It seems obvious; why is it included in the list?

It may seem like a no-brainer to show empathy and understanding to your sons and daughters, but you may be surprised as to what kinds of comments and behaviours might actually be showing a lack of these two critical components. For example, there are some parents out there who strongly believe that their kids’ exams are easier than the ones they did back when they were at school. They may subsequently, perhaps as a way to try to console their kids, joke that their kids needn’t worry because the exams are a doddle compared to twenty or so years ago.

It may seem light-hearted and be said with the best of intentions, but the truth is that it’s still quite a demoralising thing to say, as your kids may feel that they are failing even harder to keep up and cope with a workload deemed “easy” by their elders.

Ideas for things not to say

Here are some things that you might want to think about nixing from your conversation repertoire where your kids’ GCSEs and A-Levels are concerned:

1. Exams were much harder in my day

As we explain in the example above, this can be quite de-moralising for stressed out GCSE and A-Level students to hear. After all, the difficulty is relative, and any test can seem an impossible mountain to climb if it’s in a subject in which you have little to no confidence. This is especially the case with GCSE students, who face a litany of compulsory subjects including English, maths and sciences that they may not particularly enjoy. At least A-Level students have had the luxury of choice and can feel a bit more passion and affinity with their classes.

Be careful when cavalierly declaring modern exams easy. The truth is that while content on the surface in things like maths and history may appear easy to you because there are fewer facts to remember, or they allow the use of a calculator, there are still other quite taxing requirements on students’ critical faculties that don’t always show explicitly in the questions. A history question, for instance, may not require kids to remember the order and coronation years of every English king and queen, but it may ask them to what extent a piece of source material reflects on the people’s attitude to that king for instance. This requires inference, background knowledge, writing and analytical skills… the list goes on. Dig deeper into your kids’ exams and curricula, and you’ll soon discover that their learning is anything but a doddle.

2. Your exams won’t matter in the long term anyway

You may say this to your son or daughter as a way of helping them to see the bigger picture or to gain perspective. On the other hand, while you might be right that exam results help mostly in the short term --- getting into university, getting a foot on the employment ladder etc. --- they are still of great significance because that short-term can have a huge impact on the future success and happiness. In addition, it won’t help because students still have to take their tests whether they believe them useful or not. Considering them important might be more conducive to hard work and good results; certainly more than poo-pooing them.

3. OK, put down your revision; we’re having a family getaway!

Once again, you may enter your child’s study space and declare the end of revision because you’re treating them to a big day out or even a weekend away, and you may do it out of love and consideration for their mental well-being. In our view, however, it can be very problematic, especially if the day out or getaway is not previously scheduled in the student’s revision timetable. The key to licking exams is consistent work and motivation; a marathon jog keeping pace until you finally cross the finish line. Interruptions and sudden changes can negatively impact your focus and your efficiency. We understand that you’re acting out of care for your son or daughter, but let them get on with their work and respect their schedule. Save it for a rest day or for when exams are over.

4. You’re getting yourself too worked up over nothing

Similar to numbers 1 and 2 in this list, the announcement that your kids are needlessly working themselves up may be said with love, but it comes across as quite inappropriate to the listener. When you dismiss your son or daughter’s stress or concerns, they are bound to feel isolated and unsupported. This is where your empathy has to come in. However clear your big picture of stress and worry is, don’t dismiss the concerns of your poor GCSE and A-Level children. They are going through something big, tiring, demoralising, and even a bit soul-destroying, all so they can go to uni and get jobs in the future that will bring them even more stress. Show empathy; be supportive.

We hope that you find our article series useful, make sure to check out other pieces in this series, including how you can offer key materials like multiple-choice questions, knowledge checklists and past papers, as well as look after physical and mental health and keep their brains working with good cooking! Look out for part 7 in our series, which will tell you about creating the perfect study space.