Coping with Bereavement: Preparing for Exams

The thought of facing bereavement at exam time is incomprehensible for most of us and yet, as we move into May, there are those across the UK wrestling with this very challenge.

For many of us, May is a time of excitement as the weather improves and the summer holidays draws ever nearer. Before we get there though, most young people will need to navigate the choppy waters of exam season. Academic exams mark an important and often difficult junction in our lives where we demonstrate the best of our abilities and set the stage for our working lives moving into the future. This is a difficult time for all of us but for those struggling with bereavement, an already difficult task can easily become an impossibility. Unfortunately, this is the reality that many of us face each year so it’s worth knowing what help is available as well as what you can do to make this time a little easier.

We sat down with Jenni, our Children’s Team Lead at Primrose Hospice, to discuss bereavement and how it can affect young people preparing for exams…A woman with long brown hair stood in the Primrose Hospice garden

“Bereavement can impact young people in different ways. When you’re bereaved it can make it harder to focus and you can easily become more distracted. Bereavement can change your approach to situations, being all consuming and making it hard to see the purpose of exams. This can make it difficult to care about your future when it suddenly looks very different without that person. Emotions can run high and sleep is often affected which can further impact your ability to concentrate.

Having said this, for some of the young people we support we can find the opposite. They are motivated to achieve in memory of that person or find that throwing themselves into school work and revision can be a valued distraction.”

It’s also worth remembering that communication is all important. Our academic institutions are accustomed to working with people and are usually very understanding of difficult circumstances. Be sure to let your school or college know about your situation and the impact it is having so they can work with you to find suitable compromises. Most institutions have formal policies around extenuating circumstances with various provisions to help. These may include things like a deferral of your exams or extended time to complete them depending on your needs.

When asked about her experience of school provisions for bereavement, Jenni mentions;

“You can find this differs from school to school, however, most schools have great pastoral support and more and more schools now have a designated members of staff to support bereaved children. Many schools offer time out cards and often special consideration can be given for exams when a child has been bereaved – theA young person studying, holding glasses. schools exam officer can apply for this on your behalf.”

As discussed in previous articles, managing bereavement can rely a lot on building resilience, gaining helpful support and developing effective coping strategies. Thinking about exam preparation in particular, we asked Jenni what coping strategies she’d recommend;

“Try to keep it simple… Exams require us to condense a lot of information learnt throughout the year and it can be very taxing trying to remember everything. This can be made all the more difficult with bereavement and how it affects concentration so make sure to allow plenty of time for revision and take regular breaks. Plan things you enjoy for when you’re not revising and organise things to look forward to after you’ve completed you’re exams. If things become too overwhelming, remember to lean on school services for support, particularly if support is not currently available at home.

It might be helpful to do something to make you feel connected to that person in your exams for example you could wear the persons favourite colour, wear their perfume/aftershave, use one of their pens or wear a piece of jewellery that reminds you of them.’’

Jenni also reminds us that anyone can self-refer to Primrose support services if they are struggling with bereavement and looking for support. For more information about referrals to Primrose Hospice take a look at our referrals page.

When it comes to suggesting specific revision techniques, it’s worth remembering that we’re the experts of ourselves so you’re the person best equipped to know how you learn most effectively. Take some time to understand what kind of learner you are. The VARK learning model can help with this by identifying you as a visual, auditory, read/write or kinesthetic learner allowing you to focus on revision materials that best suit your style. The internet is also a treasure trove of learning material but it’s important to ensure you’re using good sources for information. BBC Bitesize and Google Scholar can be useful resources depending on what level of education you’re working at.

From all of us on the Primrose team, we wish you the very best in your exams and hope you attain the results you’re looking for.

To be referred to the Family Support Service, please contact your GP or contact the service directly, between 9am and 5pm, and ask to speak to the Family Support Team Leader.

T: 01527 889799


by Josh Davies

Published: 10.05.24