Of all the exam quotes I’ve read so far my favourite one is - Strive for progress not perfection. Too often both students and their well-meaning teachers and parents do tend to get a little carried away when it’s exam season.
Granted, it is a culmination of several months or even years of hard work and the child’s performance in the final exam is essentially a testimony of the efforts of not just the child in question but also her parents and teachers.
It’s not an uncommon sight to find that not only the children but also the adults in the house suffer from exam fever when the season hits. A little pressure is a good thing and research has found that being under the right amount of pressure tends to improve the individual’s performance. But take it a notch above and you have a panicky child in your hands.
According to findings by social research psychologist Martyn Denscombe, teenagers suffer from exam stress for four reasons: The educational or occupational consequences associated with the outcome of the exam, their self-esteem with regards to the outcome of their grades (students are likely to have a higher self-esteem with higher grades), judgements from friends and parents in relation to their performance and fear of disappointing their teachers.
So how do know if your child is stressing out? What are the telltale signs?
Girls typically tend to withdraw inwards and complain of nausea, stomach cramps, and even get depressed while boys tend to be irritable and act out aggressively.
Here are a few signs that your child is crumbling under pressure:
Loss of appetite, constant tiredness, forgetfulness, unexplained aches and pains, feeling cranky and irritable, can’t go to sleep at night and can’t wake up in the morning, nail biting, fidgeting, and more.
Does it all sound too familiar? Don’t worry you can still save the day and prevent a fiasco during exam week.
Keep the lines of communication open with your child even if he is a sullen and surly teenager. Let him know that you are there to support and help him in any way he needs and that you know it’s a difficult time but one which can be dealt with as a team. Make them understand that while exams are important it’s not the end of the world and that life will still go on after them.
Create a favourable study environment at home
Don’t even think of sneaking in a BBQ party at home next weekend even though winter draws to an end. Your child needs a quiet environment to get her grey cells working. Also you need to be relaxed and available at home so she has someone to chat with during breaks.
Help them plan
Discuss with your children about the revision schedule. Assist them to plan one that leaves ample time to revise all the important subjects. If there are areas they are particularly weak in either, you should be able to help them or at least make sure you get them the assistance and guidance they need in advance. Most children begin to panic or get anxious when their planning has gone awry and they have tons to study a night or two before the exams. Being adequately prepared helps them face the question paper with confidence.
Don’t freak them out
We all know their grades are terribly important and that their future is built on these exams. They know it too (as I’m sure you have told them a million times). But they definitely don’t need to hear it on the eve of their exams. Don’t say or do anything to make them break into hives and start hyperventilating. The last thing you need is a panic attack and a visit to the hospital.
Make sure they’re well fed
Children tend to gravitate towards caffeine, chocolate and other unhealthy snacks during exams. Plan their meals and make sure they get enough fuel to keep their brains burning bright. Stock the fridge with healthy snacks and goodies. Skipping breakfast on exam days is an absolute no-no.
Get a good night’s rest
Make sure they get at least eight hours of sleep the night before the exams and that they are up nice and early so they don’t have to rush off to school. Nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott’s research shows that there is 50 per cent more cortisol in the blood stream if an individual has six hours’ sleep instead of the recommended eight hours. Excessive cortisol in the brain impairs memory retrieval and your child could have bouts of forgetfulness during exam time.
Get them to relax
Ensure that your children take short breaks between their study sessions. They need to refresh and recharge their batteries. Let them watch some TV, read a short story, even go for a little walk or chat with their friends for a bit; it will help them unwind and they can tackle the next lot with renewed vigour. Don’t lock them up in the house and insist they not move from their desks all day.
Keep away from the nasties
There are always people who will make disparaging remarks or compare your child’s preparation with other students. Steer clear of such busybodies. Each child has a strategy that works for her; just because the neighbour’s child has read Macbeth 10 times doesn’t mean your daughter has to as well. Make sure their morale is high and give them pep talks when they seem a little low. You have to be their in-house cheerleader.
No post-mortems please
It’s okay to ask your child how his exam was but there’s no need to go into a question by question discussion. It’s too late to do anything now anyway. All that questioning and pointing out his mistakes is only going to leave him with frayed nerves that will ruin the preparation for his next exam as well. So hold your tongue (and your judgement) until after all the exams are done.
Rome was not built in a day
If you want a successful candidate in the exam hall you need to work towards it all throughout the term. Make sure you are there to encourage and monitor your children all along and not just during the week before exams. Don’t just dole out advice and threats. Be invested in their academics and take time to understand their worries and concerns.