Whoever said that your school days are the best days of your life may have been a bit of a sadist. Either that or they weren’t ever part of the British education system. It’s no secret that children living in England are some of the most tested in the world, and with pupils as young as ten said to have been “left sobbing” after SATs tests in UK schools recently, it’s clear that exam pressure is something that starts early in the British isles.
But as much as most children (and parents) hate tests and revision, exam time is just another part of school life – and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. But the good news is that there are things you can do to help the exam period stay as stress free as possible – helping to keep door slamming and tears to a minimum.
1. Get ahead
In the run up to exam time, sit down together with your child and work out the best times for revision. Make a revision timetable on a big piece of paper and pin it up somewhere prominent. When it comes to revision, research shows that little and often is better than overlong sessions. Cramming at the last minute is also counterproductive, so it’s best to start early and put in the groundwork while there is still time.
2. Learn what works
We know that different people have different styles of learning, and it is important your child is working in the way that’s right for them. Find out what motivates them and use it to your advantage – be it an end goal, such as doing well in an exam, or building a skill, such as learning a language. But don’t use bribes. This puts undue pressure on your child, and sets the wrong precedent. They should want to achieve for their own sake, not yours or because there’s a cash reward in it.
3. Stay positive
During exam season, it can be all too easy for your child to forget that learning can actually be enjoyable. The field of positive psychology takes a “glass half full” approach to life, celebrating the positive rather than the negative. Looking at revision from this angle, there are numerous benefits, such as increased knowledge and working towards personal goals. It can also be an opportunity for you to support and help your child to achieve. Research has found that parental involvement in their child’s education has a significant positive effect, even into adulthood – so what you do now could make a big difference in the years to come.
4. Get the snacks on the go
Put the kettle on and buy plenty of healthy snacks for your studious workers – the healthier the better. Any foods high in omega 3, such as oily fish, flax seeds and walnuts support concentration and cognitive function, so are ideal. Foods high in antioxidants such as fruits – especially berries and tomatoes – and moderate amounts of caffeine can help concentration. Green tea and dark chocolate, which are especially rich in specific antioxidants called polyphenols, can also support brain function. Ripe bananas or sunflower seeds are great to snack on because they naturally increase dopamine – a brain chemical involved in increasing motivation and concentration.
5. Keep your thoughts to yourself
The concept of the “self fulfilling prophecy” proposes that what we believe about a child has a habit of coming true. So if they get told they can’t do maths and are better at English, chances are this will be reflected on results day. With teenagers, however, if we say they are good at something, they will often believe the opposite. Basically, if we label, either in a positive or a negative way, in some form this will manifest in adverse outcomes. So best to just keep those thoughts to yourself in the run up to exam time.
6. Work the space
Set aside a calm room or space for revision, and invest in some large plastic boxes to keep books and resources tidy and easily accessible. Ensure that where possible, this space is kept well organised and clutter free, because it turns out that the old “tidy desk, tidy mind” saying might actually have some truth to it. Researchers at Princetown University, have found that if our environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts our ability to focus. Clutter can also limit the brain’s ability to process information – so keep those desks clear.
7. Pool your skills
It may be that some parents in your social group are better at science or maths than you are, so a skill swap to support your respective offspring might be the answer. Parents more knowledgeable in GCSE physics could facilitate a tutorial, while you could coach a group in English. You could even rope in other family members with expert knowledge or subject specialisms to help handle the task of revision.
8. Take a break
Research has shown that spending time outdoors in green spaces such as parks or woodlands decreases stress and anxiety, so try and incorporate some of the great outdoors into your child’s revision routine in the lead up to exam time.
Exercise such as a kick about in the park, a swim, run or even a karate class can all help them to let off steam while giving those young minds a break from the books.