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Don’t stress about exams!

25 May 2017

Exam season is in full flow, and we all know how stressful it can seem. But simple practical considerations can make a big difference.

From ensuring your child gets enough sleep, to checking they’re using the best revision techniques – we’ve rounded up our favourite tips on how to keep your child cool, calm and achieving their best.

1. Don’t sacrifice sleep for study

As a parent, ensuring your child gets enough sleep is perhaps the most vital thing you can do at this time. The National Sleep Foundation recommends GCSE and A-level students get nine hours sleep a night. And research suggests there’s a strong positive relationship between exam results and getting a regular night’s sleep: about half a grade improvement per subject!

Students are often tempted to sacrifice a night’s sleep to do extra revision. But this is a mistake, particularly on the night before an exam. Lisa Artis from the Sleep Council says, ‘When you sleep well, you function and perform better and your memory is better, meaning you retain what you have revised.’

Other common sleep mistakes include going to bed at different times, waiting to feel tired before going to bed and drinking caffeine late into the night. And if your child is feeling anxious and finding it hard to sleep, you can find advice here.

2. Make sure they’re using effective revision techniques

Not all revision techniques work; studies show that re-reading and highlighting are not effective. More efficient methods include spacing, interleaving and testing. Find out about them here.

3. Help set realistic study deadlines

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahnemann first identified the ‘planning fallacy’ that says we all tend to underestimate the time needed to complete a task. And it applies to students in particular. Work with your child now to help them set realistic and clearly defined revision deadlines, to help avoid nagging later!

4. Get them started!

Much research has found that once someone starts a task – even if just for 10 minutes – they become more motivated to get it finished. It’s called the Zeigarnik effect. So encouraging your child to make a start – however brief – sets them on the road to success.

5. Feed them brain food

Stress, anxiety and late-night cramming can all affect appetite, but parents can help ensure children maintain a well-balanced diet and aren’t missing meals. Nutritionists recommend making breakfast the most important meal of the day, filling up on energy-giving oats and eggs, which contain a nutrient called choline - thought to help cognitive performance and improve memory. For revision snacks, try popcorn rather than crisps – it’s higher in fibre, releasing energy more slowly. You can find suggestions for perfect exam day breakfasts here.

6. Keep them well hydrated

There’s evidence that drinking water improves cognitive ability, helps alleviate anxiety, and can even help with exam performance. Make sure your child is getting enough – find out more here.

7. Shoo them out of the house for breaks!

Encourage your child to take a break outdoors at least once each day. Being in nature helps, too. A recent experiment on study breaks found that students who took a break in natural surroundings felt more refreshed and performed 20% better on returning to their work.

8. Support v pressure?

It’s important to find ways of being supportive without being imposing when your child’s already feeling under pressure. Clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew advises ‘A moderate level of anxiety will help us perform, but beyond that, we start to be impaired by it.’ She advises parents, ‘look after your teenagers almost as you would a younger child, to nurture them through this time. This can be anything from preparing their favourite dinners to offering to run them a bath. Give them permission to take a break from revision in between working hard.’

More resources

If you found these tips helpful, check out the resources below:

Exam stress: a revision guide

Mindmaps, mnemonics and other memory techniques

Five proven hacks to help students tackle revision

Helping students survive the exam season

Revision: what to do if you’ve left it late!