It’s no secret that exams can be daunting. Most adults quiver at the prospect of having their mental and vocational skills put under the microscope, so it should come as no surprise that formal testing can cause significant anguish in children as well. In 2017, a survey conducted by school support service, the Key, found that 82% of primary school leaders had seen an increase in mental health issues among students during exam time. This is precisely why we’ve put together these seven tips to help your children deal with exam nerves.
1. Let them relax
What’s that old line about all work and no play making Jack a stressed boy? Ok, we’ve taken a bit of creative license with the quote when coming up with this exam anxiety tip, but the point still stands. While letting kids relax in the lead up to tests may seem counterproductive, it’s extremely important, because providing them with a distraction will almost certainly reduce their stress levels. To help children cope with exam stress, we suggest rewarding them with the opportunity to do something fun once they’ve put in a solid study session. For example, if your child completes 90 minutes study one afternoon, take them to the park for an hour so they can stretch their legs and enjoy some fresh air. This brings us to our next point…
2. Make sure they get some exercise
Exercise isn’t only great for children’s physical health, it can also be significantly beneficial to their mental wellbeing. Exercise releases endorphins, a group of hormones which will boost your child’s mood and relieve any tension their exam nerves may be causing. Similarly, concentrating on a physical activity will give your child something to focus on outside of their upcoming test, further reducing their anxiety. If you’re wondering just how much exercise your child should be getting, the NHS recommends that children between the ages of five and 18 should get at least 60 minutes of moderate (e.g. walking to school, skateboarding, going to the playground) to vigorous (e.g. football, running, dancing, swimming) physical activity a day.
3. Be supportive
There are plenty of things parents can do to ensure that their child feels more comfortable when heading into exams. One useful thing you can do is to create a quiet study area within your home. Similarly, if they’re struggling with any material, give them a hand. Remember, if they get an answer wrong, stay calm and be encouraging rather than critical. For further tips on how you can help your child prepare for a maths test, check out our blog on the five tips for SATs maths practice at home.
4. Don’t add to the pressure
This may sound similar to the last point, but we think it’s particularly important, so we thought we’d include it separately. One reason your child may become stressed about exams is because they’re concerned that they’ll disappoint you if they underperform. To prevent this from happening, we encourage you to sit down and explain to your child, that while exams like SATs are important, it’s not the end of the world if they don’t perform well and that their results will have no impact on your relationship with them. Similarly, remember to be very encouraging of them. If they think you have faith in them, they’re less likely to feel stressed about their exams.
5. Teach them to meditate
The prospect of doing poorly in exams can often conjure up negative thoughts in children and work them up into such a state that they find it difficult to study. Meditation and deep breathing is a great way to help drive away these negative thoughts and help children relax. If children develop these skills early, they’ll experience the benefits for the rest of their lives, which will be useful when they undergo higher-stakes exams in secondary school. We believe the 3 kid-friendly meditations discussed in this article are great starting points for getting into meditation.
6. Ensure that they sleep well
A good night’s sleep will go a long way towards helping your child feel confident and focused leading into an exam. According to the NHS, children aged 7 (KS1 children) need 10.5 hours a night, while 11 year-olds (KS2 children) need 9.5 hours. To ensure your child gets a good night’s sleep we recommend that they go gadget free for at least an hour before bedtime as the blue light emitted by computers, televisions and tablets has been proven to reduce the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps humans fall asleep naturally. Similarly, make sure they don’t stay up late studying.
7. Talk to them about exam nerves
Another great thing you can do is to educate your children on why they have exam nerves, how they can put these nerves to good use and how they can stop nerves from getting the better of them. We’d start by explaining to children that having exam nerves is perfectly normal and how controlled stress can be used as a way to motivate positive action, in this case, encourage children to study and get good marks. If your child is worried about an upcoming exam, encourage them to do a practice test under exam conditions, that way they can get insight into what it’s like to do an exam and hopefully realise that the process is not as scary as they might think it is.
While the exam period can often be an extremely testing time for children (pardon the pun), we also believe it presents them with an excellent opportunity to learn about resilience and how to thrive under pressure. With that in mind, we hope that these exam anxiety tips will go a long way toward calming your child’s nerves. Also, if you have any additional techniques you use to help your child cope with exam stress, we’d love to hear them. Send us a tweet (@MathsWhizzTutor) or post on our Facebook wall.