Self-confidence cam make or break exam success
Self-confidence cam make or break exam success

You are your own worst enemy.

This couldn’t be truer when it comes to studying.

A study published in Psychological Science showed that a student’s self-belief is just as important, if not more, than IQ.

So many students sabotage their own chances of exam success before they even start.


Because – as corny as it sounds – they don’t believe in themselves.

A great expression, often used to describe our instinctual gravitation towards behaviour that minimizes risk, is the lizard brain.

Our lizard brains keep us safe and don’t allow us to do anything risky or out of the ordinary.

We all have lizard brains. But some of us are better at keeping it at bay than others.

Teens are highly controlled by their lizard brains

If something is scary, if there’s a chance they could be embarrassed in front of their peers, if they could be perceived to be trying too hard at something, if there’s risk at failing, they won’t do it.

Can you see the problem? Studying hard and giving school your all requires battling against your lizard brain. It requires that your teen believes in themselves.

When thoughts of self doubt creep into your teen’s mind, this feeds their “lizard brain” and fear takes over. It tells them to lie low, to not put themselves out there, to not try their very best in case they fail and it was all for nothing.

Far too many teens suffer from an overactive lizard brain

Perhaps your teen is one of them?

Do they play it down when they do achieve something at school? “It’s no big deal, mum.”

Do they keep generally quiet about school and what they’re up to academically?

Do they avoid talking about exams and studying?

This may be a sign that your teen lacks confidence about their ability to do well at school.

Of course we and you both know they’re capable of fantastic grades, university, and whatever else they set their mind to.

But we can’t do the study for them, only they can!

So what can you do?

It’s terribly simple actually. If you believe your teen can reach their potential at school, and show them you know this to be true, they’ll believe it too.

We see the correlation between the parents’ attitude at that of their teen all the time with our tutoring.

And the correlation is exactly proportional.

One of our pupils, who we’ll call Sarah, really struggles with school. She takes mostly foundation subjects, which means she’s not up to taking mainstream subjects.

To put it in perspective, she’s 16 and can barely do her six times tables.

The really sad thing though, is the reason why she mixes with school as much as oil does with water. Her parents have absolutely no faith in her.

While helping Sarah with a math problem, her dad interrupts with the oh-so-helpful comment “For god’s sake Sarah – jeez you’re thick!”.

Before you think maybe he was just kidding and trying to be funny? No, he wasn’t.

I could practically see Sarah’s self-esteem go up in flames as quickly as the Hindenburg.

This type of interaction requires no explanation.

And at the other end of the scale we see a 17 year old student with Cerebral Palsy.

Her mother was told when she was born that she would never do well academically. She’s now in her second to last year of high school doing all mainstream subjects, including chemistry, math, biology, and English, and striving for top grades across all her subjects.

In fact she has her sights set on doing Bioengineering.

At every weekly lesson you can tell instantly her mother in as proud as punch and is behind her daughter every step of the way.

Clearly, this girl has known from the age of two to never to let her disability hold her back, and has believed she is capable of achieving anything she wants to in life.

In our opinion, this is entirely because her parents believe she can and have made sure she knows this to be true.

Image Credit: SachaW on Flickr



  1. look im not a parent im actually a teenage student 18 years old and i read this and i think it’s true but still i dont know what to do .. i know im an A student but i don’t know why i get bad grades i think it’s low self confidence but i really need help .. i can’t stay that way , so can you help me ?

  2. Hi. I’m a 17 years old teen approaching my CIE exams in 3 months. I’m generally a straight A student but these days I’m losing my confidence. Everyone has such high expectations from me and it’s actually having a negative effect on me. I feel like I’m on capable of achieving something great. Plus I have a really busy coaching schedule which doesn’t allow me to have personal study time. It’s hindering my preparation progress. I came across this site today and it has taught me some super awesome tricks and tips for effective study. I’m really impressed. But I was hoping maybe you could help me to kill my stress, boost my confidence and help maintain an effective study routine. I’d owe you. Please reply to me ASAP. Thank you. Love from Bangladesh.

    • Hi Nashia, thank you for your comment. First of all, your position and how you’re feeling is very common, so please don’t feel like you’re alone. Studying can be stressful, that’s just the way it goes. Particularly when important exams are approaching. But I think you have to try and manage your own expectations – you know what you’re capable of and what you need to do – what anyone else thinks or is striving for doesn’t matter. While it’s good to have goals in mind, it’s also important to have perspective. If you’re putting in the effort now (which it sounds like you are), you will get the grades you deserve, it’s that simple.

      I used to gain confidence in my study from knowing that I was on the right track, so test yourself as you go. If you’re doing well in practice exams or study exercises, that’s telling you that you’re doing well and that there’s no need to stress out or not feel confident.

      If your coaching schedule is getting too much, you might need to decide whether it’s worth carrying on or whether you can cut back. At the same time, it’s important to have a break from study, even when you have exams. But if it’s just stressing you out more, ask yourself if you’d feel better and less stressed if you cut back on doing other things.

      Feel free to email me as well if you want to chat further 🙂

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