How to Support Your Child for Exam Success

Tips on how to ensure you and your kids remain calm

by Parents and Kids | Fri, May 26, 2017

As exams are looming for many of our pupils, becoming stressed is a real and worrying outcome which needs to be acknowledged and prevented as much as possible.

Look out for signs of stress

There is a big difference between ‘pressure’ and ‘stress’. Pressure can be positive, as it motivates us to complete necessary tasks in a timely way, whereas becoming stressed is a negative reaction to prolonged or unmanageable levels of pressure. There are different types of stress and many of the signs that parents should look out for. These vary greatly, from emotional stress signs of anxiety, isolation, an inability to concentrate or being overwhelmed, to more acute physical signs, such as aches and pains, dizziness, nausea, poor skin or noticeable weight gain or loss.

“Stress is a normal response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance, but because we’re all individuals, the threat (in this case: exams) will be perceived differently by each pupil, all of whom will have different levels of resilience. Pupils suffering from stress during this period of time before exams can roughly be split into those who do too little preparation and those who do far too much. What we need to do is help them find the right way to achieve a healthy middle ground between these two states.”

– Jo Evans, Director of Wellbeing, Wellington College International Shanghai.

Manage the expectations

It is also important for parents to help manage their expectations of their child, as well as their child’s own expectations of what they will achieve during their exams. Wellington has a high-achieving pupil body, which means that the expectations placed on them are very high, as are their own aspirations to achieve excellent exam results. While this can provide great motivation for pupils, it can also lead to unmanageable pressure and, subsequently, stress.

“All parents want the absolute best for their children’s future. The global job market is changing so rapidly that we cannot be sure what they will need when they become adults, so our aim is to give them as many useful skills as possible, which will give them plenty of viable options when the time comes to choose a career. The problem with this approach is that our children’s view of what is important may be very different to our own. Therefore, the key thing is to open up an honest dialogue about exam expectations, with the aim of setting reasonable goals and hopefully removing any undue pressure on the child.”

Create the right environment at home

The final key method of support that parents can give their children during exam time is to create the right environment at home. Exam preparation is a huge undertaking and pupils need to have the right conditions to be able to study effectively. Some key strategies where parents can help out in this area include creating a study space that works well for the child. Again, all pupils are individuals; some will prefer to revise at a neatly ordered desk in a quiet room all to themselves, whereas others may prefer to spread their books out over their bed and study while listening to music. Encouraging sufficient rest and exercise are also vital strategies, and it is useful for parents coming up with a schedule together with their children, in order to make it fair and workable.

“Ultimately, the best thing to do is to openly discuss your child’s needs with them. Have these conversations with them, ask them how they work best, ask them what they need and what they don’t. They are the best person to tell you what works for them. Showing your child that they have control over their exam preparation time is incredibly empowering. The best thing you can do is to make it crystal clear that they are in charge and you are there to support your child in whatever way they need.”

What to do on the exam day

Before the exam:

• Eat a good and light breakfast – something that will sustain the children and help them concentrate.

• Try to arrive at school or the exam venue early.

• Go to the toilet before the exam starts.

• Keep away from people who may agitate them before the test or may say unhelpful, anxiety-provoking comments.

In the exam room:

• Take time to slow their breathing and relax when they first sit down in the exam room.

• Skim over the exam paper, underlining key words and instructions.

• Work out how long they have for each question or section.

• Watch out for the wording of the questions – they need to understand and address what the question is really asking.

• Answer the questions they find easiest first to build their confidence, then as they relax more move on to more difficult ones.

• Don’t worry about how long others are taking, but keep an eye on the clock to ensure they have enough time to answer the more difficult questions.

• Re-read answers, if possible, and make any changes that are necessary – correct spelling. Checking works.