Frustrated and tired female student learning for test

Overcoming exam stress – top 5 tips

As our children reach the end of their school year, it is likely that they are facing exams of one form or another.  Whether they are taking internal end of year tests or their GCSEs, it’s also likely that you, as the parent or carer, are feeling the pressure!  It’s only natural that we want to do whatever we can to support them but, sometimes, it can feel like we are the enemy.  Although research into the impact of stress on exam performance is still relatively limited, what we do know is that stress can ‘blur’ our thinking, blocking our ability to process thoughts clearly and logically. For our teenagers, this can mean the difference between them experiencing the success they desire or not.

A few simple changes to their daily routine, before and during their exam period, could be all they need to approach their exams feeling calm, refreshed and ready for success.

  1. Relaxation

How your teenager chooses to relax will depend entirely on her but one thing is for certain – relaxation is key for success.  Some might enjoy reading a book, whilst others will benefit from listening to their favourite music.  There is no one ‘best fit’ activity, so long as the purpose of relaxation is met – to move the brain away from the focus of study and to choose something in which they can lose themselves.  Think about what interests her the most – is there a particular show she loves to watch or does she enjoy walking the dog? Write a list of those activities that she finds calming and ensure that she timetables at least one of these at the end of each day.  Giving the brain an opportunity to break away from the rigorous revision regime is essential, to avoid stress and allow the brain to refresh.

  1. Reward

Whilst your teenager will probably have been told how to timetable her studies, it is not often that young people are told of the importance of self-rewarding.  This is a crucial part of your child’s success plan, if they are to remain focused, clear headed and on top of things.

When you think about the enormity of the GCSE curriculum, it’s no surprise that they can feel huge overwhelm during revision and exam periods.  We know as parents (and as ex-students ourselves!), the result of overwhelm is, often, procrastination.  If there is anything we can do, instead of our studies, we will find it: dust that filthy shelf that hasn’t seen the light of day in years; spend an hour looking at photos of ‘Friends of Friends’ on Facebook…The list of possible procrastination activities is endless!! So how does self-reward help us with this?

Breaking down tasks, and (in the case of your teenager) revision, into small, manageable goals, with linked specific rewards, is crucial for sustained motivation and self-belief.   Sit down with your teenager and break the task down into small, manageable chunks. Once you have done this, agree only 2 or 3 goals that will be tackled, before she will then break for a reward.  Again, the reward itself must be something considered a treat by your teenager and this will vary from person to person.  For some it might be watching a 30-minute comedy show, whilst, for others, it could be chatting to a friend.  Whatever the reward, ensure that it’s something that is personally motivating to your own teenager.  As she sees these goals being ticked off her list, her feeling of overwhelm will reduce significantly and her motivation will increase.

  1. Rest

Although the teenage brain is developing at an alarming rate, and wants to stay active for longer, the ‘average’ teenager still needs a good 9.5 hours sleep a night.  Of equal importance to the amount of sleep, is the quality of that sleep.  It is essential that they drift off to sleep with a calm and relatively clear mind.

Agree a time that your daughter will put away her study books for the night.  Once you have agreed a sleep time, work backwards and ensure that she timetables in at least half an hour of relaxation before closing her eyes.  That means (and she may not like this!) that screen time must stop at least half an hour before she sleeps.

  1. Reassure

Whilst reassurance of our children is something that we do without much thought, how often do we reassure ourselves?  If you find it difficult to reassure yourself, when the pressure is on, it is likely that your teenager does too.  How easy is it for her to gain perspective and reassure herself that she is doing OK?  As adults, we know that keeping perspective, whilst stress levels are high, can be a huge challenge.  If she is feeling a sense of panic or failure, sit down together and write a list of all her achievements so far.  If you are nearing the end of the exam cycle, reflect on the huge achievements made so far.  It can be often be hard to visualise progress, without seeing it written on the page.  It can also be natural for motivation and confidence to wane, as our children head towards the last week or so.

Watch out for the ‘What if…’ scenario playing in her mind.  Knowing that there are options, whatever the outcome of her exams, can be reassuring.

Almost as important as anything else, is the knowledge that those closest to her will be happy with whatever results she achieves.  She has put the hardest work in now, so the message of your love and acceptance will go a long way at this time.

  1. Read

As a teacher, I meet children and teenagers with so many characteristics, learning styles and individual worries.  It is impossible to find one book or set of guidelines that can possibly fit one individual child precisely.  I have researched and read uncountable books and research papers relating to study, stress and anxiety and am constantly amazed at the developing scientific understanding of our brains and the ways in which we learn.  My one piece of advice is to trust in your own instincts, knowing all you do about your own teenage girl, and read as much as you can on how to support her.  There are some wonderful experts out there, who can help you to understand your own teenager in greater depth.

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