Now, I work in a primary school, but I have a lot of friends who have kids who are doing their SAT’s or their GCSE’s or even A-Levels and they are frantically worried about them. They might not be sleeping or eating, are constantly worried about revision etc. Exams are a stressful time in anyone’s life (I shudder thinking back to mine all those years ago) but there are so many things you can do to help your kid prepare and feel more confident around this tricky time.
Don’t say ‘Just do your best’ before they leave the house
Beware the seemingly innocent motivational comments on the day that can carry toxic undercurrents to a teenager always searching for hidden parental criticism. “All you can do is your best” is a classic — it sounds glib to them and also hints at possible disappointment. Even “Just try your hardest” can annoy them because it doesn’t acknowledge the importance of the exam in their eyes and the hours of preparation they’ve put in (“Like I’m not going to try my hardest. Duh.”). Parents may have to accept that they can never quite say the right thing in the right tone before an exam, but a simple “Good luck”, “You’ll be great”, “Good work so far”, or “You should be proud of the work you’ve done” should suffice.
Breathing exercises really do help
“When you deeply and consciously breathe in and out you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the calming part of the nervous system — it’s a basic physiological response and it can have a profound effect on stress,” says Dr Danny Penman, who has provided mindfulness exercises for nervous teens for NCS (ncsyes.co.uk). Tell them, before an exam to take a deep breath from the tummy, in through the nose, count to five then let the breath flow out, and repeat five times.
What to say when they think an exam went badly
“It’s important to say to them that they don’t know how they’ve done — probably better than they think,” says Andrew Halls, the headmaster of King’s College School in Wimbledon, London. Adopt a “let’s wait and see” approach, he advises. “Your sole concern should be to make them feel better about themselves because they will feel devastated. Say, even if it was bad, frankly, so what? No one has been physically hurt, it’s all repairable.” It can help to remind them of your own failures (he regularly tells pupils about his U grade in O-level maths).
If your child was ill on the day of the exam but still sat it, ring the school as quickly as possible because exam boards offer a maximum of 5 per cent of the total marks for special circumstances, which can include bereavement, domestic crisis or illness; you may get up to 2 per cent for a viral illness or hay fever.
Show them how to pace themselves for the next few weeks
Now that GCSEs stretch on for six weeks, from mid May through to the end of June, they have to pace themselves: no one can work intensively through the whole period. “There’s a law of diminishing returns,” says Halls. “They have been loping around for nearly two months by now, including their study leave. They need to keep up their sports and leisure activities, see friends and maybe even have some downtime watching Netflix.” Try to drag them outside, blinking in the sunlight, a couple of times a week. One study showed that spending an hour outside in a green space increased attention and memory by 20 per cent. Walking is also proven to be good for creative thinking, possibly because of increased blood flow to the brain.
They choose when, where and how to work at this stage
It’s not the time to raise eyebrows if they are Facetiming friends for a last-minute group revision session or they decamp to the library or park with their books. “It’s not necessarily a waste of time for kids to revise together — girls particularly, like doing it,” says Halls. “It’s important to pick up their rhythm, rather than impose your rhythm on them: you’re a backing vocalist to your child’s performance at this point. You can tweak how they work, but not change it. If they feel they’re at their best revising until 11pm or 12 and getting up later, it’s up to them, as long as they are well-rested.” Keep the basic rules in place: phones and laptops out of the bedroom at night to avoid late-night pinging panic messages.
Did any of this help you? Do you have a child that is struggling with exam stress and you have found a great solution that you’d like to share? Then i’d love to hear from you – you can get in touch via the contact page! Thanks!