Exam time is stressful. There is most likely a lot of cramming going on (just being realistic here). Stuff that your child struggled with during the rest of the year but was able to put off is now starring them right in the face – they can’t ignore it any longer (well they can, it would just hurt their chances of getting a good grade – and let’s not forget, learning). That can really make them panic as they realize they have a limited amount of time to actually learn what they don’t know and what they have had a hard time learning.
To help make this time a bit easier on your child (and you), we have 8 tips to make exam time a little less stressful and a little more productive. (Depending on your child’s age, the following recommendations are either for you to help your child with or for your child. Younger children are more accepting of help than older children. Developing these habits early makes surviving exams easier.)
1. After each exam, treat yourself. Rewards help motivate you – they give you something to look forward to. Exams can be daunting. Knowing that you don’t have to immediately start studying for another one as soon as you finish this one gives you extra energy to keep going.
Rewards are also good because they give you a break. Breaks rejuvenate your brain and make you more productive during study time later.
Some good options include: Frappuccinos (my treat of choice after exams), a trip to the ice cream store, 30 minutes of basketball, a game of fetch with your dog, and talking to friends about non-exam-related stuff. (As a parent, during middle school exams, start this habit by picking your child up from exams and suggesting an immediate trip to a favorite restaurant or snack place).
2. Move on after you have finished one exam. Do not rehash what you may or may have not gotten wrong, though it is quite tempting to do this with friends. Move on. It does not matter anymore until you get your test back. Harping on it takes time away from studying for the next exam. It can also increase your stress level and make studying for the next test harder.
3. Create a plan for how to attack studying at the subject level (How will I study for math?) and at the daily level (What will I study Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday?).
For example, for math, I will take out all old homework, quizzes, and tests and start redoing all the questions I got wrong. Then I will keep redoing each one until I get each one right. Check out Fireborn’s episode on Study Tips for specific tips on how to study.
Then, perhaps you have two exams on Monday. So perhaps you plan your days as follows:
- Friday after your exam you will take a break and enjoy your day and evening, maybe watch a movie.
- Saturday in the morning, you will study for History. Then in the afternoon, you will study for Science. Then in the evening, you’ll again take a break and reward yourself with a movie.
- Sunday, you will do the same study routine as Saturday during the day. Then in the evening, you will study whichever subject needs more work.
4. Take timed breaks. Like I said before, breaks are important. They are little rewards that help motivate you to get through your work. They also energize you and your brain. Timing your breaks is a good idea because then you are less likely to lose track of time and use up all of your study time on your break.
5. Eat a quick dinner with your family. Family dinner is an important reset and time for reflection and connection every day, but during exams it becomes even more important. Family conversation helps get your mind off of work and rejuvenates you. Making it short will stave off any anxiety you may feel that you’re not studying every single moment you have free.
6. Exercise. Sleep. Meditate. All of these things help reduce your anxiety and help you perform at peak levels. Sleep also helps you remember what you’ve been cramming into your brain the last few days during the test. Without sleep, what we’ve been studying doesn’t get encoded and so you’re less likely to remember it on the test the next day.
Exercising, sleeping, and meditating are important for both parents and students. Parents can become quite stressed by exams (or by their stressed students) and need to take care of themselves too!
7. Parents, you can help your child stay awake to study by staying awake with your child. If your child wants you to, sit and read or answer emails in the same room as your learner. Having someone else in the house awake and sitting with you can help you to stay awake as well as focused on your task.
8. Make exciting plans for the end of exams. Have something concrete to look forward to, such as a night out with friends, a movie or game night with your family, or going to Six Flags! Again, rewards are important. Having something to look forward to motivates us to do our best. The anticipation of something fun helps energize us to keep studying and doing well. Without that motivation, it can be hard to sustain that energy level and exams can become a slog.
Exams are hard! It’s easy for students to get overwhelmed and trudge through them. But it’s really hard to do your best and learn and get the grades you deserve when you’re dragging your feet to do your work or when your really anxious. By rewarding yourself, taking breaks, exercising, and planning out your study times, you will have more energy and be more motivated to get the studying done. You’ll be a happier, less anxious student and your quality of life (and hopefully your grades) will be much improved!