Please give us your best getting-children-thr
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
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.
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 ...
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.
I know it sounds nuts but DS2 says he can remember revision notes better when they are on bright yellow paper.
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.
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.
I'm stunned at how many schools don't give children useful revision tips, like the condensing down/mock questions, etc.
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.
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.
I might print this off for my son, who's about to take common entrance--thanks!
Rescue Remedy 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Just let them get on with it.....you can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink !!!!!!!!!!!
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!
Thank you everyone.
We've now rounded up your brill tips into the Mumsnetters' exam survival guide...
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!
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.
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.
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: www.11plusswot.co.uk 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!
Some great stuff here
I have done a four minute free video on youtube which may help... www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-NlwT8FrMo
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