As we prepare to begin term 3 in Australia, now is a good time to star to prepare for the dreaded tests and exams period. Whether it is your child’s first experience with formal examination periods or they are a seasoned regular, it is easy to feel unprepared and nervous. The following article will discuss strategies to assist with these nerves and help boost your child’s confidence!
Strategy #1 PREPARE FOR YOUR ASSESSMENTS
Sometimes the most obvious strategies are overlooked. Make sure you know when your child’s exam is. Mark it on the calendar. Knowing how long you have to prepare will help you and your child to appropriately schedule study times and reduce the chance of your child feeling overwhelmed.
Similarly, find out what is on the test! Some exam notices will indicate particular chapters and topics of importance. For the Higher School Certificate (HSC), students will be provided learning outcomes that explicitly highlight what knowledge will be examined. The Board of Studies has created helpful pages for each exam that outline what to expect as well as the equipment needed for each tests and exams, which can be found by following the link here.
Strategy #2 TIMETABLE
This is the time to get out the coloured highlighters and get organised! On a weekly planner, mark out all the times where you have commitments already scheduled (e.g. school, dance class, soccer practice, family BBQ, etc.). Then, working with your child, (let them do it on their own if they are capable), schedule in one to three 30 minute blocks of time on weeknights (depending on the number of tests and exams: and child’s capability) to cover a particular subject. Prioritise the subjects they find most difficult.
Breaking up the work into more manageable chunks of time will make the pressure of exams less daunting. Structuring study this way will also help to overcome any avoidance tactics.
For the weekends, you may want to discuss adding a couple more study blocks, where your child can choose the topics. Remember to schedule in fun breaks and small rewards to keep your child motivated. For example, spend 15 minutes playing their favourite game or having a snack after 30-40 minutes of study.
Strategy #3 STUDY ENVIRONMENT
Research has shown that your memory recall is best when it is in a similar environment (Godden & Baddeley, 1975). Although you cannot take your child to school to study in their regular school classroom, you can try to make their study space at home reflect the conditions of tests and exams.
For example, encourage your child to study at a desk, sitting upright in a supportive chair, in a quiet environment. Although it may be more comfortable, studying in bed will be less effective!
Strategy #4 MAKE STUDY ACTIVE
How does your child study? Most commonly, children and adolescents alike will flick through their books and highlight more words than not. Though this can be helpful, it can often lead to an illusion of knowledge – “if it is highlighted, I should know it!”
Instead, encourage active study. This includes rewriting information in their own words, making mind maps, talking about topics, creating quizzes, using past exams questions and testing knowledge. Children can either do this independently or with parents and/or friends. Research shows that this leads to better learning and understanding of the material (Prince, 2004).
Strategy #5 SLEEP
Adequate sleep is so important, especially for the exam preparation! During sleep, our brain consolidates learning, so while your child may think it is better to stay up studying until the early hours of the morning, they will be better off getting in the zzz’s (Stickgold, 2005).
Strategy #6 NUTRITION
There is no one key ‘brain food’ that is guaranteed to lead to success. However, a diet rich in whole grains (oats, brown rice, wheat bread), omega-3 (fatty fish, nuts and seeds, avocado) and vitamins (eggs, leafy greens) has been shown to improve brain function and development and improve concentration (Torrens, 2017).
In particular, for older adolescents, limiting caffeine is recommended. Although energy drinks or coffee may be considered helpful because they increase alertness, their stimulant effects may make it difficult for adolescents to wind down, negatively impact sleep and lead to daytime sleepiness (James, Kristjánsson, & Sigfúsdóttir, 2011).
Strategy #7 EXAM DAY
Important things to remember on the day:
- Make sure your child has a good, wholesome breakfast – think brain food, such as eggs on toast with avocado.
- Engage in positive self-talk: remind your child of the hard work that has gone into preparing for the exam. Remind them they can do this! Manage expectations and focus on the effort your child has put in, not the achievement.
- Arrive early: this is especially important for the HSC, as sometimes exams can be in rooms different from normal exams or classes.
Remind your child to:
- Take three deep breaths to help settle their nerves.
- Read all the instructions carefully.
- Wear a watch to keep track of time.
Have something enjoyable arranged for after the assessment – your child has earned it!
Strategy #8 REDUCING ANXIETY DURING TESTS AND EXAMS
Though the above strategies can help support your child, it is normal for them to experience anxiety. Recognising the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety can help your child break the anxiety cycle.
Racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, feelings of worry and negative self-talk are common psychological symptoms of anxiety. Physical symptoms may include an accelerated heart rate, sweaty palms, upset stomach and tension throughout the body (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Some strategies to help reduce anxiety include: deep breathing exercises (long, slow breaths in through the nose, out through the mouth), positive self talk (“I can do it”), grounding exercises (focus on what is in the room, not racing thoughts), and taking a break to go and exercise (Furner, & Berman, 2003; Otto & Smits, 2011).
If you notice your child’s exam anxiety is persistent and detrimentally affecting your child’s ability not only to study but to effectively function in other areas of life, it may be indicative of a more serious issue. Should you have any concerns please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly reception on (02) 9362 9297.
Best of Luck!
Done with your assessments? Or just going back to school? Check out our term programs!
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Furner, J. M., & Berman, B. T. (2003). Math anxiety: Overcoming a major obstacle to the improvement of student math performance. Childhood Education, 79(3), 170-175. doi: 10.1080/00094056.2003.10522220
Godden, D. R. & Baddeley, A. D. Context‐dependent memory in two natural environments: on land and underwater. British Journal of Psychology, 66(3), 325-331. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1975.tb01468.x
James, J. E., Kristjánsson, Á. L., & Sigfúsdóttir, I. D. (2011). Adolescent substance use, sleep, and academic achievement: evidence of harm due to caffeine. Journal of adolescence, 34(4), 665-673.
NSW Education Standards Authority (2018). Exam advice and resources for students. Retrieved 17th September, 2018, from http://k6.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/11-12/hsc/exam-advice-resources
Otto, M, W., & Smits, J. A. J. (2011). Exercise for mood and anxiety: Proven strategies for overcoming depression and enhancing well-being. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc.
Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231.
Stickgold, R. (2005). Sleep-dependent memory consolidation. Nature, 437(7063), 1272-1278. doi:10.1038/nature04286
Torrens, K. (2017). 10 foods to boost your brain power. Retrieved 17th September, 2018, from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/10-foods-boost-your-brainpower