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As we’re around the midpoint of an educational year, the good news is that there’s an end on the horizon. The slightly less good news for parents with kids facing significant exams is that stress only gets bigger from here.
We can all have our own opinions on the benefits of making kids face exams at a young age. Indeed, some people question the value of exams at all – they don’t necessarily test the intelligence of a child. What they do test is their ability to reproduce their retention of key pieces of information in a time-pressured situation. A lot of kids with exceptional minds fall apart under exam conditions.
That said, we can only deal with the system we have. At this time, how a child or teen performs on exams is the main way we have of judging their academic performance. So when they come to apply to colleges, it is important that they have good results. If you have a child who picks things up well, but then struggles in the exam room, how do you make sure their future isn’t impaired by low test scores?
#1. Avoid Cramming By Spacing Out Study Periods
We like to think as adults that we’re more patient than children are, and to a large extent we are. But you know perfectly well that if you have a deadline sometime in the future and a social occasion in two days’ time, the party will draw focus. For a kid, it’s even harder to prioritize. Yes, they need to study, but there’s such a range of distractions. It’s no surprise that they end up cramming all their study into the few days before an exam.
Studies show, though, that cramming is a very unproductive way of studying. It’s like trying to drink a bathtub full of water. There’s no way it’s all going in, and some of what does will probably be lost immediately. Remind your kids that college is pretty much the most fun time they’ll have in life. Spacing out their study, and sometimes missing a party or a chance to hang out, will pay off in future.
#2. Do What You Can To Replicate Test Conditions At Home
Speak to any teacher, and they’ll tell you how many kids they’ve had in their classes who had all the brains but didn’t test well. Bright and attentive in class. They had a genuinely thought-provoking way of looking at things. These are kids who would be an asset to any employer in that field. Yet, when they sit down in an exam room, it’s like they’ve been replaced by a clone. They don’t perform up to what they are capable of.
The pressure of the exam room can do odd things to a child. It’s a place they go into for a few weeks a year, and the unfamiliarity can affect performance. You can even buy some school furniture if you want to go the extra mile – it’ll come in useful enough over the years! You can then find past papers to practice on; there’s plenty available online. Give them some silence and allow them to familiarize themselves with the terrain. Then, when they go into the exam room, it’ll be less of a distraction.
#3. Serve Up Some Brain Food
It’s an undeniable truth that we’re less able to be intelligent when we’re hungry. We know that some kids skip breakfast. Some adults don’t feel up to eating in the morning, but it’s something you need to force yourself to do if you want to be mentally sharp. But it’s not just important that you eat; what you eat also makes a considerable difference.
On the day of an exam, although their stomach may be churning with butterflies, it’s vital to get some actual food in there too. Nothing overly heavy, of course. The softer the better, and the good news is that some of the best brain foods are also easy to eat. Eggs are beneficial, as is yogurt. So whip up some fluffy scrambled eggs with a pot of yogurt on the side. Also give them a packet of nuts to snack on – these have a positive impact on mental performance.
#4. Help Your Child Identify Their Areas Of Difficulty
Some kids can knock reading comprehension out of the park but struggle to replicate that writing in their own words. Another may be a long division maven, but have difficulties with algebra. Even kids who seem to be masters of a certain subject can have problems with a given area. For example, you may have a kid who can talk for five minutes in French about a chosen topic. But if they are asked when to use and how to form the subjunctive, they have real problems.
Every student, even the straight-A valedictorians, have gaps in their knowledge even in the subjects they thrive in. Sit down with your kids in advance of the exams and ask them if there are areas they’re concerned about.
Talk it out with them and devise a strategy for focusing on those areas so when it comes to exam time, they’re not intimidated. Better that than they read back over a lot of stuff they already know, and become too practiced. Excessive reading over one aspect of a subject can mean when they come to do an exam, that they are less free in how they write.
#5. Don’t Rigorously Enforce A Bedtime, But Help Them Sleep
Insisting on lights out by a certain time can have a counterproductive effect on studying, making a student rush their reading. You take in more by reading at a reasonable pace and pausing to absorb what you just read.
At the same time, be clear about the importance of sleep in exam performance. I’d go as far as to say it is better to leave the books alone completely the evening before an exam than cram until 3 am and get next to no sleep. But striking a happy medium between the two is better yet, and encourages good sleep hygiene for the duration of the exam period.
Above all, remind your children that there are always fallback options if the exams don’t go as well as hoped first time around. Makeup tests and fallback schools do exist. Of course, you want the right level of performance first time. But removing some of the pressure can help in achieving that.