Shoulders are hunched, foreheads are creased and teeth are aching from being clenched so much both day and night. And that’s just the parents! What’s causing all this tension? Exams. The stress of your child’s exams can fill the entire household and take over every aspect of family life. We’ve put together some top tips to help you support your child through the agony of exams while keeping your own sanity intact too.
Help your child plan their study time
At the beginning the sheer volume of all the things your child has to revise in time for the exams can seem overwhelming. So much so that they might not even know where to start.
Help your child draw up a revision timetable that is realistic and achievable. It can help to make monthly, weekly and daily plans to break things down and stop them feeling overwhelmed. Encourage your child to mix up their strongest subjects with those they struggle with more. That way they won’t get bogged down by revising all the difficult subjects all at once.
Help them plan time to relax too
Studying 24/7 is neither possible nor helpful. It’s all about balance and keeping things in perspective. Help your child plan some down time too. They can decide when they can see friends, play sports or do whatever they find helps them relax. If your child is really struggling during a planned revision session, encourage them to take a break then too. Sometimes a short walk to escape the four walls can help them reset their energy and come back to their books with renewed focus.
The stress of your child’s exams can fill the entire household if you let it. If you plan for short family trips out to cut through any building tension, it can make you all feel better.
Show them study tools for smart revision
Revision is not just about sitting down at a desk reading your notes and highlighting things for hours on end. There are more effective ways to learn and commit things to memory. We all learn in different ways but there are some revision techniques that have been proved to be more effective than others and it’s worth letting your child know about them to help them work smarter:
The testing technique
Leading researchers have found that the testing effect is the most effective way to commit facts to memory. The Quizlet app is a great revision aid to download before your child’s exams. Your child can make lots of flashcards with the facts they have to learn and then test themselves regularly to see how well they can recall them. There are loads of built in functions to the app to help them track their progress and to give them little cheers along the way. There are also loads of flashcard and study sets already made by other students on the app, which are really handy too.
The spacing technique
The spacing technique is another that has proved to be highly effective when it comes to memory recall. Research has found that by spacing out learning you will be able to recall facts more easily. So your child will learn more by revising one hour of history every day for six days than they would cramming in six solid hours of history revision in one go. With the spacing technique your child needs to study one topic in the first session. The next day they revisit what they learnt in session 1 and then move onto a new topic. And in the third session they review what they learnt in session 2 before moving onto a new topic. And so on. Spacing out revision like this allows the brain time in between each session to ‘forget’ and then when you recap the information it is more likely to be committed to memory.
It can be useful for your child to make audio recordings of their revision notes. They can listen to them in the car or during their daily commute to and from school to help reinforce the revision that they have done at home. Some studies even suggest that listening to audio recordings while drifting off to sleep may help teens remember their notes better, as memories are consolidated within the brain during sleep.
And by distractions we’re really talking about phones. Your child might insist that they can revise perfectly well with their phone by their side but all the pings and pop-up notifications are bound to break their concentration. It’s hard to resist checking phones or replying right away to a message. Try to persuade them to leave it in another room while they study.
Good food and good sleep makes all the difference
During your child’s exams it makes common sense to make sure they get enough sleep, and good nutrition. Left to their own devices many children will give up sleep to do more cramming or grab junk food instead of stopping for a proper meal.
You can lead a teen to their bedroom but you can’t make them sleep. It might help if you let them know that experts at the National Sleep Foundation recommend exam students should get about 9 hours sleep a night. Getting enough shut-eye might improve their grades. Research shows that getting a regular night’s sleep can make the difference of about half a grade per subject.
Encourage them to have a brief bedtime routine where they can unwind and relax from the stresses of revision. This could be listening to music, or reading a (non-curriculum) book or a magazine. They could even try a few minutes of breathing exercises.
Don’t forget the power of fresh air
Being cooped up hunched over a desk within the same four walls is no good for anyone. A study break in the fresh air can work wonders. Recent research found that students who took breaks outdoors performed 20% better when they returned to their work. If that’s not compelling evidence to boot your teen outside to break up revision then we don’t know what is.
Go easy on them
Exams are stressful. They can take over every aspect of your teen’s life for a while. During your child’s exams try to be more tolerant of any moods or frayed tempers. Don’t add to their stress by nagging them about their revision. If you notice their stress levels bubbling over then take them out for a short break, a big hug and a calm talk. You can then ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them more.
On the day of your child’s exams
Get up early and make a nice breakfast to set your child up for their day. A big hug helps as they leave the house too.
After each exam just listen. Let your child talk through how they think it went but try not to dwell on it. It’s done and there’s nothing more that either of you can now do. It’s best to dust yourselves down on and focus on the next test.
Stay calm, be positive and be compassionate. Let your child know that you love them and are proud of how much effort they have put in. Make sure they know that you’ll support them whatever the results.
You can’t do it for them
Remember that they are your child’s exams and not yours. You can help them plan and practice. You can make sure they are fed and watered. You can try your darnedest to make sure they get enough sleep. And you can support them every step of the way. But you can’t revise for them and you can’t sit their tests for them. If your child is either not getting their head down or is stressing so much that it is starting to drive you to distraction, then plan times when you can escape too. Walk the dog, meet up with friends, collapse on the sofa with a well-earned glass of wine. You can only do what you can only do and whatever happens there’s always another way forward. Keep that perspective and you’ll be well on your way to preserving your sanity during exam season. Good luck!
If you are struggling to find the right way to talk with your teen then take a look at our article Secrets to communicating with teenagers for ideas and helpful tips.
- “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques” Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology, John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, Daniel T. Willingham
- “Retrieval Strength vs. Storage Strength”, Veronica Yan
- “Teens and Sleep”, National Sleep Foundation
- “The relationship between sleep length and grade point average in college students”, William E. Kelly, University of Nevada
- “The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature”, Marc G Berman, John Jonides, Stephen Kaplan
- “Listening to revision tapes during sleep ‘could help pupils get better exam results”, Kate Devlin, The Telegraph