Exam season is fast approaching. For students up and down the country this means trying to cram in as much information as they can in their final few weeks of revision. This often leads to doubt, tears and worries (and that’s just how the parents are feeling). So what can parents do to help their children survive the exam season?
One of the largest studies on parental behaviours and their children’s academic achievement found that placing a high value on education and having high academic expectations had the most positive impact. Other tips from this research included regular communication and having clear study/leisure time guidelines.
However having high expectations without providing appropriate support is akin to a car having powerful accelerators and no steering wheel. It is guaranteed to crash. Recent research suggests that you need both to help people develop resilience, with children who have supportive parents achieving better grades as well as being the more socio-emotionally adjusted.
Help Them Work Smarter
It is important to know that not all revision techniques are equal. Strategies such as re-reading and highlighting have been found to not aid revision. That is because they don’t force you to think hard and can be done on autopilot. Strategies that are far more likely to lead to long term memory retention include ‘spacing’ and ‘the testing effect’.
Spacing is where you do little and often, as opposed to a lot all at once (i.e. one hour a day for eight days is far more effective than eight hours in one day). The testing effect is where students have to recall an answer, be it in a quiz, multiple choice summary test or past paper. It may be difficult to get them to clock up more hours, but by getting students to use these strategies we can at least help them to work smarter.
Cope Well With Their Setbacks
The exam season is an emotional rollercoaster, with a series of highs and lows. How well you react to their lows may well determine how many highs they have. A recent study found that children are very adept at identifying how their parents view failure. Those who see mistakes as opportunities to learn, instead of as personal judgements, are more likely to develop a growth mindset. Next time they experience a setback, take a deep breath and help them figure out what caused it and what they would do differently next time.
Multi-tasking is a bit of a myth. Each minute spent focusing on ‘the wrong things’ is sixty seconds not spent on ‘the right things’. For many, this is often exacerbated by their mobile phones, with the average person checking theirs around 85 times a day. Excessive use can lead to a wide range of negative consequences that include, but are not limited to, reduced concentration, memory and an increase in stress, anxiety and FOMO (fear of missing out).
Having clear and frank discussion with your child is key here. Ideally, they would manage their phones themselves. However, the teenage brain thinks differently to the adult brain and as a consequence finds self-control a lot more challenging. A range of strategies exist, from turning it on airplane mode to completely turning it off. Even better, get them to revise with their mobile phones in a different room.
If They Sleep Right, They Think Right
It is common sense to get enough sleep, get some fresh air and eat regular meals. But it is amazing how uncommon common sense is. The National Sleep foundation recommend GCSE and A-Level students get around 9 hours sleep a night. Research suggests there is a strong relationship between getting a regular night’s sleep and exam results (about half a grade different per subject).
For many students, it is tempting to sacrifice a night’s sleep in order to do extra revision. Other common sleep mistakes include going to bed at different times, waiting to feel tired before going to bed and drinking highly caffeinated drinks late into the night.
Rise and Dine: Make Sure They Eat Breakfast
As well as getting a good night’s sleep, students should be sure to eat breakfast every day. This has been proven to improve concentration and memory throughout the course of the morning. This is key for the first revision session of the day. Breakfasts that have a low GI are ideal, energy is released more slowly which provides a firm foundation for the rest of the day.
Get Them to Spend Some Time Outside Each Day
Three quarters of children in the UK spend less time outside than prison inmates. It is tempting for them to hole themselves up trying to get every inch out of their revision but really encourage students to get some fresh air at least once a day. An experiment on study breaks compared doing so in a natural environment to an urban one. The researchers found that students who had taken a break in natural surroundings resulted in them feeling more refreshed and subsequently performed 20% better on their return to their work.
The exam season is often stressful for students and their parents. Nothing can guarantee plain sailing, but by having high expectations and support, effective revision strategies, coping well with setbacks, minimising distractions and ensuring they sleep, eat and exercise, parents can rest safe in the knowledge that they have done everything within their control. The rest is up to their child.
This article was originally published in The Guardian on 11th May 2017, you can read it here along with Brad's other articles: https://www.theguardian.com/profile/bradley-busch