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
We all recognise the benefits of reading. At the Quirky Kid Clinic, we’ve put our pens to paper and compiled a list of all the subtle social, emotional and language boosts a simple ‘bedtime story’ can have. We also prepared a step-by-step guide on how to build a healthy and manageable reading routine for your family!
The Benefits of Reading
- Reading is a bonding experience. Reading with your child helps to nurture your relationship with them. It’s an opportunity to spend exclusive time together without distractions or external pressures. Richardson et al. (2015) found that reading with your child helps them to feel more secure and bonded with their parent as well as helps children absorb new information faster.
- Reading builds language skills. Children who are exposed to a great volume of rich language are given a head start academically and develop stronger language skills (Fernald, Marchman, & Weisleder, 2013). This ultimately impacts not only their learning and cognitive development, but also positively influences a child’s communication skills.
- Reading builds coping skills. Setting aside time to read with you child provides a regular forum to contemplate and work through challenges. Reading, looking at pictures and pointing things out provides an opportunity for your child to express themselves as they relate to the characters in the story. This promotes healthy relationships and provides positive ideas and ways to express oneself. For example, a child transitioning to school may benefit from reading a story about another child starting school as walking through the experience in someone else’s shoes can help normalise their own feelings, understand their experiences and build up a set of coping strategies for these experiences.
- Reading is relaxing. iPads, TVs, phones, computer games; it is often impossible to compete with the whizzing, whirring, distracting nature of these devices. Finding time in your day to sit down with your child is a crucial opportunity for quiet reflection and mindfulness. Think of it as a way of “tuning in” as opposed to “tuning out”.
- Reading teaches empathy. Being able to share and understand the feelings of others is a skill crucial to building our social relationships. A study out of Cambridge University (Nikolajeva, 2013) found that reading books about fictional characters can provide excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy. Through reading, a child experiences the feelings of another person in different situations, which helps them develop an understanding of how they feel and think. These skills, when nurtured, help the child to show empathy in real life situations.
So, we now know the benefits, but how can we put this into practice? Here are some pointers that our Psychologists here at Quirky Kid recommend for people looking to transition storytime from a rare occasion to an unmissable part of their daily routine.
Building your Reading Routine
- Timing is crucial. Set reading time to about 30 minutes before the child’s bedtime. Recommended time for a reading session is between 10 and 30 uninterrupted minutes depending on your child’s age and attention span, but follow your child’s interests.
- Get comfy. Make sure your reading space is comfortable and that your child can see, hear and respond easily. Limit the distractions available around you.
- Be prepared. For kids who have trouble sitting still, provide things to keep their little hands busy. Providing paper and crayons to draw with or toys to look at can help, whilst still listening to the story.
- If you don’t like it, ditch it. Select a captivating text that will keep both you and your child engaged. Don’t insist on reading something that you or your child are not enjoying. Everyone tastes are different after all!
- Encourage discussion at every turn. Start with the cover: what do they think the book will be about? At each page: what do they think might happen next? After the book: what happened here? So many lessons can be learned from these mini-recaps!
- Let them try. If your child has begun school, help them to sound out words phonetically and occasionally point to some sight words that they may recognise.
- Don’t try to compete. Very few children, given the choice of watching cartoons, playing games or reading a book, are going to choose books – at least, not until they’ve developed a love of reading. Set a cut-off time for technology and give the child the choice of hearing a story or reading aloud.
- Make it fun. Be as animated as you can whilst reading. This will add to the enjoyment and imagination that goes along with reading, especially for the younger children. Adjust your pace, tone and volume to the story.
Fostering a positive reading environment in the home can provide many benefits for you, your child and your family. Reading with your child not only develops their language and literacy skills, but also helps them develop many foundational skills that will support them throughout their life, including resilience and empathy skills. Setting aside thirty minutes a day to make storytime a regular and enjoyable part of your family routine is one of the best and most valuable times to raise a reader and connect with your child.
For more information about how to support your child and their social, emotional and learning needs consider The Best of Friends Program or contact us with any questions.
For great titles, visit https://therapeuticresources.com.au/
- Fernald, A., Marchman, V. A., & Weisleder, A. (2013). SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Developmental science, 16(2), 234-248.
- Nikolajeva, M. (2013). “Did you Feel as if you Hated People?”: Emotional Literacy Through Fiction. New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship, 19(2), 95-107.
- Richardson, M. V., Miller, M. B., Richardson, J. A., & Sacks, M. K. (2015). Literary bags to encourage family involvement. Reading Improvement, 52(3), 126-132.
Exams are a time when students of all ages feel more stressed than usual. Stress can also be positive thing as it aids motivation and concentration. However too much stress can make a young person feel overwhelmed, confused, exhausted and edgy and consequently produce a negative impact on study results.
Exam anxiety is a natural reaction to too much pressure and can come from a number of sources including: young people themselves; comparisons with others; wanting to reach too ambitious goals; family members; peers or teachers.
Symptoms of Exam Anxiety
Signs your child may be experiencing exam anxiety include:
- Being cranky and irritable;
- Sleeping difficulties;
- Complaints of chest pains and/or nausea;
- Low self-esteem;
- Losing touch with friends;
- Difficulty getting motivated.
Suggestions for managing exam stress
- Effective Study habits: Effective study and learning habits can help to reduce exam stress in students of all ages. The Quirky Kid Clinic runs a study skills program to help students learn these skills
- Diet: Ensure your child is eating regular healthy meals throughout the exam period, drinking lots of water, and that they are monitoring their caffeine or sugar intake.
- Lifestyle: Encourage your child to keep up leisure activities such as seeing friends, exercising, or even watching television, as these activities give the brain a much-needed break from studying, which will allow for more effective study in the future.
- Sleep: Encourage your child to stop studying at least one hour prior to going to bed, in order to help them unwind and have a more restful sleep.
- Relaxation: Relaxation techniques such as breathing and muscle exercises can help your child calm down and manage their stress symptoms in a range of environments and situations. Child Psychologists at the Quirky Kid Clinic can help your child with relaxation exercises in an individual consultation or during our Why Worry workshop.
Please contact our clinic to make an appointment if you believe your child would benefit from some assistance in dealing with exam stress.
Information for this fact sheet was taken from Kimberley O’Brien, Child Psychologist, ReachOut .com, ParentLine and Kids Help Line}
We have just announced new dates for our popular children’s workshops throughout the January school holidays.
The ‘Best of Friends’ workshop™ is focused on developing social skills, and will help to prepare children for playground politics in the new school year ahead. This workshop will be running on Tuesday, 12th January and Monday, 18th January for all ages.
Our ‘Why Worry’ workshop helps children manage feelings of stress and worry, and will benefit children who are anxious about making a transition in the new school year, such as changing teachers, classrooms or even changing schools. This workshop will be running on Wednesday, 13th January and Friday, 22nd January, for all ages.
We will also be running a study skills program to ensure students are well equipped with effective study techniques when entering a new grade. This workshop will be running as a 2 hour session on Wednesday, 20th January for cchildren aged 8+.
For more information please visit our workshops page or contact us.