Whether we like it or not, school tests are an inevitable part of our educational journey. Some children take them in their stride, whereas others feel a lot of pressure to perform, often to the detriment of their wellbeing. In this post, we look at some of the ways you can help relieve your child from undue exam stress and encourage a positive mindset when it comes to exam preparation.
Watch Out for the Signs of Exam Stress
Exam stress can take many different forms in children. As a parent, it’s important to be aware of the early signs of stress, as children aren’t always forthcoming in expressing how they feel, particularly in pressured situations. Some of the warning signs to look out for include:
– Excessive worrying
– Headache and stomach ache complaints
– Feeling tense and uptight
– Disrupted sleep pattern
– Loss of appetite
– Lack of interest in socialising with friends
– Using negative language
– Generally low mood
If you notice that your child is showing signs of stress, try to talk to them about how they’re feeling. You don’t necessarily have to talk about ‘exam stress’ head on, but do encourage them to talk about how they’re finding the process of studying. If you think they may have some anxiety over their exams, it’s a good idea to let their teachers know, so they too can help reduce their stress levels.
For more advice on how to spot the early signs of exam stress, watch this video from ParentChannelTV:
Get to the Root of the Issue
Although we might assume that exam stress ‘just happens’ as the result of impending exams, there’s usually quite specific reasons why your child may be feeling pressure. Some of the most common reasons for exam stress in primary school kids include:
– Comparing themselves academically to their classmates
– Pressure from parents, teachers or tutors
– Feeling underprepared
– Low self esteem
Of course, every child is different, and there may be other reasons behind their stressful feelings, but the important thing is to encourage them to talk about it. Once you’ve identified why they’re feeling the way they are, you can start to work towards a solution where they feel confident and empowered when they think about their exams.
Talk to Your Child About Their Exam Nerves
Communication is key to overcoming exam stress. We all know how it feels to keep negative feelings to ourselves and how much better things seem once we’ve shared them with another person. Some exam nerves are to be expected, but what can start out as a few jitters can quickly snowball into full-blown panic if we don’t have proper perspective.
Remind your child that it’s completely normal to be nervous before exams and reassure them that all their friends will be feeling exactly the same way. Try to offer some perspective by giving a worst-case scenario ahead of exam day and then reframing it in a positive light, for example:
– Life goes on beyond exams. There will be plenty other opportunities for XYZ in the future.
– Some exams only test for certain skills, it doesn’t provide a whole picture of your ability.
– This is the first exam you’ve ever taken, you’ll get better through time with practice.
Giving your child perspective can help ease the pressure they may be feeling. Once they know that it’s not the end of the world if they don’t perform well, they’ll feel more relaxed and resourceful.
Listen to Classical Music While Studying
Listening to soothing, classical music can help children focus. Ambient sounds can create a relaxing atmosphere, which makes one feel more resourceful. Encouraging your child to listen to classical music with headphones on while they study can help block out any distractions. Classical music is also proven to boost brain power, lift our mood and make us feel more positive.
Try to avoid choosing ‘dramatic’ music, instead, opt for something smooth, with a consistent rhythm. There are lots of ‘classical music playlists for studying’ on YouTube and Spotify. Bookmark a few that you think are suitable and ask your child to listen to them next time they’re studying.
Get Some Exercise
It’s far too easy for studying to take over when exam time comes. Although it’s important that your child puts in the preparation, they also need to spend some time away from their books.
Exercise is a proven way of reducing stress levels. When we exercise, our bodies release serotonin, known as ‘the happiness chemical’. By engaging in regular physical activity throughout their studying schedule, your child should feel more resourceful as they release all their tension.
Activities like swimming, jogging, and yoga are all great ways to get rid of stress and anxiety.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
If your child is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work ahead of them, it may be worthwhile looking at their studying process. Having a study schedule in place, outlining what needs to be studied when, can help your child get organised and ensure that they cover everything they need to know for the exam. Far too often, primary school kids take a reactive approach to studying, working on different topics here and there without any real consistency.
By helping your child adopt a proactive approach to studying, they’ll feel more organised and in control, which can reduce their anxiety. Another benefit of setting a study schedule is that you can also set reward milestones. For example, once your child has completed six hours of study, reward them in some way. This can help ensure that they stay motivated to study right up until exam day.
Encourage Good Sleeping Patterns and Eating Habits
No matter how tempting it can be to stay up late and push on with studying, your child will benefit far more in the long run if they stick to a regular sleeping pattern. Try to keep your child’s bed time the same while they study, even though it can be tempting to let them work on if they’re in the mood.
After a full night’s sleep, your child should feel refreshed and recharged, meaning they’ll be far more likely to retain any new information that they learn.
It’s also important that your child eats a healthy, balanced diet as there are direct links between stress and anxiety and poor eating habits. Try to encourage your child to cut out sugary food and drinks. Although they may provide an initial energy boost, they can end up making your child sleepier and less energised in the long run.
For more advice on how to relieve exam stress, check out this video from BBC Radio One’s BBC Bitesize:
Pretest Plus is an independent publisher of high quality online practice tests to help your child succeed in CAT, PRETEST and UKISET examinations. We believe that focused practice and smart preparation are vital for exam success. We’re also aware that preparing for exams can be a stressful time, especially for younger students. By following the advice above, we hope to help parents relieve some of the exam stress felt by their children as they prepare for independent school entry.