Your Role as a Parent as Exams Approach
One of your main roles, as parents, around exam time is to create a good atmosphere at home. It will be important to remain calm and try not to transfer additional pressure on to your child in the lead up. This applies whether they are sitting a state exam or an end of year summer test. I would be wary of placing any extra emphasis on them achieving certain grades or points. Allowing them to talk without judgment, actively listening to them and keeping career options and results in perspective are other ways that you can be there for them at this time. Be sure to check that they have a plan ‘B’ in place for further education/training, as this will help greatly to regulate their stress levels.
Try not to let uncertainties or worries you had in school, especially any negative vibes you had around exams or certain subjects influence how your child deals with their exam year. I don’t think conversations beginning with “When I was doing the Leaving Cert…” are really that helpful or relevant to their situation now. Similarly, never compare your child’s performance or study ethic to that of their peers or siblings, as this will just add to the stress. Complaining about the unfairness of the exam process is also airing unhelpful negativity. Keep it all on a positive plane and let them breathe. If you have any concerns at all about your child, you should contact their school, as teachers and management are usually more than happy to help. If you meet a roadblock, I would be delighted to help and advise you in some small way; so don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
More than any other time in their life, it is important to help your child manage their feelings, as they may struggle with overwhelming emotions and pressures placed on them by exams. There are lots of great techniques you can show them, like slowing their breathing down or helping them become aware of their feelings. Maybe, look up one or two of these online, so that you can pass on something practical to use during intense situations. Exercise and involvement in activities right up to exam start are brilliant stress reducing techniques and should be strongly encouraged.
Practical Insights to Really Support Your Exam Student
The following are some real and practical insights into how your support can really help your son or daughter be their best around exam time. This advice applies to all types of examinations, not just the Junior and Leaving Certificate.
- It’s an obvious one to start but ensure that your child is present in the exam hall for each exam. For parents who are working and leaving home early, avoid the ultimate disaster of your child missing an exam. This advice applies on days they have important class tests also. Ensure they are up and dressed before you leave home for work each morning. A small number of students regularly fail to turn up for morning exam papers.
- Making them a healthy and substantial breakfast will greatly help their focus and concentration all the way to the end of an exam, especially if they have an afternoon paper to sit also.
- Help them to draw up a check list of daily requirements based on each day’s exams. Make a final check with them each morning, so that your child is fully prepared for the day’s exams. The amount of guidance required will obviously depend on how organised your child is. Writing instruments along with the other requirements such as rulers, erasers, calculators, water, and any non-intrusive nourishment such as sweets, or fruit should be checked off for inclusion.
- When your child arrives home after their exam, listen to their experience carefully and then move on. After each day’s exams allow them to recount their daily story to you. Do not be tempted to review in detail with them any errors or omissions on the paper. Such a process achieves absolutely nothing, other than to again increase anxiety levels. Simply allow them the time and space to tell their tale and move on to the next challenge (i.e. the subsequent paper) is the best policy.
- Know the exam schedule. Pin the exam timetable prominently up at home; highlight each exam to be taken. This applies to house exams also. Diary the date and time of each paper your child must take. In the stress of the whole exam period, you need to be continuously aware of whats going on and when. Investigate which days or subjects your child isn’t looking forward to so that you can be there for them in a real and practical way.
- It can help them greatly if you have a little knowledge of each exam paper or at least show some interest in it. Simple questions such as, “What is up next?”, “Are there any compulsory sections?” or “Are there any predictable questions?” can be asked. The best open question to ask is “How are you feeling about …? “. This will allow them to express themselves more freely if they wish. This also ensures they won’t feel alone and that you really care about how they get on. If they will allow you, work with them on devising a short but efficient revision schedule, as this is something I have noticed that students struggle to do alone. How all students manage their time from now on is key. Wishing you luck, especially if you are a ‘first time exam parent’.
To view last week’s feature article on ‘Why Practicing Past Exam Questions in Maths is Crucial’, click here.
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