But now, a dark-suited senior council official in Birmingham, England's biggest local authority, believes he has hit on the answer.
Tony Howell, the strategic director for children, young people and families, has sent out a signed good luck card to all of the city's 12,000-plus GCSE pupils.
It doesn't stop there. The council has also posted good luck messages on billboards, buses and trains.
Sceptics might ask whether Birmingham's 15- and 16-year-olds would be much moved by a card from a faceless bureaucrat.
Mr Howell acknowledged that pupils might be puzzled at receiving the cards, but insisted they would make a difference.
For the last few years, he has written to several hundred selected GCSE pupils whose teachers believed they needed a little encouragement to boost their grades.
Last year, 59 per cent of the 385 pupils who received the letters received five good GCSEs - a little below the Birmingham average, but none of them had been expected to do so well.
This year, Mr Howell decided to extend the campaign.
He again sent letters to 670 selected pupils. He took the letters home with him at the weekend and spent a Saturday signing them. His hand was feeling a little cramped by the end, he said, but Birmingham's young people were worth the discomfort.
The 12,416 good luck cards, on the other hand, had his signature printed on them. They included information about where pupils could get support or internet access for their revision. Mr Howell said: "Most of the young people may never meet me, and wouldn't recognise me if they passed me in the street, but the fact that it's signed by the director for children makes them proud.
"Some of them have never had a formal letter like that."
"Speaking to young people, they say they like the fact that someone notices what they're going through."
Ranjit Samra, deputy headteacher of Aston Manor school, said most of his school's 141 Year 11s would not have heard of Mr Howell.
"But I explained to them that he's my boss's boss's boss's boss, and that gave them some context about how important he is," Mr Samra said. "And that made them feel important.
"The cards have made them feel more positive, that there are people in the wider community who are supporting them."