Think back to your high school years – back when Twitter was something that birds did, when Brexit was just a blip on the horizon, maybe even when shoulder pads were cool instead of a mortal sin against God.
Somewhere among the memories of friendships and first romances, you might remember your exams: the endless weeks of preparation, the night-before nerves, the semi-permanent cramp in your hand.
Exams are stressful, and if you’re reading this, then you’ve probably seen these things take their toll on your son or daughter.
However, there are plenty of things you can do to make exam time less stressful for your kids.
The following tips will help you and your child ‘share the load, Mr. Frodo’ (but with ring binders instead of the one ring.)
Feed them well
Binge-eating snacks and junk food might be an appealing way of offsetting study boredom, but it won’t do your kid much good. Eating well is key to staying alert and awake through the endless hours of algebra, symbolism and trench foot. (Why is it always trench foot?)
Buy healthy snacks for the house, and ensure that they eat a good breakfast on the day of the exam.
Give good revision advice
No kid wants a helicopter parent waiting by to berate them for sub-optimal study technique.
However, many kids don’t know the best way to revise, and some encouraging guidance from you can lower stress and reassure them that they’ve got everything under control.
Some revision tips:
Make sure they know that passive revision is almost as bad as no revision. Simply reading a textbook over and over won’t help them remember what they need to know.
Encourage them to write out their own notes in different ways, sometimes summarising, sometimes elaborating, sometimes drawing connections between areas, sometimes focusing only on key points. These multiple views on the same material will help it to stick.
Get them to make a colourful summary page of key facts (in their best handwriting so it’s easy to scan). This could be a page of formulas, prompt words from quotes, important diagrams or an essay structure – whatever they need to remember most. Memorising one pared-down page of essential information can help reduce the common fear of ‘forgetting everything’ in the exam. Sometimes a small prompt is all you need.
Get them organised
Give them one less thing to think about by helping them get organised the night before the exam. Make sure they have clothes laid out and their bag packed with everything they need.
A quick checklist to run over:
- Black pens
- A transparent pencil case
- Transparent water bottle (no label)
- Money for public transport/bus pass if necessary
Triple check their exam schedule
Everyone has a story about someone who missed their exam. Either they got the date right but slept through their alarm, or they received a phone call like this…
Worried Friend: ‘Hey, where are you?’
Soon-to-be Very Worried Friend: ‘Just in bed, what’s up?’
W: ‘You’re in bed? The biology exam is today, I’m at school. We’re getting called in.’
S: ‘Yeah, very funny.’
W: ‘Are you serious? Tell me you’re on the way.’
S: ‘I’m so not falling for that one. Give it up.’
W: ‘Oh my god… you actually don’t know. You’re actually serious. Oh my god. The exam is today, it is literally about to start. THIS IS NOT A DRILL’
*screaming for mum*
Moral of the story: do not trust your child or your memory. Check and triple-check the timetable and mark the exams on your calendar.
If nothing else, you can cross off the days til the stress is over and you can watch Law & Order in the evenings instead of being a one-man revision police force.
Don’t actually be the revision police force
That was a joke, people. Everyone needs some time off to relax and recuperate, and there’s a ton of evidence that shows people learn better when they have regular breaks.
Make sure they take some time away from the books every hour, and don’t prohibit them from seeing friends or taking an evening off. It’ll do them and their grades the world of good.
Likewise, don’t make your kids feel like they’ve failed before they’ve even sat the exam. Praise them for their efforts rather than nagging or berating them.
Positive reinforcement often works better than punishment, and having a supportive and happy home life is key to reducing exam stress.
Ultimately, as a parent you can only do so much. Make allowances for extra grumpy-teenager behaviour and do what you can to support them. You might even get a ‘thank you’ once in while.