Please give us your best getting-children-thr ough-exams tips

(51 Posts)
HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 14-May-10 11:03:09


We'd like your tips and suggestions, please, for getting your children (and yourself) through exams without dissolving into little puddles of disagreement and stress.

Anything that you've found helpful in the run-up to exams, from coping with nerves to locking them in their bedroom getting them to stick to their revision timetable.

And we're not just thinking GCSEs and A-levels. Please do also post tips that'll help others negotiate their progeny through SATs, 11-plus, secondary-school (or even primary-school) entrance tests.

<coming over all quivery just thinking about it!>

Thank you, MNHQ

BigBadMummy Fri 14-May-10 11:11:22

<marks thread as DD1 starts GCSEs next week>

I think that putting a mental wall that repels all the abuse that is going to spout out of her mouth would be a good start.

I know I am going to hear "for God's sake" / "this is stupid" / "I can't do this" / "I hate you / it / them" / "I don't need GCSEs anyway, I will just forget college and get pregnant" over and over again in the next couple of months.

Deep breathing now and soothing tones.

And trying to make sure she eats properly, gets an early night, and doesnt spend ALL her time revising.

I do think they need some time off too.

Good luck to everybody, tis not going to be easy!!

Cammelia Fri 14-May-10 11:27:36

Its really important to realise that your dc may not learn or revise how you did. If they want to revise whilst listening to quiet music let them. Young brains seem able to process stuff without total silence.

Lots of snacks, its amazing how much energy the brain uses up. Lots of sleep, the brain consolidates all the knowledge whilst asleep.

Most of all, no parental pressure - its counterproductive !

pippop1 Fri 14-May-10 11:31:07

Give promise of a present/holiday/iPod/day out whatever at end of exams - not when results are announced but when exams are over - this is for trying their best. The most important thing whether "success" is achieved or not.

Be around to test them if required and to postpone or bring forward meals to fit in with revision.

Short walks break up the day (ask them to post a letter for you) or accompany them on a walk around the block and don't talk about exams.

(So speaks the Mum of two boys - Youngest is 18 with a three school year gap so have had six summers of public exams in a row. Nice.

some exercise to stimulate their physical body is needed. It also helps with stress hormones.

Snacks, no pressure from parents, just encouragement to do their best and be supportive.

Also, make sure that the children know how to study, that is important.

amothersplaceisinthewrong Fri 14-May-10 12:19:44

Agree with Pippop1, some reward for the effort rather than the results - ie at the end of the exams. (and a boozy night out for the long suffering parents is in order too!!

Kkeeping calm around them and tolerating their short tempers is a must I think while they are doing their exams. Also we let ours completely take over the dining room table to revise (their place of choice despite nice bedroooms which they said were too isolated!!!!)

My sympathies to anyone who has a GCSE and an A leveller at the same time!! Thankfully all school exams behind me, but the angst does not completely go away - my eldest is doing his finals as we speak 100 miles away and I keep wondering how the poor little thing (aged 21) is doing!!

pinkbraces Fri 14-May-10 12:54:01

lots of cuddles, that still seems to help my 16 yr old dd, and agreeing with everything she says

Regular food and exercise will help them focus - they can get too fixated on "revising" while actually not taking in any information due to tiredness.

Finishing the revision a half hour before bedtime and doing something else to relax will help make it easier to get off to sleep.

Make sure you know when and where each exam is, and what they need to have with them (and what is forbidden, eg mobile phones).

If you have a DC who is likely to get stressed, try to keep calm yourself about the whole business, and point out that while it's convenient to get a good set of qualifications first time round, the world will not stop turning if they don't, and their life will not be ruined. (It's more convincing if you start taking this tack before exam time, so they don't think you're just trying to make them feel better when it's all getting stressful)

OTOH if your child lacks self-motivation, stress the "more convenient to get them first time round" part of the above!

pagwatch Fri 14-May-10 13:25:21

grin at Pinkbraces

ditto for DS1 grin who is approaching ASs

agree with TheHills about excercise and no pressure

I enforce a books away time at night to try and prevent the over tired thing.
We help him draft a revision schedule about 6 weeks in advance.
Dh has evenings where he sits with him and will test him if DS1 wants ( DH has to do it - Latin is all greek to mesmile)

Eating properly and drinking water.
Letting him be grumpy and panicky

Also we have talked to him about getting course work/ support sheets etc done in advance and not left until last minute. We have nagged about this on the basis of 'what would you do if you brike your hand the week before and couln't do work that should have been finished weeks ago".....

