When I was a teenager, I learnt to hate spring. I always associated it with exams. It was the most stressful time of year. I would waste weeks in useless procrastination, followed by panicky cramming. If this is an all too familiar scenario in your household at the moment, don’t despair, there are some practical ways to help your kids survive exam season.
Is your child a procrastinator? Use a two-pronged approach. Firstly, realise that procrastination often stems from anxiety. Lend your children your perspective: exams measure only how well they can do an exam, not their worth as a person. Let them know that exams are important and that good results will help, but don’t add to their terrors. Some kids lock up because they think they will fail. Nearly every student will encounter things in an exam they can do and things they cannot do – if they study, they will increase the amount they can do in the exam. Maybe it won’t be enough to pass, but their job is to do the best they can do. “I’ll give it a go” is so much more useful than, “I can’t do this.”
Secondly, help your procrastinator to actually start. Some kids procrastinate because they do not know where to begin and parents can be very helpful in setting some small task to get them moving: “Make a list of points from this page”, “Answer this question from this test paper from last year”, “Make lists of all the topics in your notes that you have to study and then we’ll make up a study timetable.”
Any teenager facing ten hours of solid study is going to lock up with dread. It is hugely helpful to have scheduled breaks. One technique that can work really well is to set a timer for fifteen minutes. Set the challenge: “See how much you can do in 15 minutes – when the timer goes off, have a stretch. Next time, have a glass of water. After four 15 minute bursts, have a longer break.”
Provide time and space for them to study. They may need a break from chores and other family members need to be cued to be considerate and quiet.
A very practical thing you can do is place boundaries around what they can do during exam time. ‘Study break’ does not mean ‘holiday’, and so you will be doing them a huge favour by curtailing their trips and parties. Not every waking hour has to be spent studying – that would be counter-productive – but any non-study activity should only be allowed after they have put in a decent amount of time into their revision. The same goes for distracting technology. You do not need a complete media blackout (for many teens that would be worse than an amputation), but do put some limits around when they can access Facebook, watch movies etc.
You can help them with their study, even in subjects you know little about. Check in with them, pick up their notes, and ask them to explain to you what they know of the topic. Let them know why you are doing this: it is not to check up on them, but to help them, because sometimes the best way to make facts ‘stick’ in your brain is to explain them to someone else. The study notes you can buy are often very good (but make sure they are current); and are a great way for parents to quickly get up to speed with quizzing and interacting with their teenager about the topics.
Watch some YouTube videos with your student – there are dozens of videos on how to prepare for exams, with lots of different tips and techniques. The reason you watch with them is to be able to say, “That looks good. Let’s try that!” and to turn the computer off. The tendency with YouTube-watching is that you get drawn on and on until, before you know it, you have spent three hours watching cat videos and Fail Army. The thing is, almost any technique that gets your child sorting and sifting through their notes will be of value. It is good to also talk about exam techniques. The most basic one is to go through the whole exam and workout what you can do easily and what you cannot, and dividing your time up wisely. Old exam papers are very useful for practising with. Part of what they should know is actually when and where the exam is – every year, kids turn up at the wrong place or time.
Exams are the biggest thing some kids have ever faced and so move in close and support your child emotionally. With a teenager, that usually just means being there and being available. Not many teens express their stress and worry elegantly – it often surfaces as grumpiness or sulkiness, but if you are the parent of teenagers you are probably used to that.
For more, check out John’s corner.