Managing Exam Stress
From the Counsellor’s Chair
Mrs Good, our School Counsellor and Play Therapist, has some advice to offer parents for the examination season.
‘Whilst exams have been around since time immemorial and will continue to be a means of testing a range of abilities for many years ahead, I have not come across many people who have admitted to enjoying taking them. There is often a lot riding on exams so it’s not surprising that exam time is a major cause of stress for pupils as well as their parents and carers. Parents become anxious about how much their children are working; if they are looking after themselves; whether they will get the results they need. Children can become stressed, anxious and irritable, and may have trouble eating and sleeping. All in all it can be a challenging time, so it’s useful to remember that exams only go on for a comparatively short time.
Adapted from Young Minds and BBC websites, the following tips revised from last year’s Priory Post, may be useful for parents and carers of students taking exams in the summer term.
Providing all-round support
- Accept this is going to be a stressful time for the whole family – expect outbursts and try to remain calm,
- Make home life as calm, comfortable 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,
- Try not to nag or make too many demands on your child during exam time. Arguments are counter-productive and will only add unnecessary stress and distract from revision,
- Make sure your child eats healthy snacks regularly, and drinks enough so they don’t get dehydrated – you can always pop your head in to see how they are doing and bring them a drink of water. Encourage your child to join family meals, even if it’s a busy revision day – a change of scene for a while from the books and computer is important,
- Encourage your child to take regular exercise. A brisk walk is a good way to relax and can help clear the mind before the next revision session,
- Encourage regular bedtimes. It’s important to get a good night’s sleep before an exam, so discourage your child from staying up late to cram. Encourage them to eat a good breakfast on the morning of the exam. Make sure things aren’t a rush getting to the venue on the day,
- Make sure your child knows you’re interested in their work,
- Bribery isn’t advisable as it is important to encourage your child to do well for their own sake rather than for money, presents, or to please you. Bribes imply that the only worthwhile reward for hard work is money, and that you may not trust your child to work hard without it as an incentive. Negative messages like these will affect your child’s sense of self-worth. Explain that exams aren’t an end in themselves but a gateway to the next stage of life – whether to another Key Stage, GCSEs, A Levels, university, college or work. Good results are themselves the best reward for hard work and will make your child proud of their achievements. However, it’s fine to provide small treats by way of encouragement – perhaps a piece of cake or some biscuits after a chunk of revision has been completed. Try and plan something nice for when it’s all over – reward them for trying their best, however they feel it went and, indeed, how you feel it went,
- The end of exams can be celebrated with a treat that everyone can look forward to, such as a meal out or a trip to the cinema.
Assisting with revision
- The secret to doing well in exams lies in being organised and 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. The plan should include small breaks at the end of chunks of study,
- Make sure your child has all the essential books and materials,
- Buy new stationery, highlighters and pens to make revision more interesting,
- Try and find out as early as possible what is expected of your child, when their exams will be and when coursework needs to be handed in,
- Try and work with your child and support them rather than policing them,
- Be clear that avoiding subjects they find difficult will not be helpful in the long run,
- Encourage children to talk to you if they are really worried they haven’t done enough work. Reassure them that if they do not get their expected grades, there will be other opportunities ahead, and they should just do their best,
- Find out what revision techniques are recommended by the school, and check out online revision sites. Suggest study methods e.g., condensing notes onto postcards to act as revision prompts; listen while they revise a topic; time your child’s attempts at practice papers,
- If you have any concerns or questions, contact the school rather than relying on your child to do it – most teachers have e-mail addresses which are useful,
- Encourage your child not to use a mobile, computer, or games console about 1 hour before they go to bed
- Encourage your child to have regular breaks, to do something they enjoy, even if it’s just half an hour off for their favourite soap,
- Children have different ways of revising – some may prefer to be alone, others work best surrounded by noise and family,
- Respect their body clocks – many teenagers are more alert during the night and this may be the best time for them to revise even though it makes parents anxious. After an exam or hand-in, they might not want to talk about it immediately so let them decide on this.