How can parents support children during their exams?
GCSE students have on average twenty five exams spread over a six week period, starting in the middle of May and finishing towards the end of June. This does not take into account any coursework that needs completing for subjects like design technology, music or food preparation, any practical exams and the dreaded language speaking exam that are usually in the weeks leading up to the exams.
A level students have less exams spread over a longer period of time, with the added pressure of university places and apprenticeships being determined by the results.
It is a marathon and getting to the end of the exam period as fresh as when you began, so you can put equal effort and focus into every exam, should be your aim. This, however, is easier said than done.
I am asked how parents can support children during their exams. What can they do? As a parent you can feel helpless when you see you child returning home each day exhausted from having sat one exam only to get ready for the next. The answer is that there is plenty you can do to support them in both their revision and their wellbeing.
Revision support for your child:
- Testing – offer to test your child, but only if they want it and find it helpful. Some students find testing before their exams an informal and very effective form of final revision.
- Timetable – help to make a revision timetable for your child, making it focused on the content they need to cover.
- Quotes – it can be very effective to put the quotes/formulae/dates that children have to learn around the house to help them to remember.
- Exam dates and timetable – put a copy of their exam and revision timetable up in the kitchen or another prominent place so the whole family knows the importance of these dates.
- Podcasts – there are excellent revision podcasts. Perhaps help research some and offer to play them on a car journey. This is great preparation for younger siblings for when they are going to be sitting their GCSEs or A levels.
- Stationery – have a good stock of black pens and revision stationery in the house: post-it notes, A4 lined paper, flashcards, felt tip pens, even a mini white board and marker pens for last minute reminders.
- Space to work – talk to your child about where they would like to study and help them to make a space that works for them. Some students work best in a quiet place whereas others prefer the noise and bustle of a family room where they can ask questions.
Wellbeing support for your child:
- Routine – During the exam period it is more important than ever to have a regular family routine of meal times and bed times. Try to limit surprises and upsets to the routine, because the more the home is in a routine, the more likely your child is to stick to their study routine.
- Meals, snacks and breakfast – healthy snacks and favourite meals will help keep your child well fed and healthy but also let them know that their welfare is paramount. Eating breakfast will get them off to a good start and prevent any rumbling tummies during the exams.
- Opportunities to talk – children vary hugely in how much they like to talk to you. However, it is important to move on from each exam to the next. Providing an opportunity for them to discuss how each exam has gone and helping them move on to the next is very helpful.
- Fresh air and exercise – six weeks of revising and sitting exams can be very unhealthy. Encourage your child to go for walks, get fresh air and exercise. Going for a walk together can also be a good opportunity to chat and ask questions about how they are getting on.
- Distractions and Attractions – Some students need to be distracted away from their work so they can switch off, while others are too easily distracted, so need possible distractions (friends calling, sport, family visits) limiting during this time. One A level student of mine used to watch their favourite TV programme with their Mum each night after finishing her revision so that she could switch off and relax.
- Wakes ups and alarms – The biggest dread of students is missing or being late for an exam. Adding another layer of wake up calls so that you can go to sleep knowing you will be woken up will help to reassure them…and you.
- Lifts – being on hand for a lift to school or arranging a back up, just in case your child misses the bus, sleeps in or is running late to school can be reassuring.
- Stress and tension – It is is a time of maximum stress so try to reduce or minimise possible flare-ups or arguments. You know your children best so anticipate what hinders and what supports.