“Look after their physical and mental health.” Some of you may already be wondering what physical and mental effects GCSE and A-Level preparation are having on your child. You may be surprised or even shocked to learn that there are a number of disturbing and negative impacts to worry about. Common examples of such effects include (but are certainly not limited to):
· Eating disorders
· Sleep deprivation
· Greater possibility of risk-taking behaviour
An article in The Independent back in 2015 highlighted a survey of teachers (part of a wider study by the National Union of Teachers) who responded quite decisively in agreement with the fact that students were stressed by the culture of “constant testing.” An incredible 94 percent of secondary school teachers agreed that pupils were “driven towards stress-related conditions during exam periods.”
It’s essential, therefore, that parents have in mind some strategies and ideas they can use to mitigate these problems and avoid the worse excesses of exam stress. Some level of nervousness and stress is inevitable during GCSE and A-Level exams, but you can help cancel out the worst with the things outlined below:
1. Help and encourage them to get started on revision early
One thing you could work on together with your child is a revision plan. Using the materials that we mentioned in Tips 1 and 3 (Multiple-choice questions and past papers), your son or daughter can quickly determine their strengths and weaknesses and where the bulk of their revision needs to be. Plan a schedule and get the ball rolling as early as possible, even before the official pre-exam “study period” begins. Starting ahead of time will remove the later panic that ensues when a student compares the amount of time left with the amount still left to learn.
2. Remind your son/daughter to take scheduled breaks
Another thing to build into that plan is ample time for rest amidst the piles of revision. Regular breaks of at least 20 minutes are essential to help the mind process information and also to generally wind down and relax. Getting too tense makes a student less receptive to information anyway, so breaks are actually a productive step. Once you’ve fixed those breaks into the plan, you can help to make sure they stick to them.
During a break, get your son or daughter away from the study area. Standing up, stretching their arms and legs and getting outside for some fresh air are fantastic tonics for the stress and tension that steadily build up during busy revision times.
3. Maintain a healthy diet and sleep plan
We will discuss the diet in more detail during Tip 5 – “Cook!” but in the meantime, you can be a great help by making sure your son/daughter eats when they should look at regular mealtimes and gets to bed at a reasonable hour. Staying up a little after their usual sleep time is understandable when they have a lot on their minds, but they should still try to get their 8 hours a night and shouldn’t push their studies into the early morning hours. It’s a counterproductive exercise because sleep deprivation will make them less able to finish their work on time in the end. They’ll get sloppy with their work, not to mention increasingly irritable and nervous about not making it through the exams.
4. Offer positive reinforcement
Always remember to be a cheerleader for your child during this difficult time. Reward them for sticking to the schedule and accomplishing their revision goals. Praise their hard work and remind them that they’re going to be so much happier in the long term that they did things this way instead of leaving things until the last minute or wasting study time in the early stages of revision.
5. Encourage both exercise and fun
One more thing you could build into the schedule is time for exercise and fun outdoor activities. Since GCSE and A-Level exams are in the late spring/early summer, the weather should be suitable for outdoor sports, jogging, picnics and more. Getaway together as a family to have some fun outside because it’s the ultimate way to ease the tension and relax the mind that is so wound up by the looming exams. If it’s raining, encourage your kids to watch comedy shows or films in their downtime and get the endorphins flowing through laughter. A mind at ease is more receptive and able to effectively deal with the burden ahead.
The key to beating the build-up of stress is to plan ahead and execute that plan from as early a date as possible. A huge amount of the tension is generated by students feeling a sense of despair that they can’t get through all the material they need to in time. Be a source of positive encouragement, and help show your kids that the foresight to begin early will be something for which they’re eternally grateful.