...... so yesterday I was at A&E until 10.00pm with DS1 and suspected broken finger in his right hand shock and [weeping].

Dislocated [phew]

cory Fri 14-May-10 14:50:31

I got dd through SATS by telling her truthfully that these were not big important exams; that they were to test the school, not her; that they would have no influence on her future chances of getting a job she wanted or studying anything she wanted; and that if the headteacher told her otherwise, then the headteacher was telling porkies. Dd, who had heard the head telling porkies before, but has a reasonably high opinion of my truthfulness, was much relieved.

pippop1 Fri 14-May-10 14:53:59

Poor Pagwatch's DS1, I hope it isn't broken and that he is left-handed. If not do tell the school a.s.a.p. as they may need to get a scribe for him.

My DS1 had glandular fever during his A levels. At first I thought he was just stressed (major guilt). Had to stand outside the Doc with him waiting for it to open so that they could see him so he could get a certificate (with temp of 104) and not take some of the papers. The first GF blood test came back negative (apparently it doesn't show up until your body produces the antibodies to fight it). Miracle of miracles he got 3 x A for his A levels - he had been taking 4 A levels though - and got to the Uni he wanted.

DS2 is about to take his A levels now and I am totally paranoid that he will catch something (and i have a cold).

BigTillyMint Fri 14-May-10 15:02:40

BBM grin

DD has just done SAT's and I would say the same wink

cat64 Fri 14-May-10 15:21:34

Message withdrawn

seimum Fri 14-May-10 17:34:30

MY DD2 (yr 12) has decided that 1hr on, 1hr off revising works for her.

She does seem to be getting through a lot of food (and cups of tea)though.

fruitshootsandheaves Fri 14-May-10 18:24:42

Don't try to help them revise physics......

And don't say 'oh dear never mind' when they come home and say they have a D, check first which subject it is since sometimes it means 'distinction' and 'oh dear ' may not be the most appropriate answer!

for a group of around 40 children and teens. (ok, actually my dance school) just before exam season, I do a big session on relaxation, de-stressing, teach them all kinds of techniques like guided imagery, and I've also taught my own children how to do their own basic face massage and a very simple hand massage which they can do on themselves and each other. It really really works, believe me!

DavidHameron Fri 14-May-10 19:11:14

I posted last week about my son who has been having panic attacks about his SATS. Was so bad I went to the GP for advice... the end we were helped enormously by a book for kids (I think it is one of a series of mental health things for kids) called What to do when you worry too much. Not specifically about exams but it worked BRILLIANTLY and instantly...

Used CBT techniques but adapted for children up to about aged 12.

Basic idea was Worry Time (15 mins a day to worry and no more, but you do it regularly), a Worry Box (in your head to put worries in rest of time), visualising a Worry Bully (which you learn to talk back to and 'flick' off your shoulder etc) and then either exercise or relaxation to help with symptoms. Finally 'changing the channel' to find your happy place etc (distraction, remembering a happy memory).

Was excellent and I can strongly recommend the book (am not connected in any way - it was American: actually though MNHQ, would be great to get someone like that author on for a webchat?)

DavidHameron Fri 14-May-10 19:12:50

I guess you could adapt those things for an older but panicky kid too?

webwiz Fri 14-May-10 20:02:24

Accept that some days there will be too much work to do and they are paralysed with stress whereas the next day its ok to go and meet friends because they are completely on top of their work and they need a break hmm

I relax the helping round the house rules at exam time and put up with Maths books completely covering the kitchen table. Also I'm available for testing and chatting about bits that are difficult to understand for Chemistry and History (can't help with Maths and Further Maths).

Last year was GCSEs and A levels in our house and it was horrible. This year its just DD2 doing AS levels but she's been ill with some awful flu thing and so is going into revision a bit behind where she where she's like to be. We've had tears three times this week so far so she is managing to make it as bad as last year all on her own.

