Career & Education

Helping your child cope with exam pressure

Dr Karla

Sunday, April 14, 2019

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It is the time of year when fifth and sixth formers, as well as tertiary level students, are preparing for major examinations. The quantity and depth of the material to be studied and learnt may leave them feeling overwhelmed, and even chronically anxious. Parents may likely be feeling the pressure and/or stress of the period as well.

Which brings me to note, by the way, that while we use the terms “pressure” and “stress” interchangeably, they are different. Pressure is generally regarded as positive and motivating. It is normal during the revision period before exams, as a small amount of pressure is useful for focus and motivation.

Stress, on the other hand, is an individual's response to pressure; a bodily response to a challenging situation. It feels negative and can interfere with performance, but a small amount of stress around exam time is normal.

However, keeping the level low is key, which can be achieved by starting exam preparation on Day 1. Nonetheless, it is never too late to begin revision. Parents face the challenge of wanting to assist their children at this time but knowing that exams are something children will have to do on their own.

So how do you help?

Students need their parents' understanding and encouragement now more than ever. Bear in mind that each child responds differently to the pressure of impending exams. Some students will feel stress more than others, regardless of how competent or confident they are in their subjects.

Observe your child for signs of stress. While some students may openly express their feelings, others may try to hold it in and cope on their own. Some signs of stress in students are:

• Skin breakouts

• Sleep disturbances

• Outburst of anger and/or frustration

• Isolation from friends

• Negative self-talk

• Racing heart and sweating

• Nausea

• Overeating or undereating

• Headaches

• Panic attacks.

Moderate stress and anxiety during this period is normal and expected. But if you believe that your child is too stressed, do something about it.

Preparing for exams

Many secondary schools are now scrambling to complete the syllabi, and this adds to the burden your child is carrying. However, it is never too late to set up good study and revision habits.

Here are some tips:

1. Reassure your child that you love and support them, regardless of the examination outcome. Many students fear their parents' response to poor grades, which only serves to add to the stress that your child is experiencing. As parents, it is expected that you want your child to perform well. Nonetheless, ease up on the pressure. Remind yourself and your child that this period will not last forever and the outcome does not determine your love.

2. A cluttered space for study is not conducive to good revision. Help or guide your child to clear the clutter and ensure easy access to materials needed.

3. Routine continues to be necessary. Stick to a reasonable bedtime and wake up time, even during the Easter break as well as study break.

4. Seven-eight hours sleep each night remains a priority for students preparing for exams. Memory is improved when there is sufficient rest.

5. Flash cards with summary notes, definitions and formulae are easy to carry around and use for revision.

6. Daily exercise keeps the body healthy and the brain alert and focused.

7. Regular breaks from studying is essential at this time. I disagree with parents who forbid TV viewing, playing video games, or socialising at this time. Play and recreation are necessary to allow your child to unwind. I do agree that limits should be set, but total restriction is unfair and is unlikely to assist in retention of information. Short breaks help your child to recharge their energy.

Extra dose of TLC

Parents, I implore you to remember that there is life beyond exam results. Disappointing grades are not the end of the world, even though this is not desirable. Your child's mental health is far more important. Your job is to support, reassure, comfort, encourage and motivate your child. A little extra dose of TLC at this time is good medicine for exam stress.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools . She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary-level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, or

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