Parents Guide: Preparing for Exams and Managing Exam Stress

By December 29, 2019Lower School, Upper School
Two students, studying together at a desk

When exam time comes around it often raises the level of stress among students. Every child responds to stress and the pressure of upcoming tests or exams uniquely. What is key to supporting your child through exam time is understanding their learning style and how they respond to pressure, and applying techniques that will help them prepare effectively.

Here is what you can do to help your child prepare for an upcoming exam. The Study Academy explicitly teaches these skills in learning strategies and essential skills classes and models and reviews them in each course in lead up to examinations.

Start preparing

A great antidote to test anxiety is simply to get started — and start early. In the weeks leading up to an exam, teachers will share a breakdown and classes will begin reviewing content as well as sample questions to work through with feedback during the quiet week at school preceding exams. As soon as the exam is announced, there are a few questions your child can ask that will help you create a study plan together:

  • How will the exam be marked?
  • What will the format be (e.g. multiple-choice, short answer, essay)?
  • How much time will be given to complete it?

Organize a study schedule

Once you know the date of your child’s upcoming exam, break down the time into a study schedule, with each day divided into study blocks. Organize the schedule so that they are reviewing topics more than once; people must usually study information on multiple occasions to achieve lasting memory retention.1

Here are a few more things to create your child’s study schedule around:

  • What times of day does your child have the most energy and focus?
  • What other activities do they enjoy and need time for?

Identify the resource set

Before studying, it is important to first identify what content will be tested on each examination. Creating a table of contents or inventory of all the textbook references, handouts and digital resources, and rich media content will allow your child to track their progress in preparation, crossing off content after they have demonstrated mastery of the contained skills and knowledge.

Try different study strategies

When it comes to planning a study strategy, it is helpful to know what kind of learner your child is. Once you know how they best process information, you can try out different strategies. Experimenting with different styles helps to go beyond memorization and deepen their understanding of the exam topics.

For different types of learners, you can offer these suggestions:

  • Visual Learners — Use cue cards, write notes, use a highlighter as you read
  • Auditory Learners — Recite facts and summarize information out loud
  • Kinesthetic Learners — Walk while you read, use graphs and charts to understand concepts

Another piece of your child’s study strategy should be practicing the types of questions that will be on the exam:

  • Essay questions — Write an outline first before starting the essay
  • Short format written answers — Break down how much of the total exam time they have to spend on each question
  • Multiple-choice — Discuss how to approach multiple-choice, skipping questions they don’t know right away and going back to them later and crossing off prospective choices that are incorrect

Remember the importance of breaks

Part of making a study schedule is making sure there are breaks and rest periods that allow for relaxation. Something that can contribute to your child’s level of stress is the feeling that they do not have time for the activities that they enjoy. Having them take regular breaks to eat, go for a walk, or relax helps to keep them healthy during exam time.

Be empathetic — address emotional stress

Be aware that your child could respond to exam stress in a variety of ways. That might look like reactive responses (emotional outbursts) or avoidant behaviours (procrastination, avoiding the subject). Respond with curiosity and listen to their concerns. Remember that stress is a physiological response that denotes the importance or urgency of an event.

  • Validate their feelings by showing understanding
  • Give them positive affirmations to say in response to their worries2 (e.g., if they think “I can’t do this” get them to say “I will do my best”)
  • Use deep breathing exercises to help them calm their emotions (e.g., place left hand on heart and right hand on belly, taking slow breaths)

Encourage good nutrition and sleep

Nutrition and sleep are especially important during exam preparation because stress can easily become an obstacle to getting these basic needs met. Check-in and support your child by encouraging healthy habits.

  • Tips for better sleep — Avoid scheduling study right before bed. Save some time for them to turn down the lights and stay off screens for at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. It is during deep REM sleep that memories and information are consolidated.3
  • Tips for better nutrition — Eat meals together (where possible), featuring fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts and beans, and fish. Remind them to drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Create a supportive study environment

In the classroom, learning is a social activity. You can create this setting at home, too. Get started by adopting a review and reflection of daily lessons from your child’s homework. Reading class notes together, sharing at the dinner table major topics discussed in class and exploring articles and rich media content related to the topic can also help with preparation. These strategies support memory retention and recall in a less formal way than solitary studying.

Show that it’s okay to ask for help

The best way that you can model to your child that it’s okay to ask for help is to do so yourself. As a parent, you do not have to know everything to successfully support your child. Teachers and academic advisors can guide you with additional resources to understand the material and different study strategies to prepare your child for exams.

Parents, you have no need to worry if your child is experiencing exam-related stress. With these techniques, you can help them by supporting their exam preparation. Remember that they have enough time, that every bit of preparation counts and that resources are available if your child needs extra support.

Want to talk about exam preparation? Get in touch!

Citations

  1. Benefits of Self-Affirmation. (2013). Retrieved, from https://www.cmu.edu/homepage/health/2013/summer/benefits-of-self-affirmation.shtml.
  2. Cepeda, N. J., Vul, E., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J. T., & Pashler, H. (2008). Spacing effects in learning: A temporal ridgeline of optimal retention. Psychological science, 19(11), 1095-1102.
  3. Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2013). About sleep’s role in memory. Physiological reviews, 93(2), 681–766. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768102/