As a parent, how can I support my teenager in the run up to exams?

Tuesday 19 February 2019

exam pressure innovation@ncfe.org.uk

 As a parent, how can I support my teenager in the run up to exams?

The run up to exams can be incredibly challenging for students and parents, but it shouldn’t be a time to panic. Everybody responds differently to exam pressure, however, the key to overcoming any challenge is remaining calm and focused. The below tips are all centred around how to help your teenager cope with exam pressure, you can pick and choose to see which tips and tricks best helps them remain calm and focused.

Don’t assume what they need

Instead of assuming what they need, talk to you son or daughter about what they feel you could do to support them with their revision. For example, this might mean being available during specific time periods to ask them questions about a revision topic or to be there to listen to their explanation of a topic (neither of which might call for subject knowledge on your part). It might be that they want you to provide a drink or a snack at a set time while they are studying. Don’t take it to heart if they just want to be left alone; they might also want you to be in the house moving around as usual and providing comfort by doing that even if you are under strict instructions not to disturb them.

Give them ownership of their revision plans

Create the opportunity to discuss their plans for revision. Ask them what advice has been given to them by teachers. It can also be useful to share your own experience of successful revision or to ask others to share theirs. Older brothers and sisters or others you know who are slightly older than your teenager and who have been successful in exams can be asked to share their revision strategies and other tips. Remember though that your teenager is an individual; they know themselves better than anyone and need to come up with a strategy that suits them personally; a seemingly winning formula for success may be rejected or used only in part.

Create a calming revision environment

Ensure that your son or daughter has a place to do their revision that meets their needs in terms of noise levels, temperature, comfort and lack of disturbance. Brothers and sisters may need to be under strict instructions not to move any items left out on the desk or table used by the reviser. In many families this safe space will be the teenager’s bedroom but, if possible, a room or area of a room that can be set up to appear more business like or school like can help to make a distinction between study and the leisure activities and sleep associated with the teenager’s bedroom.

Welcome music into study time

The idea of music playing softly in the background might be horrendous to some parents, but many teenagers find that it helps them. Perhaps you did as a teenager but not now? There’s actually been a great deal of material published in recent years about the development of the teenage brain, how it differs from the brains of children or adults with consequences for behaviour. This might be a good time to use the internet to read up on this material but do not be too dismayed by comments about how teenage brains are not ready yet for GCSEs, remember all teenagers are in the same boat in regard to exams, it’s not just yours!

Feed their brain

Treats and favourite foods are great but generally any drinks or snacks consumed during the revision period need to be ones that keep up energy levels and brain power such as high protein nutrient rich lean meat, fish, eggs, diary products, pulses, berries, fruit and nuts. Food high in omega-3 fatty acids such as oily fish and sunflower seeds are also great. Encourage your teenager to have smaller more frequent meals, as attractively presented as you can manage, and to eat a wholesome breakfast but to avoid snacks with a high sugar content.   Make sure your teenager is well hydrated with water, coconut water and milky drinks rather than sugary drinks and try chamomile tea during periods of anxiety.

Create time and space away from revision

Discuss how realistic the revision plan is. Is there still time for walks, bicycle rides and sport activities that provide a change of environment, an outlet for physical energy and an opportunity for the brain to consolidate and process learning?  Is there variety in revision activities to include reading, note taking and the all-important completion of previous papers? A short mindfulness exercise before each study period helps to focus your teenager’s mind on study and away from other thoughts and activities. In addition to mindfulness as a day to day aspect of revision, Thought Field Therapy (which you can learn more about here) can be used at times of great anxiety.

Choose resources wisely

If your teenager is an avid book reader they might want to read something totally unconnected from the subjects they are studying as their leisure activity. Again, this allows the brain to process revision material. Try to avoid any film versions of books that are being read for English Literature exams or which are connected to other subject areas unless the relevant teacher has recommended them. Film versions of books sometimes distort the plot and can leave the visual image of the film as dominant over the written word. Over the course of an academic year, before the more focussed revision period, well written and well researched books that are not text books but relate to exam subject areas can he very useful in encouraging your teenager’s interest, consolidating learning and helping to show the links between subject areas, for example science in the social context of a period in history. Again, ask teachers for recommendations about books like these and also any art gallery and museum visits that your teenager would benefit from. The period before the revision period is also the time to support your teenager to complete the GoCalm training sessions.

Remove tempting distractions

Laptops, tablets and PCs might play a role in revision via BBC or other national or school-based platforms or as a general information gathering tool so discuss the role of technology in revision with your teenager. You may want to remove access to games consoles and mobile phones during revision sessions and this might be something to discuss in regard to some technological items but you might find that teachers have, for example, recommended mobile phone apps that can be used for quick revision on the go. Ask if teachers have provided a list of websites and apps.

Stock up on stationary

New sets of pens and pencils and other equipment are usually one of the pleasures at the start of a new school year and can also make revision more interesting. Particularly if your teenager is a visual learner, using different coloured inks and papers to make revision notes and answer past exam papers will help in making and retrieving memories of what has been written.

Probe, don’t lecture

Once the revision period is underway gently remind your son or daughter about their revision plans by asking “what are you doing today?” but hold back on speeches about the importance of the exams for your teenager’s future. Reinforcing the positive, rather than the negative can help them remain calm and focused instead of panicking.

 

 

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