ask questions with them such as 'how can I re-writing my own story?'" This will offer them back some control over their narrative.
  4. Seek adult support. You know you're there for them, but they need to know you'll always be there for them with non-judgmental, supportive advice. Dr Britto suggests "Go over areas they might need to improve on to achieve what they set out to do. Make a plan and support them in the steps to achieve the desired goals."

If you believe there has been an error in your child's results, check with their school or institution to see if their papers can be marked again. Policies differ over how easily this can be done, but it could be worth looking into the process if will put your child's mind at rest. 

If their papers are marked again and the result is the same, use the feedback positively to identify areas of improvement. Encourage young people to take criticism constructively, using it to build a plan to implement changes to their future studies. 

For more on teens, are you confused by teenage slang words? You won't be once you're up to speed with our handy guide. It might be difficult, but giving your teen the space and opportunity to be independent, is the best way to help them thrive according to an educator. If they're struggling with big emotions, reflective parenting could help manage their feelings.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.