Even today, I still have a recurring nightmare which crops up every once in a while. I dream that I am late for my final literature exam and that when I flip the exam paper over, I realize to my horror that I haven’t even read the book that is to be discussed. At this point in the nightmare, words and alphabets start floating off the page in a confusing miasma around me and I usually wake up feeling happy that I no longer need to take exams anymore.
This sort of “nightmare” is one which many of us can relate to. Exams are stressful. They represent an absolute test, on a specific day, at a specific time. However, whilst most of us no longer need to take exams, it is a sad fact, that most of our children still do. So what can a parent do to help?
Preparing for the Exam
Identify Learning Styles
There are many ways in which people learn, and each person usually has a preferred learning style. Do your children learn best through visual, auditory or hands-on activities? Find out what your children’s learning styles are and help them devise a revision program around them.
If you have children who are visual learners, they will likely learn best when they make notes and summaries of key learning points which they can look at and read over when they revise. They can also watch an educational video of the concept which they are struggling with and relate to it through visual images. Post-its, bookmarks, highlighters and different types of note papers and files are likely to help them organise their thoughts and ideas.
For children who are auditory learners, listening and talking are the best ways to absorb and retain information. Help your child by asking questions and discussing key themes and learning points. Some children find that reciting the key points out loud to themselves is a helpful way to process and store information; especially information which needs to be memorised.
Hands-on learners need to experience and learn by doing or making something. Using building blocks or tactile materials to understand concepts works well, as does performing an experiment as opposed to reading or discussing it.
Set Up a Dedicated Study Area
Set aside a space for your children to study in. It should be a place just for them. Ideally it should have some wall space to hang up inspirational quotes and timetables. Make sure it is quiet, away from the foot traffic in your house, has adequate light and far from the tv and other devices which might distract them.
Discuss what sort of stationery supplies your children feel they need. Make a list of pencils, paper clips, post it notes, folders and anything else they require. Visit a stationery store and stock up. Allowing your children to decide what’s needed for their work is a first step towards getting them to own the whole process.
Create a Study Time Table
Sit down with your children and look through the exam timetable with them. Discuss how best to fit in the time for them to revise and study. Let them know that you are prepared to be flexible and find ways to schedule or work around other commitments which they might have. Print the timetable out and put it up in their study area, give them stickers and markers to help count down towards the big day and tick off milestones as they achieve them.
Understand the Exam Format
Most teachers will share the expected exam format for the subjects they teach. Look at it with your children and get familiar with the different sections, the marks in each section and discuss how they should approach the exam paper on the day itself.
Identify Common Question Types and Develop a Strategy for Tackling Them
See if there are common questions or ways of asking a question and help your children understand how to address them. Develop options for dealing with multiple choice questions, oral exam situations and whether or not they should skip hard questions in order to complete more easy questions first. Work out various strategies for dealing with the different types of exam situations which you anticipate.
Practice Completion Times
Give your children a stopwatch, or a timer. Ask them to work out how much time they should be spending on each section and get them used to completing similar questions and under exam “time” conditions. Your children will naturally learn to pace themselves for the actual exam.
No-one can work non-stop, and studying is even more tiring than the work most of us do on a day-to-day basis. Let your children take regular breaks. Stretch! Build in some exercise time. Take them out for a movie, ice cream or a special treat. It helps to break the tedium of studying and will help them to unwind and de-stress.
Exercise, Sleep and Eat Well
The brain is also a muscle, and if it doesn’t get enough rest, nutrition and oxygen, it will tire and break down too. So, make sure your children eat regular and healthy meals and sleep at least 8 to 10 hours a night. Exercise – it brings lots of oxygen to the brain!
Check for Directions to the Exam Location
Don’t forget to check where the exams will be held and at what time. If they are held in an unfamiliar place, do a dry run and make sure you know how to get there and how much time you need to budget for the trip.
On the Day of the Exam
So the big day has arrived! There are still a few more things you can do to make this day easier for your children.
1. Be Early
Go to bed early the night before, wake up early and get to the exam early. Nothing creates more stress than running around in the morning because you are afraid you’ll be late for the exam.
2. Eat a Good Breakfast
Taking an exam is like running a marathon – and indeed, some exams can last as long as a marathon too! Make sure your children eat a good breakfast. Prepare foods which will give them not only energy, but are also easily digested and are substantial enough to ward off hunger pangs until the exam is over.
3. Pack Your Bags
Pack everything your children need for the exam the night before so that on the day of the exam itself, all you need to do is pick up the bags and go for the exam. This will minimize the chances of them leaving important items like calculators, pencils and erasers behind. Remember to pack some tissues as well – you never know when the urge to sneeze might strike.
4. Visit the Restroom
Remind your kids to visit the restroom before the exam begins.
Finally, reassure your children. Tell them you love them and you know they have tried their best to prepare for the exams. Ask them to just do the best they can and let them know that you will support them no matter what the results turn out to be. Nothing adds another 10% like a little extra love from your parents!
Start preparing for the exams early.
Give your children a dedicated study space.
Work with your children to get organized, plan a schedule and a revision approach.
Make sure they have adequate sleep, nutrition and exercise.
Take time out for breaks to de-stress and help them focus better.