The secret to beating exam stress, or any kind of stress really, is in the “training” behind it. It’s all about how you prepare your child for the future.
It breaks my heart when my 9 year olds arrive in my class for their very first exam. They haven’t eaten breakfast, haven’t slept, and often feel nauseous. This after so much preparation by teachers to avoid stress from that scary word “EXAM”. Why does this happen?
I set up my classroom in exam mode a week before the time: desks in rows, gaps in-between them, children sit in alphabetical order. Why? So that all feels familiar and safe on the first day of exams. The children know where they are sitting and next to whom they are sitting. They’ve become accustomed to the difference and there are no surprises.
We’ve had the discussion about the meaning of exam as opposed to a test, assessment or assignment. We understand the procedure for the day as mapped out before the time. I feel secure in the fact that I’ve done everything “teacher” possible to make my pupils feel at ease, for instance the classroom setup before the time, revising daily, a revision timetable for home, sharing of previous exam papers (to be familiar with question techniques and time allocation), working through children’s fears or queries and helping the children realize that this is their opportunity to share their knowledge and understanding of what has been learnt.
But, come “D-Day” and the walls come crumbling down and all prior preparation becomes null and void. There are tears, extreme nervousness and the list goes on.
Obviously this is me speaking about my experiences and those of my immediate colleagues. I’d like to offer advice on what else can be done to alleviate this problem. We have to remember that there will always be extreme cases and that, sometimes, even your most prepared and conscientious child can fall apart because of what they feel is pressure – be it self-inflicted or their perception of what others expect from them.
Where do we, as parents, start? The secret is behind the “training” and this should start as soon as possible, even before the exam years.
1. Understanding the concept of time
A basic routine is the start of instilling responsibilities, the time factor will also, automatically form part of this. By giving your child time-frames to work in, for example 15 to 20 minutes, they become aware of what that feels like and that they have a designated time-frame in which to complete a task.
This helps them to put their energy into that one task, remain focused on the task (if the time-frame is realistic) and be accountable for producing an end result. This will help your child in understanding and being able to work with a time allocation during exams. They will feel confident enough to divide their exam papers into sections and know that they will have enough time to complete what is expected of them.
This starts long before “exam season”. Preparation starts with the understanding of all work covered. This should be ongoing and intervention should be implemented immediately. This could either be by you, the parent, remediation by the teacher or tutoring (extra lessons) on a one-to-one basis.
A child who is, for example, petrified of doing Mathematics because they don’t understand certain concepts, will walk into an exam situation anxious because they know what the outcome will be. Studying cannot be left until the last minute, like the day or night before. It is a process and is ongoing. Your child needs to feel confident the day before the exam and be able to use this time to “go over” notes and not learn them for the first time.
If you need some help with exam preparation, try WorksheetCloud. It gives your child access to online and printable worksheets specifically designed to help with exam and class test preparation.
3. Understanding your child
It is vitally important that you understand your child, what their needs are and what makes them tick. Do they actually understand the relevance of studying and what it leads to? Have you found out how best they learn (study techniques), what environment is best for them to study in (remember you may have to make sacrifices) and do they have the tools necessary to study?
4. Being prepared to make sacrifices
Your child needs to know that you are there for them, it doesn’t matter their age. It may be to understand a concept, ask them their work or help them to remember key concepts. Younger children can definitely not be told to “go and study in your room”. There has to be some form of questioning to find out if they’ve understood and retained what they have learnt.
Most importantly, we are on a journey with our children. We can’t just leave the journey when it suits us. They have a future and it is our responsibility to help them towards fulfilling their dreams and aspirations. By becoming parents, we took on the hardest job possible but, no matter what, we need to love unconditionally, nurture and help our children to be the best they can be.