Educational Insights | Coping with the stress of exams

In this Educational Insights Series, experts from across the Wellington College group give advice, practical help and tips for parents who are keen to give further support for their children’s learning. In this article from the series, Julian Jeffrey from Wellington College in Tianjin discusses about“How to help your child through the stresses of the examination period.”

For many of our pupils facing international public examinations, May and June are months more to be endured than enjoyed. All our pupils from Year 11 face a very demanding period over the next few months that will, in part at least, shape their futures. For those in Year 12 and 13, with A Level and IB Diploma examinations looming, it is not an exaggeration to say that their results will go on to shape not only their immediate futures, with university admission so closely tied to success, but also in later life. More and more employers now look at results achieved at 18 years of age as a better indicator of personal motivation and organisation than an undergraduate degree qualification.

Success matters, therefore. The pressure to achieve high grades has never been more acute, and young people can sometimes feel they face such pressure alone. In Wellington, support and advice is available through a network of professionalsfrom teachers and tutors to Housemasters and our welfare and guidance officer, Mrs Wood. Pupils are encouraged to seek out help when they need it, and indeed to be able to identify the symptoms of acute stress and know where to turn to in order to find support. Examination candidates can be helped further by their parents, as so much of the revision and preparation time is done at home. I have spoken to some of my senior colleagues here at Wellington and we have compiled a short list of the key things that parents can do to help their children thrive under the pressure of examinations:

1.Support the wellbeing of your child by thinking about the following:

a. Hydration is required for high-functioning brain power, so encourage them to drink lots of water;

b. Sleeping! Young people should have at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night, including the night before an exam as a good night’s sleep is a natural way of relieving stress;

c. Focus on eating healthily – and that includes a hearty breakfast before school;

d. Don’t offer too many sugary foods or so-called ‘energy drinks’ – although they may give your child an initial boost, their energy levels will plummet pretty quickly after that;

e. ‘Brain foods’ such as nuts and fruit can help keep a child from feeling hungry between meal times;

f. Encourage your child to take short breaks and build an exercise routine in to the revision sessions – children need to keep active;

g. Make sure they have an opportunity to unwind and relax in the evenings.

2. Create a positive working environment by:

a. Giving your child a quiet space on his or her own for the duration of the exam season. Make sure it has good lighting, has a comfortable temperature and access to fresh air;

b. Ensure that they have a flat surface, such as a desk or table, to work on;

c. Helping them to ensure that they have all the equipment they need at hand;

d. Check that there are no mobile telephones allowed in the ‘work space’;

e. If they want to play music, it should be quiet and without lyrics;

f. Avoid making holiday or weekend plans that will disrupt the revision programme – there is lots of time for a family break after the exams are over.

3. Encourage open communication:

a. Your child may well become stressed and irritable at points of real tension. The skill of the parent is to recognise these moments and defuse them with compassion and empathy – yelling at them will only make for increased confrontations;

b. Show them that you are interested in, and value, their work and progress by talking to them about their plans for each day;

c. Be a good listener: sometimes this is all you need to be when your child reaches out for support.

These are some straightforward ways to keep your child fresh and focused for the examination season, but if you do notice that he or she is struggling with the workload or expectations, then do not hesitate to contact the school. Members of staff here are ready to offer advice to parents, as well as provide practical help and support to all our pupils, in order to ensure that the environment in which they study contributes to their ultimate success in examinations.