Six Ways to Help Your Teenager Prepare for Exams
Originally published by the Girls' Schools Association as part of their Heads' Blogs series.
Revision and exams are already upon us. While there is no quick fix to ease stress or guarantee success, here are a few tips to help parents prepare teenagers for the weeks ahead.
1. Help them to take control
Whatever this might mean to them, from a clear time-management schedule and accessible revision notes, to mind-maps and highlighters at the ready, it is important that they plan in good time and feel in control.
This is not to imply children should be shut away for days on end, staring longingly at the sunshine, but encouraging them to take responsibility for their studies and wellbeing can help strike a balance and increase motivation.
Last year, research featured in the Washington Post found that students work harder and enjoy studying more when they set their own expectations and goals.
2. Get rid of the guilt
Encourage them to be practical and flexible with their revision plan, amending the time spent on difficult topics as needed, and taking breaks when they feel their own productivity waning.
Remember the military wisdom that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”. The most resilient and durable planning requires a balance between clarity of intention whilst being flexible enough to adapt.
Taking sensible decisions, such as including an extra break, extending a revision session or knowing when to stop for the day, should not make them feel guilty or add to their anxiety.
3. Encourage self-compassion
Whether they leave things until the last minute or want to stay up into the small hours revising, in my experience both reactions often stem from the paralysis caused by apprehension combined with the fear of failure.
Recent research suggests that self-compassion, or taking a non-judgmental attitude toward our inadequacies, is key to undermining the negative effects of perfectionism, such as overworking, procrastination and performance anxiety.
Whilst too little revision may let them down, overworking can lead to exhaustion, frustration and poor retention, so take time to reassure them and try to ward off either extreme.
4. Understand how they learn
Not everyone learns in the same way and an environment that would work for you might not work for your child. Study groups may help them remember topics in a new way or descend into an evening of sitcom reruns and social media.
Help them to test different ways of learning, from quizzes to ‘head-down’ studying or study groups, to see what works best for them. This may be different subject to subject.
Encourage them to discern for themselves the difference between ‘work and play’ and to find time for both.
5. Don’t forget the basics
It may sound simple, but don’t underestimate the impact of good habits.
Eating well, keeping hydrated, taking breaks and good sleeping habits are all tried and tested top tips for helping us all to feel resilient and positive.
The enormously powerful benefit of adequate sleep, for both performance and maintaining good immunity levels, is not to be underestimated and is well documented by a body of research.
6. Keep it in perspective
If an exam went well, use this success to build their confidence. If it went less well, help them to keep it in perspective; dwelling on the paper afterwards cannot alter their mark, and worrying will impact their concentration and wellbeing.
While it is important to value how they felt about the exam, help them to remember that their perception is subjective and many students tend to focus on what could have gone better, rather than what went well.
It is crucial to remind our teenagers that individual exam grades, good or bad, are just one element of their personal development, and in isolation must not be allowed to define their futures, their worth and their feelings of fulfilment, meaning and purpose.
They need to know that you will continue to love them regardless of the outcome.