PixieOnaLeaf Fri 14-May-10 21:02:26

Message withdrawn

I too, Cat, don't have the problem of a child wearing himself out revising hmm. I have tried both carrot and stick; no joy. So now I'm telling myself 'You can lead a horse to water...' sad

But his twin sister just got 94 points out of 95 for a piece of coursework grin

cat64 Fri 14-May-10 22:31:18

Message withdrawn

Granny23 Fri 14-May-10 22:48:03

This may sound trivial, but I found it really worked. The night before the exam assemble your best (or new) shirt/blouse, new pants and socks etc. Also best or new pen, pencil, ruler - whatever will be needed. On the day of the exam you will feel smart, organised and competent. Lolling about in old clothes is great for revising not so for exams.

I sat my highers as an extra mural student at my old school wearing my suit, make-up and highest heels. Felt great and got good passes. Technic also worked for driving test.

maryz Fri 14-May-10 23:05:18

I posted this on another thread:

The most practical thing I have found is to know in advance which exam is when and make sure that you have everything they need (pens, maths instruments, calculator, colouring pencils, etc.) specifically for each exam ready the night before. And don't assume they will bring it home afterwards - ds1 lost his calculator between Maths 1 and Maths 2, so we were lucky we had a spare.

Lots of food and try to limit their intake of caffeine - they all think it will keep them awake.

I have learned over the years that there are far more important things in life that educational achievement - happiness is what they should be aiming for. So try to convince them that their best is good enough - trying to do more than they can do is not physically possible.

Carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Sat 15-May-10 10:34:46

I haven't thankfully had to do this for my own dcs yet, but did do it a while back for a family friend whose mum had died and needed a bit of help sad. The most important thing for her was getting a revision schedule in place - assessing what had to be done and the time left and working out what could be done - realistically. Building in breaks and treats, and mixing the subjects up so they have a mix of stuff they like /like less on same eve/day. The enormous pleasure of ticking stuff off is not to be underestimated.

Maybe this is something everyone else does automatically, but noone at school had told her to do it and it gave us both a structure which we found helpful - I knew when I needed to be around more and could stay one page ahead on the GSCE teach yourself maths book!

Wishing everyone going through this the very best of luck - may the force be with you

greenbananas Sat 15-May-10 12:17:51

When I was writing essays and taking exams (some years ago now!) and getting very stressed about it, my mum used to just let me talk about what I had learned. I'd start by saying "I don't know anything, I'm going to fail" and she would gently ask questions about the subject I was revising, acting all interested, and I would tell her what I did know, until I realised that I actually knew quite a lot. It helped me to get things organised in my head and also made me feel very secure and loved at those difficult times.

Anyway, lots of useful advice from other MNers and I concur wholeheartedly with all of it, especially the 'enough food and sleep' advice.

WomblesAbound Sat 15-May-10 14:33:46

If you just tell them to revise, the chances are they won't be able to as they don't know how.

Teach them some revision techniques - mind mapping, flash cards, making notes, drawing flow charts and diagrams. Teach them how to turn diagrams and pictures into words, and words into diagrams.

Teach them how to test if their revision has worked - you test them Q&A, they speak for 2 minutes on a topic, write as much as you can in 2 miinutes, reproduce a mindmap or diagram.

But mostly, good revision is about using your strengths. If you are a visual learner then flash cards and mind maps will work best. Auditory learner - have a discussion. Kinesthetic - act out, move counters ...

DavidHameron Sat 15-May-10 15:00:22

My own technique, and one I advise undergraduates on, is a form of active learning: just re-reading things is not as helpful a doing something with those notes. This is especially true for subjects with a lot of reading/writing - essay based subjects.

So it is always better to do practice essays or to re-write notes, than just to read and try to memorise them IMHO.

'Condensing' them is probably the most useful thing they can do: assemble all the notes on one topic then condense them down to 4 sides of A4 by reading through the original notes and prioritising the most important arguments, evidence etc.. Then you do it again from those reduced notes, to one side of A4. This version needs to be a bit more organised - organised thematically, or in order of answering a dummy essay question. This bit is important because often remembering one part of an answer/argument will lead on to another, and if they have a good idea of the core structure of what they want to say, the detail will often follow.

