Exams and tests are often stressful for both students and parents. Emotions can run high and children feel under pressure to achieve. But with diet, exercise, relaxation and time management, you can help your child to achieve their best
Exams and tests are often stressful for both students and parents. Emotions can run high and children feel under pressure to achieve. This blog offers parents some advice and suggestions for helping their child to prepare during exam or testing time.
What we eat has a huge effect on our bodies and our minds. Help your child to eat healthily all year round, and especially in the build-up to exams. Ensure that they are eating a well-balanced diet with fruits and vegetables. Oily fish helps, too. Although sweets, sugary snacks and energy-enhancing caffeine drinks might give a temporary boost, they can cause ‘crashes’ of low energy a few hours later. Encourage your child to eat healthy ‘brain food’ – like bananas or nuts – as snacks. Offer a nutritious breakfast on the morning of an exam. Porridge is ideal – oats ensure a slow burn of energy to sustain them through the day. Children should also be drinking lots of water. Brains are mostly water, and hydration helps thinking skills and concentration.
Revision is of course important for exams, but don’t overdo it. During exam season don’t let your child spend hours revising without regular breaks and time out for relaxation. It’s much easier to concentrate and absorb information in short bursts – say, around 45 minutes, for older children. Even a five-minute break, fresh air and leg-stretch will help them to take in more learning. Between revision sessions, let them meet up with a friend, or watch TV to unwind.
As well as relaxation, exercise also helps during the exam season. Help them to switch off with exercise. Suggest they play sports, dance, have a game of football with their friends or go for a walk. The fresh air and exercise will oxygenate their brains, help them to relax, clear the stress and ensure a good night’s sleep.
We all know that exams can be stressful. Some anxiety before exams is perfectly normal – in fact, adrenalin helps prepare people for action. As long as it isn’t crippling, it’s OK to feel a little nervous. Reassure your child. All you can ask is that they try their best. If all else fails, they can re-sit important exams, or learn from the experience and do things differently next time. Positivity and the right frame of mind will alleviate stress. Help them to recognise that it’s not the end of the world if things don’t go as well as expected. When the exam is over, don’t dwell on it. What’s done is done. Encourage them to move on and focus on the next one.
Help your child to practise getting ‘in the zone,’ to focus like a champion for each exam. Prepare them to use the teacher’s phrases, ‘You may begin’ or ‘Turn over your paper,’ like an athlete’s starting bell – taking them to success. Or to see the exam like preparing to fly away on holiday. Packing your things, feeling nervous and excited, going through passport control, listening to the air crew’s safety instructions from the front – to lift off! Talk them through the exam day step by step, anticipating what will happen, so they know what to expect – and get them visualising themselves feeling happy at the end.
Sleep is important before revision and sitting exams, so try to make sure that children get at least 8 hours a night. Sleep gives their bodies and minds rest and regeneration, improves their memory and concentration, and gives them energy and resilience for the exams. They may wish to revise in the evening but don’t let them cram revision into all hours of the night, however tempted they might be. Make bedtimes peaceful.
With exams it’s often the fear of the unknown that makes them so daunting. To give your child a better understanding, look back at past exam papers to see the format and get an idea of the sort of questions they may face. Discuss the features of the exam paper, the examiner’s expectations, marking scheme and questions (Multiple-choice? Single answer? Essays? Options?).
To take an exam is to manage our time so try to help your child to do this. To finish the whole exam, sufficient time should be spent on each question. For example, they might need to spend more time on one question that carries the majority of the marks. Or to understand that if one question carries five marks, they might need to make five points in their answer to get full marks.
It may not seem like it but children take exams for their own benefit. Don’t put pressure on them to achieve certain grades. Instead, focus on effort, rather than achievement. And don’t compare them to siblings or friends. Every child is different. You should also try to cut them some slack about tidying their bedroom. Encourage them not to leave revision until the last minute. Spend time with them designing a revision timetable and discussing strategies.
Organisation is important for exams, so how can you get your child to be organised? It’s a good idea to get equipment and clothes ready the evening before, to avoid stress. Make sure they have all the resources required. In addition to pens that work, they might need specific things for certain exams – e.g. maths equipment, or particular texts. Make sure they are confident about where the exam is taking place and how to find their seat (are they alphabetical, or in any order?). Make sure they know how long each exam is. A watch is useful if they can’t see the main clock.
Just before they sit an exam, children may be worried. Remind them to use deep breathing to steady their heart rate and feel in control. Run through any other techniques they have, to help them to focus and feel calm and positive. Waiting to take the exam can be nerve-wracking. Suggest that they avoid standing near people who might jangle their nerves or make them feel unprepared. Tell them to read questions carefully to ensure that they fully understand. And, if they have time at the end, to check their work. There may be things to add, or silly mistakes to correct, to get extra points.
So, how can you prepare your child for exams? Make sure they know that you are proud of them anyway, and as long as they have tried their best, you are happy. There is everything to win in being positive. Celebrate when they have finished, by having a special meal, or a family day out!
For further reading, you may find the Education Quizzes Knowledge Bank of interest. It’s packed full of articles which aim to answer the questions asked by parents. Whether it’s the details of the National Curriculum or tips on child discipline, we have a library of knowledge at your fingertips! Well worth a look, for any parent.