Every childhood is worth fighting for – National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
We are now in the exam season.
Tests and exams can be a challenging part of school life for both children and parents. But there are ways to ease the stress.
The secret to doing well in exams lies in planning. You can help your child to create a clear revision plan and method of studying that will make them feel in control of their work.
What Are The Tell-Tale Signs Of Exam Stress?
Students who experience stress may be irritable, not sleep well, lose interest in food, worry a lot, and appear depressed or negative. Headaches and stomach pains can also be stress-related.
Solution: Having someone to talk to about their work can help. Support from a parent, tutor or study buddy can help children share their worries and keep things in perspective.
Some parents find that too many high-fat, high-sugar and high-caffeine foods and drinks (such as cola, sweets, chocolate, burgers and chips) make their children hyperactive, irritable and moody.
Solution: A balanced diet is vital for your child’s health, and can help them to feel well during exam periods.
The key to a healthy diet is to:
- Eat the right amount of calories for how active you are, so that you balance the energy you consume with the energy you use. If you eat or drink too much, you’ll put on weight. If you eat and drink too little, you’ll lose weight.
- Eat a wide range of foods to ensure that you’re getting a balanced diet and that your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs.
A Healthy Diet
Teenagers need lots of energy and nutrients because they’re still growing. The amount of energy that food and drink contains is measured in both kilojoules (kJ) and kilocalories (kcal) commonly just referred to as calories.
A National Health Service report in the UK estimate that the average energy requirements for children aged 13-18 years old a day is:
However, these figures are only a guide. Young people might need more or less energy depending on a number of factors, including how physically active they are.
A healthy, balanced diet for teenagers should include:
- at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
- meals based on starchy foods, such as potatoes, bread, pasta and rice (choose wholegrain varieties when possible)
- some milk and dairy products (choose low-fat options where you can)
- some foods that are good sources of protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, beans and lentils
Teenagers shouldn’t fill up on too many sugary or fatty foods, such as crisps, sweets, cakes, biscuits, and sugary fizzy drinks. These foods tend to be high in calories but contain few nutrients.
How Much Sleep Does My High School Child Need?
Good sleep will improve thinking and concentration. Most teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours’ sleep a night.
Experts have linked a lack of sleep to problems with behaviour, concentration and achievement at school.
A lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain too, because it inhibits the production of appetite-controlling hormones.
Cramming all night before an exam is usually a bad idea. Sleep will benefit your child far more than a few hours of panicky last-minute study.
Supporting Your Teenage Child Through Exams
Exam time can be very stressful for everyone in the family. Your child may not want to sit all of their exams, or perhaps getting them to revise has become an uphill struggle. It’s understandable that you will have concerns for their future and want them to do well in their education, so that they have plenty of opportunities after they leave school.
If you’re worried about your child’s exams and the marks they might get, imagine how overwhelming it might be for them. Preparing for and sitting exams can be a very pressured time, and then, once the exams are finished, it’s a countdown to the results which can be equally stressful for everyone.
As a parent you can really help your children through this time, just by being there for them and encouraging them to talk about their feelings and fears. You can also ask for help from the school itself.
Start Early And Spread It Out
Actors don’t leave their rehearsals until the day before opening night.
Athletes don’t only train the day before a match.
To commit something to memory takes time. Spreading out your revision sessions on a particular topic is more effective than spending 8 hours of your time in one go studying for tomorrow’s exam. This effect, known as “spacing” helps, because it allows time in between revision sessions to forget and re-learn the material.
Here are just a few ideas to make exam time that bit more bearable.
SEVEN TOP TIPS FOR EXAM REVISION
- Make sure they have a comfortable place to work.
- If you do not have a suitable spot, make it easy for them to study elsewhere, like the library
- Work out a revision timetable for each subject
- Establish a revision routine by re-arranging the family’s schedules and priorities.
- Be lenient about chores and untidiness as much as you are able to.
- Give them a break and understand lost tempers and moodiness.
- Try to avoid nagging them as it can help them lose focus.
- Encourage your child to join family meals, even if it’s a busy revision day – it’s important to have a change of scene and get away from the books and computer for a while.
Breaking Revision Into Smaller Chunks
- It is never too late to study, revise or ask for help.
- Break revision time into small chunks – hour-long sessions, with 30 minutes short breaks at the end of each session often work well
- Make sure your child has all the essential books and materials
- Buy new stationery, highlighters and pens to make revision more interesting
- Go through school notes with your child or listen while they revise a topic.
- Any Revision Guides will help – ask your child or the school for help.
- Accept that some people can revise better with music on in the background.
- Talk to the school about what they advise.
Some Rewards And Others
- Don’t go in for bribes; encourage them to work for their own satisfaction.
- Schedule small and frequent rewards for the effort they are putting in.
- Suggest a special evening or day out as it could give them a treat to look forward to.
Notes and Past Exam Papers
- Condense notes onto postcards to act as revision prompts
- Most Exam Boards offer free access to past exam papers – PRACTICE THESE!
- Time your child’s attempts at practice papers
- After you have tested yourself, teach the material to someone else.
- This has been found to help aid memory and recall: it is known as “the Protégé Effect”.
- Teaching someone else requires you to learn and organise your knowledge in a clear and structured manner.
Time-Out: Get Some Fresh Air And Exercise
- Encourage your child to take regular exercise. A brisk walk around the block can help clear the mind before the next revision session.
- Get a good night’s sleep before an exam, so discourage your child from staying up late to cram.
- And make sure s/he eats a good breakfast on the morning of the exam.
LASTLY, . . .
- Be calm, positive and reassuring and put the whole thing into perspective. They can always . . . . take an exam again.
Put Your Phone Away
This should be an obvious one, but for many it isn’t. Phones can be distracting; they are linked to fomo (fear of missing out), and evidence shows that students who spend more time texting and using social media get lower grades. In another fascinating study, researchers found that the mere sight of a phone was enough to reduce a person’s ability to focus. The implication couldn’t be clearer: out of sight really is out of mind
Providing All-Round Support
The best way to support your child during the stress of revision and exams is to make home life as calm and pleasant as possible. It helps if other members of the household are aware that your child may be under pressure and that allowances should be made for this.
If your child is given study leave in the run-up to exams, try to be at home as much as possible so that you can share a break and a chat together.
Make sure there are plenty of healthy snacks in the fridge and try to provide good, nutritious food at regular intervals.
Explain that exams aren’t an end in themselves but a gateway to the next stage of life – to another Key Stage or to GCSEs, A levels, Advanced Placement, university, college or work. Good results are themselves the best reward for hard work and will make US proud of YOUR achievements.
My Dear Parent, make sure your child knows you’re interested in their work and that you’ll be proud if they do well . . . and that if the unexpected happen, you are still proud of the effort exerted and that there is a better chance next time.
Revision time can be challenging as it often requires students to monitor their own behaviour when working independently. Hopefully, by teaching and being there for them will help improve their memory, mood and concentration; and can better equip them to meet the challenges head on.
Good luck in all your endeavours.