This full A4 sheet of notes should then be reduced again into a skeleton structure; and then this can be reduced again to a filecard with key words on, for last minute revision.

This condensing process gives them things to 'do' for different sessions, and focuses their understanding of the topic quite well. Trying just to memorise without understanding and repeating that over and over again is boring and fruitless. This way, there is both an intellectual, and a 'learning' purpose.

pippop1 Sat 15-May-10 15:46:56

I know it sounds nuts but DS2 says he can remember revision notes better when they are on bright yellow paper.

MrsWeasley Sat 15-May-10 15:49:07

Whenever my DCs are doing exams or revision I ensure I have plenty of pens, papers, pencils etc becuase they always seem to panic because they can't find something.

I also ensure we have some of their favourite meals and buy in extra snacks. I usually ensure I have some comfort food(usually hot chocolate, with cream or homemake cakes) for when they get to the "I can't do this" stage.

Lavender room sprays and warm baths at bedtime.

I also avoid any arguements about DD not doing the dishwasher by doing it myself.wink

durrobvious Sat 15-May-10 21:48:28

This is gold standard advice for NT teenagers.

Your school may be too PC to tell you this but I'm not

1. Revision is your job, not your parents or your teachers
2. It is bloody dull and hard work. It was bloody hard work and dull of your parents and it will be for you. Suck it in and get on with it.
3. The worse you are at a subject the more effort of need to put into it. There are no short cuts. This is a fact. Live with it,
4. The more work you do, the better you will will do in your exams. And potentially the easier the rest of your life will be.

Full stop, end of story.

Trust me on this one.

abr1de Sun 16-May-10 10:28:06

I'm stunned at how many schools don't give children useful revision tips, like the condensing down/mock questions, etc.

weegiemum Sun 16-May-10 15:48:47

Pupils should know exam technique.

As an exam marker, I'm constantly astounded at how pupils could do better if they did some simple things which really help, like read the question!

Disclaimer I mark Highers, so some of these tips are going to be much more useful for highers/A-levels than Standard Grade/GCSE.

Some tips:

1) Some questions are data questions (e.g read the graph, loo at the map). That almost always means that all the info to get a good mark is on the exam paper. Don't pass this chance up!

2) Know your basic terms. For example (the biggest one I come across) the diference between describe and explain.

3) Silly as it sounds - get there in time!! Use the time available!

4) Plan answers. If you have 4 essays to write and a 2 hour exam, don't spend an hour on the first one!

5) Look at how many marks the question is worth and write an appropriate amount. No point in writing a whole page for a 2 mark question!

6) Have all your gear with you - couple of pens, pencils for answer planning/rough working/diagrams in science/Geog, rulers/rubbers/protractors etc, make sure calculator batteries are fresh if allowed, coloured pencils (for Geog - my subject - you have no idea how happy a nice bit of shading on your diagrams makes the marker - it really helps put them in a good mood when deciding if you should get a mark later on or not!!), etc etc for the subject at hand.

7) You don't (usually) have to do the questions in the order on the paper. It can help to do your best one first!!

8) Don't - really don't - do anything stupid. Don't try to cheat. Don't take in a phone or an mp3 player or anything that could in the slightest way be thought of a cheating into an exam, even if you have no intention of doing so. Invigilators are a breed apart and they will swoop on anything they see - I've heard of children being expelled form an exam cos they got a text message. Please tell your teenagers to be sensible!!

9) Learn to answer plan. 2 mins writing out an essay plan can make a huge difference.

10) Don't panic. If need be, take a sip of water, put your head on your desk for 2 mins, take deep breaths. There's almost always something you can put down. If not, there's always the appeals!

