Managing your children (and yourself) through the exam season is never going to be easy. Everyone gets stressed. Not least the teachers at your child’s school who are probably psyching their pupils up because they’re worried about results, Ofsted ratings outcomes and all the rest of it.
Of course we all want our youngsters to acquit themselves as well as they can. But remember too that every year there are tragic cases of teenagers getting so stressed and distressed about examination performance that they take their own lives. What a dreadful, horrifying, terrifying distortion of the truth about examination passes.
If your child fails his or her eleven plus, or doesn’t get the GCSE or A level grades you were all hoping for it is not the end of the world. But it would be if s/he (or you) were to become so anxious that illness or worse followed. So try to keep it all in proportion and help your youngster to do the same. There are plenty of very successful people out there doing well in public life who didn’t leave school with much in the way of pieces of paper. Richard Branson, for one, Russell Brand for another and Kate Moss gave up schooling at age 14.
None of that, obviously, is to suggest that we actually want our children to fail but it’s worth clinging on to the thought that failure is part of life and experiencing it can be used constructively in learning. And if Emma or Olly messes up Common Entrance, well there are other good schools nearby. GCSE and A level can be re-taken. Or maybe it’s time to look at another way forward.
Bearing all this in mind and keeping calm will help the whole family to come through the examination season with health, humour and realism. There are smaller more practical things you can do at this time too.
Take revision for example. The word means, from Latin, to look again. Exam preparation should be a case of simply reminding yourself of the work you’ve already done. It shouldn’t involve hours and hours of rote learning.
No one of any age, least of all a child whose brain is not yet fully developed, can “study” for hours at a stretch. I once taught in a school one of whose year heads, a foolish woman in my view, told her GCSE students that they must reckon to “revise” for seven hours a day throughout the Easter holidays. That, of course, is absurdly unrealistic. Two hours in the morning followed by some exercise, rest and fun would be much more sensible. Balance is all. Common sense helps too.
Help your youngster to construct a workable revision timetable so that each subject gets appropriate attention in the month or two before the exam/s. I’m dead against last minute revision, though. The best thing a youngster can do the night before an exam is to play tennis, go for a swim, listen to some music or do whatever it is that he or she really likes to do. An early night with an unrelated enjoyable book will help to get the candidate into the exam room feeling calm and confident too. Remember that if you’ve been diligently studying a subject for two or five or seven years (or your entire school life) then you’re not actually going to learn any more about it in the last few hours before an exam. But you can get very anxious by trying to do so.
Discussing the paper afterwards and comparing notes on who wrote what can add to panic too. The best thing to do at the end of an exam is to walk away and think of something else. There is nothing more you can do about it now. You simply have to wait for the result. If you, as a parent, can pick your examinee up immediately after the exam and whisk him or her away then do it. And resist the urge quiz about which questions were answered and how too.
At home before and during the exam season keep the atmosphere as tranquil as you can. Provide good healthy food – salads, soups, jacket potatoes, fruit and the like – at regular intervals. It keeps the brain working well. Junk, comfort foods can do the opposite. Family meals and an insistence that everyone partakes are obviously best if you can manage that. Spoil the candidate by taking cups of whatever he likes up to the revision room from time to time. Biscuits are probably not the best plan. Sugary foods are never a good idea. Put a handful of dates or raisins on the saucer instead. Or what about plain oatcakes which, for me at any rate, go down well with a hot drink?
Above all – and obvious as this is it’s worth spelling out – make it absolutely clear that you love your exam candidate unconditionally. That’s why you want him or her to do well. But at the end of the day your love and support will still be there more strongly than ever, irrespective of the results.
- words: Susan Elkin
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