Exam Success: A Parents’ Guide
So many people I’ve worked with recently are enduring the roller coaster of emotions that come with exams. Children learn from a young age that they have the potential to fail. And with age comes the sense of significance; if I don’t get the grades, my dreams are over.
There are so many myths and poor study habits that present barriers to effective revision and memory recall that it’s worth taking a step back and considering the big picture.
Let’s start with the parents. Yes your ‘wee ones’ may now be independent teenagers but they need you. During this daunting time they need comfort and security. But be warned, this may not be in the form that you’d recognise! Irrational, tearful, angry, withdrawn behaviours are all signs of stress (and hormones). Your child isn’t choosing to behave in a way that makes their (and your) life miserable. If your responses mirror their emotional insecurities, it’s going to be a very challenging time for everyone!
We need to ensure our students’ brains are in the best health. That means meeting their basic needs. Are they getting 8-9 hours sleep a night; engaging with a relaxing, non-work, screen-free activity pre-bedtime; exercising for 30 minutes/day and getting fresh air to increase their energy levels; limiting caffeine, drinking plenty of water and eating healthy meals and snacks? If you answered “Yes!” to all these, you have a rare breed! Young people often understand the logic but need help to implement these self-care strategies.
Your scholar needs a timetable with realistic goals, broken into small chunks with breaks. When panic creeps up, encourage deep breathing, exhaling longer than the inbreath. Doing an activity mindfully during these intervals (e.g. walk, gym, have a bath) by fully engaging the five senses helps bring racing imaginations back to the present, to reduce emotional arousal and increase rational thinking. Most young people tell me they don’t have time for breaks. But imagine trickling a constant supply of stress into a jar.. it soon fills up. Emptying it out regularly allows the cognitive brain concerned with memory, reasoning and logic to perform at its best.
Revising with peers can be an effective technique that helps students absorb facts and benefit from social support to increase confidence. Encouraging young people to talk is crucial at times of stress and it is worth supporting them to get help from teachers and/ or health professionals if the young person is really struggling.
Finally, emphasise that this moment in time is not going to determine their fate for ever. Encourage them to reflect on how far they have come and to believe in themselves. Helping them gain a sense of perspective is essential. Anxiety during this time is normal and helps motivate students to take action so frame it as an exciting time to show off all they’ve learned and to move on to the next chapter of their lives!