Hope this helps from a marker perspective. I tutor adult learners returning to exams and this kind of thing really can make all the difference.

abr1de Sun 16-May-10 16:19:53

I might print this off for my son, who's about to take common entrance--thanks!

cocolepew Sun 16-May-10 16:58:24

Rescue Remedy grin For real anxiety the drs will sometimes prescribe a very mild beta blocker. I only know this because I've been presccribed them and he Dr said they were the low dose ones students get given.

cat64 Sun 16-May-10 18:36:53

Message withdrawn

JimJammum Sun 16-May-10 19:48:02

I have a friend who's ds is rubbish at exams despite good work through the year. Turns out he panics in exams cos the environment is so different than when he is revising. So, maybe to contradict other advice, try getting them to do some work at a table, against the clock, in silence to replicate exam conditions if that's possibly a problem. And from someone who sat every exam know to man, past papers, past papers, past papers. My GCSE's in subjects such as maths, sciences, geography etc (where there's a standard answer, as opposed to english which is more subjective) were a breeze cos I went into them knowing how to answer the questions that came up.

AbsOfCroissant Mon 17-May-10 10:24:59

Not from getting DCs, but from getting myself through over 100 exams, I have the following tips:
- sleep. It's the most important things. I never understood why people would study the whole night through and completely exhaust themselves. This is the time when your brain processes all the information you have taken in during the day and organises it (hence you end up having some rather bizarre revision related dreams)
- if they are people who need noise to concentrate, respect that. If it is too quiet, I can't concentrate and become easily distracted (I start listening in on the slightest sound). Instead, if there's constant noice (like in a coffee shop or something), I found that it would force me to concentrate super hard to block all the noise out
- if you're writing essay based questions, practice writing essays. I wish I had done this from the beginning! It's all well and good trying to cram facts in, but knowing how to write a good essay is a skill in itself. And if possible, exchange past set work essays with other students (very good if there are people who get super high marks, so you can try to suss out why).
- discuss what you are learning, particularly if you get stuck. There have been times when I have started talking to myself about what I'm studying, but it really helps. Particularly finding someone who doesn't really know that subject, and then explaining it to them.
- practice past papers. It gives you an idea of the kind of questions that come up, gives you good exam practice, and also forces you to answer questions outside your comfort zone (so what they want, rather than what you know).

and I'll reiterate what weegiemum says - read and answer the question. Think about what the exam is asking, and answer THAT question, don't just put down everything you know. this is where practicing past papers comes into its own.

ADuckCalledBill Mon 17-May-10 15:47:55


abr1de Tue 18-May-10 08:47:08

Really good tips here!

SirBoobAlot Tue 18-May-10 12:59:24

From my own experience;

1) Having time out from revision to go out and see friends, or just watch crap on the TV is as important as doing the revision. Otherwise it just all swims in your brain and makes no sense if you don't have time off from it.

2) Have a a revision time table, so you are doing different subjects every two hours or so. Or it just gets dull and you stop taking it in.

3) Parents - don't nag your children. You can suggest they revise, or ask if you can help at all, but you can't force them to revise. Also remember they will not nessicarily revise in the same way as you.

4) GCSE Bitesize is an amazing site for revision, online and also for downloading audio bites in an MP3 format so you can listen to them whenever; I used to use these to revise whilst doing my paper round.

5) Post it notes and flash cards stuck everywhere with key points on.

MammaK Tue 18-May-10 22:26:00

My mum always told me before my exams that she loved me more than the world, and that when the exam finished she would love me more than the world. I got a good grasp of what was really important to me through her kind words and reassurance.

My parents would work with me... not helping me (unless I asked) but make sure they were working when I was as they understood it sucked to be the only one having to work. They encouraged me to revise in the garden or find spaces that were good for me, where possible not my bedroom as that was where rest and relaxation was needed.

As a teacher and an education junkie myself, now I realise how important all those things were. Plenty of water, physical activity and leg stretching (especially for boys) does wonders. They tense so easily in a 'fight or flight' kind of a way in exam situations.

If you have to step in, encourage them to find a way to revise that suits them. If they listen to music... 1 band per subject! Are they a list or a concept map kinda girl?

