The exam period is one of the most stressful times for both the students and their parents.
With the National exams set to begin a few weeks from now many learners are likely to experience feelings of stress, and even panic – and worried parents want to be able to do more than lie awake at night, wondering how to help.
Try these 8 steps to help guide your child to exam success in what has been a very challenging year in education for learners, parents and teachers alike:
1. Eight hours of sleepGetting enough sleep is crucial when writing exams, with eight hours a night the minimum.
Reports state that losing one hour of sleep every night could lower your IQ by one point.
Because our brains process the information we receive during waking hours when we’re asleep, a loss of sleep hours can result in issues such as a decrease in reasoning skills and linguistic coherence.
If the learner in your home is struggling to sleep, play some soft background music for them.
If you can, try apps like Headspace or Noisli.
These allow them to choose from different sounds (like thunder, wind or white noise) to create their ideal sleep soundtrack. And make sure they don’t have any drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee, cola and chocolate, for at least four hours before bedtime.
2. Water, water, water!Dehydration can lead to tiredness, headaches and poor concentration. With exams taking place in the ongoing heat, ensure your child is drinking lots of water.
US researchers at Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences have found that dehydration doesn’t just affect your physical ability, but can also lead to cognitive decline, with functions such as complex problem-solving and attention worst impacted.
Keep a jug of water and a glass on your child’s desk, and flavour it up with slices of apple or oranges, to help ensure they stay hydrated.
3. Revision is crucial
Good revision techniques are crucial for exam success. If facts are learned quickly, they’re forgotten quickly, because they are in the short-term memory.
Regular revision allows you to remember facts for a long time, as they’ll be entrenched as part of your long-term memory.
Using past examination papers is a useful tool in revision, as they help your child become familiar with the ways in which questions have been asked, and alert them to what kinds of questions they may find tricky.
When your child practises exam papers, urge them to do so under exam conditions, with enough time to spare, so that they can revisit their weak areas.
4. Give them time to study
Now isn’t the time to enforce house chores and tasks. Rather ensure your child’s energy is put into studying. And be mindful of noise, make sure music and TV noise is turned down at study times.
Exam times may seem to drag on for other family members, so have a positive conversation with everyone present to discuss how important earning a matric, and good grades, are to your child’s future.
To take the pressure off the household, consider hiring a home-cleaning service like SweepSouth to help with general cleaning and tidying up. They also have gardeners who can come in to mow the lawn, clean the pool and do other outdoor gardening chores.
5. Exercise as a release
Exercise serves as a great stress outlet during exams – even if it’s just a half hour walk around the neighbourhood. It should be a moderate form of exercise, though, not an exhausting one.
Exercise gives the brain an oxygen boost, and releases various brain-boosting hormones like dopamine, which positively influences learning and attention, and serotonin, which boosts mood and helps regulate sleep cycles.
Some young people benefit from early morning exercise, while others prefer to exercise after the day’s studying, to help release stress before bedtime.
6. Regular breaks
Spending hours and hours studying without a break can result in a frustrated, exhausted child. Our attention starts to flag after about 40 minutes, so regular breaks should be set within the study timetable.
During the break, encourage activities that allow the brain to take a break from thinking and remembering. A movement break – a short walk or stretching – refreshes the mind, and a quick meditation or breathing exercise in a quiet setting will help to improve your child’s productivity when they return to their books.
After the break has ended, gently but firmly, encourage your child to go back into the next studying stretch. Once back at their desk, your child should take five minutes to sit down with their study material in front of them and do nothing, to help them calm their thoughts and focus their minds.
7. Healthy snacks and diet
The brain is the greediest organ in the body, so make sure their overall diet is based on starchy foods like bread, rice and pasta, with added dairy, meat and veg. Food like chips, sugary snacks and soft drinks can result in concentration problems and restlessness. During study breaks, learners should have healthy snacks and drinks on hand.
Your child’s favourite snack is a great reward for a successful study session.
8. On the day
Keep the house calm and positive. Make sure your child eats a protein-rich breakfast soon after waking, such as scrambled eggs and toast. Other protein-rich foods include cottage cheese, yoghurt, nuts and whole-grain cereal with milk.
If your child is too nervous to stomach a breakfast, try a protein shake instead.….and after
Spend a bit of time after an exam chatting to your child about how the paper went, and calm them down if they found the questions challenging.
If they want to talk, just listen and don’t interrogate them. There’s no point in scrutinising the exam paper at length, and could even serve to demoralise your child after they’ve just given it their all.
Use this time to encourage them for the next paper, and give them a pat on the back for their efforts thus far. Getting praise from a caregiver serves as a super motivator during exam times.
Praise them for successful study sessions, for having finished an exam paper and for actively taking part in determining their future lives.