John Cowan - Exam Pressure

Publish Date
Friday, 13 November 2015, 10:38AM
By John Cowan

Is your child a procrastinator? Use a two-pronged approach. Firstly, realise that procrastination often stems from anxiety. Lend them your perspective: exams measure only how well they can do an exam, not their worth as a person. Let them know that exams are important and that good results will help, but don’t add to their terrors. Some kids lock up because they think they will fail. Nearly every student will encounter things in an exam they can do and things they cannot do: if they study, they will increase the amount they can do in the exam. Maybe it won’t be enough to pass, but their job is to do the best they can do.  “I’ll give it a go” is so much more useful than “I can’t do this”.

Secondly, help your procrastinator to actually start. Some kids procrastinate because they do not know where to begin and parents can be very helpful in setting some small tasks to get them moving: “Make a list of points from this page”, “Answer this question from this test paper from last year”,  “Make a list of all the topics in your notes that you have to study and then we’ll make up a study timetable”.

Any teenager facing ten hours of solid study is going to lock up with dread. It is hugely helpful to have scheduled breaks. One technique that can work really well is to set a timer for fifteen minutes. Set the challenge: “See how much you can do in 15 minutes: when the timer goes off, have a stretch. Next time, have a glass of water. After four 15 minute bursts, have a longer break.”

Provide time and space for them to study. They may need a break from chores and other family members need to be cued to be considerate and quiet.

A very practical thing you can do is place boundaries around what they can do during exam time. ‘Study break’ does not mean ‘holiday’, and so you will be doing them a huge favour by curtailing their trips and parties. Not every waking hour has to be spent studying – that would be counter-productive  – but any non-study activity should only be allowed after they have put in a decent amount of time into their revision. The same goes for distracting technology. You do not need a complete media blackout (for many teens that would be worse than an amputation) but do put some limits around when they can access Facebook and video games etc.


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