May is quite literally a testing time for everyone involved in GCSE and A levels. Here at PET-Xi we’ve worked all year with schools as they prepare their pupils for these exams and I’ve spent much of my career advising on how young people can be supported to fulfill their potential.
However this year I’m seeing things from a different perspective – as the parent of a GCSE student myself!
Exam stress for children is well documented – but I haven’t seen much advice out there for parents. Every child will have a different approach to their studies and revision – so as parents we need to be aware of this and adjust our support accordingly. An organized highly motivated student will probably need help in pacing themselves, so they don’t overdo it, whereas a student who lacks enthusiasm for academic studies will need a lot more supportive and enthusiastic input.
Here are my top tips:
Help find a way of revising that works for your child. Creating a structured way of working is essential. You can only keep the stress at bay if you have everything covered and know that all subjects have been broken down into workable chunks. Only the unknown is scary so review what needs to be done and get it all timetabled. Keep an area “exam free” so they have somewhere they can just relax.
Check out past papers. Past papers and exam technique are crucial to success so find out from your school the exam board for each of the GCSEs your child is sitting and go to their websites and download them. It’s not rocket science – practice makes perfect – the more past papers your child completes the more prepared they will be. Print them out and work through them and use the mark schemes (also available online) to mark them and help them identify gaps.
Put the basics in place. Your child needs time and space to work – so be flexible, maybe give up some extra space in the house if they need it and forget any chores for a while. Make sure they are fed and watered (literally – water is definitely the best drink!).
Keep communicating. Again be led by your child here because what you may think of as taking an interest may come across to them as interfering. Testing them on what they’ve been working on is great as it provides a natural opportunity to praise and encourage them.
Offer advice where it’s wanted. If your child wants help, take them seriously, rather than brushing them off with a cheery ‘Just do your best’. Deep down they appreciate the fact that you are interested and care about them. They are probably feeling anxious so talking will help them to release some of this pressure. Help them structure their revision, and if it needs re-planning if they fall behind then help them to create a new schedule. This flexibility will help them to be proactive and develop their planning skills.
Help is out there. Remember it takes a whole village to bring up a child and that you are not alone. Get online – there are lots of groups and forums for parents and students who are helping each other resolve issues. There is also help managing stress and depression – always remain vigilant for the signs.
Remain upbeat and lively. Try not to nag – it will probably only increase their anxiety. A few hours solid revision is better than a day of unfocussed leafing through papers. If you are happy they’ve done some work make sure they get some time out and relax and socialise. It’s all about balance.
De-stress yourself. Remember however important it seems at the moment, examination success really isn’t the be all and end all. Many people lead a happy and fulfilled life without a string of A* results behind them. Value your child for their own unique personality, abilities and talents and don’t see them as ‘unsuccessful’ if everything doesn’t go exactly to plan. There are many other ways of being a success, academically is only one part.
Keep it in perspective. Yes exams are important but so is your relationship with your son or daughter. … remember that there is more to life than just exams! Make sure that first and foremost they know that they have your unconditional support! This will help them to build their own emotional resilience which is more important in later life than anything.
Stay calm. You will all get through it! Accept the fact that they will have off days when they don’t seem to do anything – they may be paralyzed by the thought of all they need to do. Keep that sense of being grounded – it is just exams.
Celebrate. Plan a nice treat for them when each subject, or the entire season of exams, is over – for both of you! Base any subsequent rewards around the effort they put in, rather than the results they achieve.