With a very reluctant brother-in-law, I shared my bank statement with him. Showed him really how much a mortgage was, plus our TV package, broadband, utilities etc. Showed him my finances clearly. He was so shocked, a sudden realisation hit him that he was going to need to work hard to get a wage that could afford him the internet, a place, a car, his insurance and HDTV. He made his decision and worked his socks off. Pretty drastic but he really did have no idea!

maltesers Wed 19-May-10 09:46:59

Just let them get on with can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink !!!!!!!!!!!

stillfeel18inside Wed 19-May-10 10:02:15

For 11-plus I found that the following worked:
- bribery (obviously) - sleepover for every exam and big treat at the end
- doing online quizzes (eg education city) when he couldn't face another written paper - it all helps!
- encouragement and praise - really worked for him. Found my attitude was stressing him out so started to really praise him and over-mark his papers and he started to really pick up - depends on the child obviously
- ease off towards the end - if they don't know it now they never will!

HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Sun 23-May-10 10:26:40

Thank you everyone.

We've now rounded up your brill tips into the Mumsnetters' exam survival guide...

FairlyGoodGodMother Sat 16-Apr-11 15:17:34

I have 2 godchildren coming up to their 'first' exams and I wanted to get them something to let them know I was thinking of them, and something a little more substantial (and cooler) than a Good Luck card! I found these great chocolate countdown calendars, like Christmas advent calendars but for the end of exams! They are great! The kids loved them. Their mum said its really helped them see the light at the end of the tunnel, and they got a chocolate 'reward' for every day they studied!

They also do a countdown to festival - so I was thinking of getting one of those, because as a reward for getting through exams they are going to their 'first festival'!

They are just on amazon, so you can send directly as a gift!

Hassled Sat 16-Apr-11 15:33:59

Just be calm. Spend the duration counting to ten a lot and just not rising to the inevitable provocation - they have to take their stress out somewhere and it's usually going to be on you. Don't faff about washing dumped on the floor/mugs left in the room etc.

And I know this sort of goes against the grain, but I always said to my very anxious DD that if she cocked up it didn't matter - you can retake GCSEs, you can retake A or AS Level modules. You can just keep re-taking. In fact, DS1 retook loads of stuff and went on to get a First Class degree. I think knowing that while the exams are very important, you don't only have the one chance to get it right does take some pressure off.

DoubleDegreeStudent Sun 17-Apr-11 11:00:48

Use elder siblings to your advantage - my sister had 10 A*s at GCSE and when I was revising I was very much in the "she's got good grades, there's no point trying" camp but she was really supportive and patient - she read my notes and then made me tests (with questions that she understood on, so that she could explain things to me) and in her own breaks from revision would come and go through stuff with me.

The best advice I got was from my GCSE biology teacher, who caught me right at my lowest ebb (stuck in the "I know I can probably do it but I don't care enough to push myself and what if I push myself and it turns out I couldn't do it and I just look stupid" phase) said "revision is always hard. If you aren't good at a subject then revision is hard because you don't understand it. If you are good at a subject then revision is boring and seems pointless and is even harder to force yourself to do". It really helped me distinguish between not understanding and just not being motivated, which in a roundabout way is encouraging.

Make a revision timetable, then delay its start by one day - spend the time getting them to clearing their room/wherever they are working and making it a nice space to be in. Otherwise they are doomed to spend the first hour of each day organising things. Once the clearing is done, buy nice stationery. I can easily spend an hour selecting my pens and notebooks for the year and it shouldn't help, but it really does.

Finally, if they listen to music on the radio (and therefore have no control), agree that if a certain artist comes on they have to stop and dance around. They might feel a bit stupid but it really helps to refresh you and just give you a three minute mind clearing break.

Rousse1 Tue 26-Apr-11 16:38:45

I'm an Aunty to two beautiful girls and have been involved in helping Mum, my lovely sister-in-law maintain her sanity. The eldest niece didn't want to do an exam of any sort and certainly didn't want to do any revision for her 11plus exam at the early part of this year. I found a brilliant site: that offer a free online mock exam that takes about 30 mins to do and we had a right giggle completing it, especially when she asked me to take it too! It actually shows that the exam is quite tough as she did better than me hahahaha!!! :O What it did do though was encourage my little darling to give Mum a break and she actually asked if we could download some of the papers and give it a go :-) I hope this helps some of you Mum's out there!

LeeJackson Fri 13-May-11 09:42:16

Some great stuff here smile

I have done a four minute free video on youtube which may help...

enjoylearningmaths Mon 19-Mar-12 12:41:31

Message deleted by Mumsnet.

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