With help and guidance from parents plus the right balance of study and fun, exams don’t have to be so dreadful
Most parents will know that exam time can lead to unwelcome stress and anxiety for their children.
For some students, the anxiety can be manageable with no serious effect in their capabilities to perform well during a test. Some, however, may find the pressure overwhelming to the point that it hinders their capacity to absorb information and apply their knowledge once it’s time to put it all down on paper.
“Many examinations can seem life changing in their significance. Some are valuable indicators of next steps in learning, but all carry with them an element of stress,” says Paula Cumming, deputy head academic at Brighton College Prep School. “This need not be a negative thing as a certain amount of stress can be empowering and motivating, however the key to coping and dealing with stress successfully is perspective. How important are the next set of examinations and how can you help your son or daughter to try their very best without all of you getting overwhelmed?”
Parents must cultivate open communication lines by asking their children how they are coping with their workload and offering to help in whatever possible way.
“Communicate with the school if you feel your child is getting overly stressed. Perhaps they can have some extra time with a teacher or their tutor can help them organise their learning more effectively,” suggests Paula.
For Simon Hetherington, former maths teacher and owner of Kip McGrath education centre in Abu Dhabi, preparing early and instilling steady study habits can significantly alleviate feelings of anxiety during exam days.
“Start your revision early – learning is a long-term skill,” he says. “Last minute cramming is not the answer to achievement. A child needs to feel confident in their abilities and develop their skills over the course of a longer period of time.”
Using appropriate revision materials and guides, and past paper examples, as well as school recommended textbooks and websites can assist in the learning process.
It is also important to create a positive learning environment at home. This entails making other people in the household aware of the pressure the child is dealing with and finding a suitable space in the house that is conducive for studying.
Educators also recommend that parents, no matter how demanding their work
schedules are, find time to sit down with their children and guide them in their studies.
“Show interest in your child’s work. Simple discussions where your child explains a concept back to you will help their long-term memory,” says Simon, who adds that this method can likewise develop children’s ability to express themselves clearly both verbally and in writing.
From time to time, break up the routine by engaging in fun, non-school related activities like going out for a walk or run, watching a movie and eating out with friends or family members. Anything that can take a child’s mind away from schoolwork even momentarily can help refresh and rejuvenate the mind.
“Make sure your child is staying healthy through exercise, eating healthy snacks and enjoying periodic breaks from studying – these can all help clear the mind and reset focus,” Simon notes.
Parents must also make sure that their children get adequate sleep to keep them
fresh and mentally sharp. A study conducted by a team of psychologists from McGill University in the US has shown that sleep deprivation in children leads to a drop in attention in class, resulting in impaired learning and irritable behaviour.
“The brain can only process so much information and revision at once. Nobody is a machine and pulling an all-nighter may sound edgy but it is really not,” reasons Paula.
As the exam date draws closer, parents can create revision guides, school notes and practice papers to complement previous study materials.
When the day finally comes to see the results, it is advisable for parents to manage their expectations and to let their children know that they are proud of what they have accomplished.
“Look for the positive and praise when they have done their very best. Celebrate the effort, regardless of the grade,” says Paula.
Simon adds: “Encourage your child to do well for their own sake, not necessarily bribing them to do well. This will make your child proud of their achievements and will set them up better for the next stage of their life.”
WORDS Ferdinand Godinez