Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Exam Tips for Parents

Exam time is a stressful time for both kids and their parents.  However, in many instances parents unwittingly increase the stress for themselves and their children.  This can negatively impact their child's exam results.
Remember your child is not the same person you are.  They might have some of your genes, but they are their own person.  They might learn differently to you.  What worked for you might not work for them.  Don't force your exam anxieties and experiences on them.
Children react to the pressure you put on them in different ways.
Some knuckle down and start working as they take what you said on board and just want to please you.  Others are quite stubborn, get rebellious and refuse to study.  Then there are those who freak out, have mental breakdowns and might even commit suicide.  Exam time and getting kids to study and achieve success is truly more stressful for all concerned than when they were toddlers and teething.
As Principal of a small school, I see what your children go through during exam time and what influence your actions have on their exam performance.
1.  Time Management
This is crucial for you and your child.  Do not create more stress by making dentist appointments at 12 when the exam is a 3 hour one starting at 9.  Your child will arrive at the exam stressed and will not be able to think clearly.  There is a great chance they will have given up before starting the exam.  Do not give a long list of chores which infringes on their study time.  This creates more stress and can result in no studying and no chores being done.  Do not decide to take your holiday during exam time and leave your child staying with friends or unsupervised (if they are old enough) while you go off on a jolly somewhere.  Your child needs you there even if it doesn't seem like it at the time.  They need your support.
2. Stable Environment
As difficult as it may be, try and keep domestic upheavals to a minimum during exam time.  Family squabbles, separated or divorced parents fighting with each other, parents using their children as pawns in their battles...please just stop it and push it aside during the exams.  Your child needs a clear mind and does not need to be fretting about what might be happening at home.  You might think your personal problems and issues have no effect on your child but you are wrong.  It preys on their mind and distracts them.  You are an adult.  Keep it together fr a few weeks and don't drag your child into your mess and make them choose sides.
3.  School Equipment
If your child needs a maths set and a scientific calculator for their exam, buy them what they need.  If you don't have the money, make a plan.  Maybe don't buy cigarettes and rather buy your child a calculator.  This is not the time to refuse and say you bought a calculator last year and are not prepared to buy another.  If your child comes to an exam unprepared without the correct equipment, they feel defeated before they even start.  Don't put them at a disadvantage.  Make a plan.
4.  Balance Interfering vs Supporting
You want your child to do well in the exams.  Chances are, even if they say they don't care, they also want to do well.  You can support them by helping them sort revision notes and design a study timetable.  However, there is a thin line between interfering and supporting.  Ask if they would like your help.  The trick is not to force your help on them.
5.  Avoid Bribery and Corruption
My experience is that bribery and corruption just don't work.  Your child is not a dog trained to perform tricks for a reward.  Bribery often goes hand-in-hand with unrealistic expectations.  Instead of achieving success, you are more likely to end up with a child who has a defeatist attitude and just gives up before they even start.  Your child needs to develop self-motivation, not only working for a potential reward.  What message are your promises of bribes giving your child?
6. Well-stocked Fridge
Studying is a hungry job.  Thinking, memorising, note-taking, problem-solving all use energy.  Energy requires frequent snacks.  Make sure your fridge is well-stocked during exam time.  Make sure study timetables have sufficient snack breaks factored in.  Don't let your child go for more than an hour and a half without a break of some kind.  After an hour and a half nothing more is being absorbed by that brain, believe me.  A short 5-10 minute break is all your child needs to regain focus.  Stock the fridge and the grocery cupboards.
7.  Exercise
Factor in some exercise time or energetic activity.  This helps achieve balance and satisfies those endorphins.  Maybe you can have a family activity time worked into the schedule.  Something fun.
8.  Love and Support
Make sure that your child knows and understands that you will love them whatever the outcome of their exams happens to be.  Support their particular learning style and don't force your own on them.  Discuss expectations, yours and theirs, making sure they are realistic.  Avoid issuing threats.  Threats just create more stress.  Some children study best after dinner, others study best at 4.30am!  You need to adapt to fit in with your child at this time.  The exams are all about them, not you.  You do not have something to prove.
Cindy Vine is a teacher and author of Hush Baby, Defective and Not Telling.  All her books are available on in both Kindle and Paperback format.