How to help your child through their exam results

Jan 16, 2018NCEA, NCEA Exam Results, Study Tips


Early Tuesday morning, NZQA released the eagerly-awaited results of last year’s NCEA exams, and students across the country could finally see how much of their hard-work last term paid off.

Whether your child has already checked their results or they’re still feeling too nervous to share them: there are two things that both of you should keep in mind when reflecting on these results – good or bad.

Firstly: your child’s exam results are not the end of the world. Even if their results were devastating, there are steps they can take to continue moving forward. If your child received disappointing marks this morning, it is important that you as a parent remind them of this – and provide them with the encouragement and confidence to try again.

Secondly, your child’s exam results are not always an accurate, complete or reliable assessment of their intelligence. If your child’s confidence has taken a hit, make it known that exams are tests, and just like humans, they are variable and unpredictable. In fact, studies have shown that exams have more to do with performance, memorisation, time-management and strategy than they do actual content knowledge. There is always a lesson in exams.

Sometimes, even with these two things in mind, students can become disillusioned by their exam results, and let them impact their future approaches to school, learning and studying.

In order for your child to deal with their results in the most productive way possible, there are steps you can take as a parent to support them. Here is our advice on supporting your child through their exam results – whatever they may be.


Control what you can

We don’t really know how our results are going to pan out. There will no doubt be surprise, frustration, anguish, grief and euphoria across the country as students find out their results.

And despite wishing we could determine the outcome of whatever today brings, we cannot. The only power we have is our response to it.

If your child’s results are determining whether they get University Entrance, or into a competitive tertiary course, it’s important that you have a gameplan for if they fall short. If your child hasn’t yet checked their results out of fear, a good idea is to draft some positive solutions together for all possible outcomes.


For example:

If you don’t get the grades to get University entrance… Then, we will:”

  • Call the University and enquire about whether or not you can still gain entry into the course or be put on a waitlist for entry.
  • Ask about any make-up courses or pre-requisite classes you can take before courses are set to start.
  • Explore other less-competitive courses.
  • Consider retaking your exams or trying again next year.
  • Look at alternative routes to your goals.

Giving your child an “if, then” game plan for if things go awry will help maintain composure in case of panic. It’s a safety net in a worst-case-scenario, so that your child knows there is always a way forward.


Reflect, and make a plan for improvement

While it’s tempting for students to simply rid everything from their minds as soon as they see your marks, this moment right now is a critical opportunity to pause, reflect and plan.

Your child will never do better than last year if they don’t make a change. But the change can’t just be arbitrary, it should be informed by experience and reflection.

As long as you’re unaware of your shortcomings, you can never transform for the better. Growth is a conscious process.

If your child is disappointed, they need to reflect on why they missed the grades. Encourage them to work out what went wrong, put it to one side, and then keep moving forward knowing that these exams taught them lessons to carry onto future challenges.

If your child is happy with their results, work out why too! Ask them what they’re most proud of, assess where they performed the best, and consider why. And – of course – celebrate the victories! Then, write down your key lessons from the exams in the form of a “tips sheet” for their future self.


If your child is having trouble reflecting, refer them to these questions:


  • What went wrong with my answers?
    • Did I write the answers in the way that the examiners wanted?
    • Did I understand the concepts in enough depth?
    • Did I manage my time well on the day?
  • What went wrong with my exam preparation?
    • Did I do enough past exams?
    • Did I have a plan of how to study?
    • Did I study in the most effective way?
    • Did I continuously self-assess my own knowledge as I was studying?
  • Where was I successful and why?
    • Even in the midst of the most terrible exam results, there will be some success. That success is a sign of potential or progress and needs to be reflected on so it can be replicated.


Let it go

If your child didn’t get the results they’d hoped – there will likely be some anger, tears or frustration. This is healthy, and a normal part of exams. Let your child do whatever it is they need to get out your post-exam emotions, and remain sympathetic to their position.

But once they’ve spent a day doing that, acknowledge their emotions, validate them, and then encourage them to let them go.

Holding onto guilt from not doing enough during exam season isn’t helpful. Instead of wallowing in it, ask your child to think about what that guilt teaches them for next time.

Do something nice with loved ones to celebrate the end of whichever NCEA level they just completed. Even if their results didn’t go to plan, give your child some praise for simply getting through, remind them that you will support them moving forward, and set aside some time when you’re ready to make a plan for improvement.



Whether your child excelled or failed does not matter anymore, although it might provide some valuable lessons. After results day, your child might be feeling anything from paralysed and disillusioned, to overly confident and lazy. It’s important to help them get re-motivated for the year to come.

Why is school important? Being aware of what fulfils your child about school will empower them to want to do well in exams – and beyond.

If you try to force goals for them, incentivised by money or rewards, they’re much less likely to stick with them. Instead, encourage your child to think about about goals that truly resonate with them.

For example, they might want to do well at school so that they can widen their career opportunities, or be the best version of themselves possible.



If they’re still struggling, your child can try out this quick visualisation exercise to tap into their intrinsic motivation.


  • Imagine your ideal position in five years time, and visualise how it feels to be that person. What are you doing? What have you done to get there? Who are you with? What are you wearing? Where are you? What does it feel like to have the grades and success you desire?
  • Write down a description of this imaginary self somewhere, and describe it in detail.
  • Identify and write down three “action steps” you can do now to make your dream a reality. If you’re not even sure where to begin, start small. Every effort and every action gets you closer.

For now, there’s no time like the present for students to make up for any shortcomings, or build on their victories. Make sure your child knows this, and they’ll be well on track for an exceptional 2018 school year.

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