5 Practical Tips: For parents to help your student through exam revision

Exam time can be one of the most stressful times for an entire household. In some houses, parents are worried that their teen is doing too much, is lying awake at night with anxiety and the whole house is forbidden from making any noise when they're studying.

In other cases, parents fervently wish their teenager would just spend some little time in their rooms practising

Parents helping their teen study for exams Susan HayesCulleton

exam papers, while helplessly watching them fritter away their best chances as they spend too much time talking to their friends.

When parents can't say anything right...

I can remember those days very well and I certainly wasn't the easiest to live with at the time. During my oral exams, I refused to speak English at home and instead, was stringing words of Irish and French together. As you can imagine it made communicating with me almost impossible.

I had books and revision notes all over the house depending where I felt might be a good "study environment" at the time. I used to get super sensitive to anybody brushing my fears away with "ah sure, you will be grand" and then complain that nobody understood me! To be honest, I don't know how they put up with it at all.

However, this period came and then it went. Looking back now, my family was very supportive and they were doing all the right things, but I was the last person to recognise it. So if you're getting a less than welcome reaction from your teenager, that doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong at all.

Believe it or not, you are doing wonderfully well simply by being supportive

I hope somebody had said to my family that they were doing a superb job of just being there for me and what's more, that it was all they could do.

Every time I now stand in front of a Senior Cycle class, I ask them if they feel that their parents understand how they're feeling. They often groan and roll their eyes. I tell them that I felt the same at the time, but then I put something to them that they haven't considered, haven't heard before and stuns them into silence.

I point out that the Leaving Cert is often the first time a parent can't fix a problem for their child - even though they can feel very grown up at seventeen, to their parents they are still, and forever will be, their beloved child. If you fall and cut your knee as a toddler, they can give you a cuddle, a sweet and a plaster to solve the issue most satisfactorily at the time! However, they can't do the exam for you.

I point out to these teenagers that this is exceptionally difficult for parents and we (because I'm right there with the youngsters) don't know how they're feeling.

5 Practical Tips: To help your child through exam revision

1) Know the exam timetable
Now, while I say that, there are a range of practical things that a parent can do to support their exam student, which can help the situation on all sides. Firstly, while it's a small thing, it's very helpful if you simply know on what days the exams are and at what time. You can visit www.examinations.ie and find this information.

2) Boost productivity with short-term rewards
Next, if you hear yourself saying, "you can do all you like when the exams are over in just a couple of weeks", you might consider that this is an eternity for a teenager. In their mind, the period after the exam seems millions of light years away and they may feel like they have a mountain to climb in between now and then.
If you want to encourage them to study more or to highlight the progress that they're making, suggest a reward system based on very short-term goals. For example, after they do x amount of questions or achieve a competency in a certain area, they can treat themselves to a warm bath, an hour of television, going to the cinema at the week-end, going for a coffee with their friends, listening to music etc.
If they're expected to tirelessly study without regular small pleasures along the way, it's an awfully tough ask and their motivation and mental strength is bound to wane.

3) Get somebody with exam experience to talk to them
If you're worried about them and they won't open up to you, encourage them to talk to somebody who has recently come through the exam and can shed some light on their fears. At that time, I didn't think my parents understood me at all, but I really looked up to my older cousins and happily spoke to them about how I was feeling. They gave me some great advice too and I'm sure this gave great relief to my parents.

4) Make sure they practice exam technique
As soon as the Easter break is over, it's time to shift strategy and practise exam technique in all tasks. Rather than spending hours over your homework, it's a good idea for your child to set a timer to complete each individual task and see how much they can do in that timeframe. This will focus the mind, they will finish their homework more quickly and will get a good feel for how much time they will have in the exam.
Many, many, MANY students have told me that they're worried they will run out of time in the exam, as if they don't have control over it. However, if they start practising time management with every piece of homework from now on, it's a skill that will be very sharp in time for June.

5) Change things up for better results
If you feel your child could do with a change in their study environment but they aren't willing to take time off; or alternatively, they don't want to simply sit down and study, how about taking them out to a coffee shop to study? It works very well either as a treat or a bribe. You read the paper or a book and they bring their notes. This can be a pleasurable space to study, a break from their routine and it gives them an opportunity to talk to you on a one-to-one basis if they want.

Now is the hardest part - the exams are nothing compared to it!
It might also be a relief to learn that this is the hardest part for them. Think about it... When it's time for the exams, they will be in an exam hall for a maximum of three and a half hours at a time and will be forced to take breaks in between exams. At this point, the uncertainty around the situation will be steadily declining; they will have lots of social interaction with their friends. And with each passing exam, they will have made huge strides towards completing the task at hand and won't have to try to remember what they studied for each exam they've done.

As a final note, if you can sense negativity is dominating their thought process, you can always counteract this with questions like "what went well today?", "which part of this subject do you feel most comfortable?", "remember the time you thought x was impossible and now you can do it with your eyes closed". This will retrain their focus towards positivity. And if all else fails, come straight out and ask "what can I do to help you?"

The #SavvyTeenAcademy Team

What is Savvy Teen Academy?

SavvyTeenAcademy is a five-day, Monday to Friday, summer school for teenagers about to enter 5th or 6th year (age? - 5th or 6th year makes sense in the context of the Irish school system, but how about international students?).

Teenagers can have big dreams and aspirations, but can be at a loss where to start, or think they are too shy to go after what they want. They also have to juggle expectations from parents and teachers, a demanding study schedule as well as navigating intense friendships and peer relationships.

SavvyTeenAcademy offers a caring environment for turbo-charged, hands-on learning. It will be an intense week of transformation, with lots of fun and new friendships.

After five days at SavvyTeenAcademy, students will be armed with a panoply of practical tools they will be able to use in many life situations: passing exams, applying for jobs, networking and confidently taking their life in the best direction.

What will students learn at SavvyTeenAcademy?

SavvyTeenAcademy is NOT a traditional course based on the school curriculum.

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