Students across the country are gearing up to take GCSE and A-level exams. It can be a stressful time, not just for teenagers but for parents and guardians too – particularly because they might feel powerless to help. For children who have shown an early talent, such as young musicians, or indeed athletes or specialists in another field, there’s the added challenge of balancing practice or training with academic exams.
In reality, parents can help far more than they think just by being there for their children to offer advice and support. We consulted our Lead Nurse and Head of Sixth Form to compile some top tips for navigating this challenging and rewarding time.
Recall past successes
Self-confidence fluctuates during exam time. Where revision is concerned, there will naturally be good days and less successful ones. So, if your child plays an instrument – or if they’re an athlete, an entrepreneur, or even a gaming master – remind them of the dedication they showed to progress, and encourage them to apply the same determination to their academic studies. This is a great way to help them put things in perspective and gain some confidence.
You can also share stories with your children. Tell them about a time when you weren’t sure you could tackle something, but by sticking at it and being positive, you managed to succeed.
Praise effort, over results
Many students are perfectionists, and this is a trait often seen in children with musical ability or another strong interest. Whilst exceptional academic results are exciting, students need to know that their parents are proud of them for doing their best, as well as for getting great results. It’s actually very healthy for them to know they won’t always be the very best at something, or get top marks – especially when they’ve been celebrated for a special talent from an early age. It’s crucial that they develop resilience and understand that by applying their best efforts, they keep control of their own futures.
Trust your children
You know your own children best, so you’ll have a good idea of how diligently they work and how much encouragement they need. Generally though, showing your children that you trust them to get on with revision can provide more of a boost than transmitting your own anxiety to them. However nervous you may feel on their behalf, a gentle nudge and offer of support is more motivating than a panicked appeal!
Musicians: take five with your instrument!
If you’re at a specialist music school, don’t be worried about taking a short break from intense music practice during GCSE or A level exam time. Believe it or not, the exams will be over very soon!
Play pieces for enjoyment, relish the time to experiment, and remember that creativity boosts your confidence, memory and attention span, all of which will benefit you in your academic work. Rather than challenging yourself too much musically, see your instrument as an enjoyable release from stress, rather than piling hours of rehearsal on top of your revision schedule.
Look after yourself
It’s advice you hear over and over again in articles about exam success – make sure you relax, take time out, eat well and go to bed early. Health and wellbeing are the foundations on which you build – so, if you’re neglecting yourself, it’s almost certainly going to impact your studies. So, set yourself a switch-off time each evening and stick to it, establish a routine, and make time for some exercise, even if it’s just a ten minute walk each day. Try not to turn to sweets for an energy boost, but instead choose slow release carbohydrates like a banana or hummus with some oatcakes when you’re peckish. Do something you enjoy and don’t isolate yourself from friends – they’re going through the same thing and sharing feelings can be helpful, as long as you don’t compare yourself.
Plan ahead with revision
Ask for support from teachers if you need, but developing a revision plan for the months and weeks leading up to your exams is the single best way to reduce stress and help you feel more in control of your work. A clear timetable will also break down what can otherwise seem like a huge task and help you to set targets.
Definitely don’t cram ahead…
Cramming has literally never been consistently successful for anyone, no matter what people might brag. Spacing out revision, planning well and allowing for time to follow up on rusty topics are always going to produce better results. This is particularly true at A level – even if you did succeed with some last minute cramming at GCSE, this is less likely to work at higher level exams which test how you apply your knowledge.
Work in chunks
Working in small chunks of 15 or 20 minutes and taking regular breaks is a great way to cope with large volumes of material without feeling overwhelmed. Even if you find that you work more effectively when you get into a flow for an hour or so, breaks are still essential to ensure you can pace yourself and absorb knowledge more effectively. Experiment early on in your revision to find a pattern that works for you. A lot of people feel the Pomodoro app is very useful. It’s is a timer which breaks sessions into 25 mins and can be linked to a to-do list of tasks. After each ‘Pomodoro’, you get a reward.
Create a pleasant working environment
A well organised working environment is important. Get rid of clutter and distractions – being disciplined with use of technology and social media use during exam time will definitely help you concentrate better, too.