Exams are an inevitable part of our children’s lives. And so is the stress that comes with it. Therefore, developing a strategy to manage the exam period and teaching our kids to be resilient against exam stress are essential skills to empower them for life. Here are some strategies I have adopted that help me get through these stressful seasons.
1) Align Your Expectations
I tell my kids that GOD gave them a good brain (which is 50 percent of the battle won). So, with some decent preparation and study skills, there is no reason for them to come home with bad grades. Let me also qualify that good grades for me mean that they qualify for the top classes in school.
I go into Tiger Mom mode. The iPads are hidden away. TV time is restricted. Play-dates are canceled and it is study, study, and more study time. It is no secret to my kids that I expect them to put in 100 percent effort before the exams. And I do not apologize for making them do “drills and papers” prior to exam weeks.
2) Plan a schedule WITH your kids
There is no exam for primary (grade) one students in the local schools. When the kids were in lower primary school (grades one to three), the preparation time is shorter and possibly not as strenuous. But when you get to the upper primary, you need more time for revisions, practice work, and strategies to remember all the information.
One month before my kids’ exams, I list down the items that they need to revise. Then I sit with them individually and ask them which items they feel most unsure about. If they do not know, I will ask them to do a few papers to identify their weakest areas and then zoom in on them. Also, if they have tuition on that subject, I will have a conversation with the tutor that the subject is taken care of so we do not repeat each other’s efforts.
When drafting out the schedule, keep in mind the schedule of the exams — revise subjects according to which paper will be tested first or the weakest subject. I am also mindful of the time that works best for my kids. For example, on weekends or during the days when they stay home before exams (like Children’s Day or PSLE marking days), I organize study time in the mornings
3) Understanding vs Memorizing
I cannot stress enough that a child who understands the topic is more likely able to remember and interpret the subject in his /her own words. Memorizing is not dependable as memory can fail anyone under duress.
4) Allow Down Time (Relax)
This is so important for the kids. When I plan my schedule, I cheat a little and slot in some FREE time – sshhhh… the kids don’t know this or they will take advantage.
I know a mother who makes her child (in lower primary) do revision papers for five straight hours. That in my book is too much. A tip that I learned from Allan Yip’s workshops is to do 45 minutes of focused work and give them 15 minutes break after to go to the toilet, stretch their limbs, relax their mind. Allow them the space and time to “space out”.
5) Get Enough Sleep
Kids NEED their sleep. Primary school children need between 9 – 10 hours of sleep. Make sure all digital gadgets (phones, iPads, etc) are brought out of the bedroom. Do not leave it in the room to charge as the reminders, “pinging” noises might interfere with their sleep.
If my son or daughter can’t sleep due to exam anxiety, I will sit and chat with them during bedtime and allow them to offload their anxiety. Just the simple act of allowing them to talk (even if it is nonsense) and listening to them helps them relieve stress and sleep better.
If the weather permits, allow your children the luxury to go outdoors and get some much-needed physical activities. Let them run, play and have fun with their friends. It is a sure-fire way to reduce tension. Sometimes I will agree to the kids’ negotiation for some outdoor time before their revisions. You may be surprised by how committed, focused, and accurate they are to do their work when they are relaxed.
7) Laughter IS the Best Medicine.
Laughter puts us in a positive mood, relaxes the mind, and allows us to absorb and recall information more effectively. Tell silly stories at bedtime, or watch movies, cartoons (Phineas and Ferb, Gravity Falls), or programs that the kids enjoy like Gamers’ Guide To Pretty Much Everything, Austen and Ally, Best Friends Whenever and Walk the Prank on Disney XD.
8) It’s The Effort That Counts
Finally, make sure your kids know you love and support them no matter what the results are.