8 simple things your child should do the night before an exam

As the school year nears its end, the prospect of exams are starting to loom large, and students (and their parents) are going through the same age-old ritual: ‘the last-night-before-exam-meltdown’.

When the big day finally rolls around, both you and your child’s pre-exam anxieties will probably have hit fever pitch, and it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.

The night before an exam - boy studying a book full of highlighted passages

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

The night before an exam is a crucial time when your decisions could mean the difference between an A and a B grade. It’s important to keep a cool head and do things the right way.

Follow these steps as best you can to maximise your child’s potential.

  1. Don’t overwork

Despite being a trite and clichéd piece of advice, it’s absolutely key that you don’t run your child into the ground.

At this point, it’s too late to cram in new information. Preparing for an exam is a marathon, not a sprint, and attempting to learn Pythagoras’ theorem with 12 hours to go is an easy way to finish in last place.

No student goes into an exam with a comprehensive knowledge of every last detail they studied throughout the year. If your child spends the night slaving over every word in every textbook the library will let them borrow, they’ll only amplify their anxieties and chip away at their self-belief.

At this juncture, a ‘que sera sera’ attitude will serve them much better. They’ve worked hard all year. They’ve done all they can. Whatever will be, will be

  1. If you do work (because let’s face it, you can’t help yourself), make it fun and don’t try to go through everything

Despite everything in point number one, we both know that you and your child won’t be able to resist having just a little peek at their revision notes, or quickly running over those history dates they always forget.

If you are going to do some work, keep it fun and breezy, and only do so as a means to review what you’ve already studied (see above).

As a parent you can prepare a revision quiz on a website like Kahoot or Sporcle a few nights before. It’ll be a positive revision experience for your child, and will ease some of the tension and pre-test nerves.

If you must work the night before an exam, it’s a far better idea to…

  1. …consider having a revision session with a private tutor

Of course, if you really want to handle the night before an exam the right way, invest in a professional.

A private tutor knows exactly what your son or daughter needs before an exam. Not only will they review the specific information that’s most useful to the individual (with the finish line in sight), they’ll also do wonders in building their student’s confidence and self-belief.

  1. Do some light exercise

The positive effects of a spot of gentle exercise the night before an exam are well-documented and tried and tested.

Exercise is great for your mental well-being, helps with memory and reduces stress: just about everything a child needs before their GCSEs or A-levels.

On top of that, it aids a good sleep, which is vital before the big day.

However, just as it’s important for a student not to run themselves into the ground by studying too hard, they mustn’t run themselves into the ground by, well, running!

The operative word is gentle exercise – no student wants to be exhausted first thing in the morning of their exam.

  1. Eat well

The night before the exam, your culinary choices may have more of an effect than you might think.

First of all, timing is important. Finding yourself hungry in bed is in no way conducive to a good night’s rest, and trying to drop off whilst stuffed isn’t much fun either.

Try to make sure dinner is served around 3-4 hours before bedtime.

You may also be surprised to hear that what a child eats can give them an extra edge the following day. A meal full of complex carbohydrates and low on saturated fats will see your son or daughter waking up raring to go, rather than feeling sluggish and groggy.

  1. Get some sleep

On the subject of sleep: get some!

Do not, under any circumstances, let your child pull an all-nighter. They may want to revise ‘just one more thing’, but one more thing quickly becomes fifty more things, and 10 pm quickly becomes 5 am.

The price for entering an exam without a good sleep is worth its weight in grades and is far more valuable than any last minute knowledge a student might acquire by staying up until the early hours. Our brains need sleep to work properly!

With this in mind, if your child goes to sleep at 9 pm and finds themselves blinking at the ceiling, don’t force them to go to sleep. It won’t work, and they’ll end up spending the whole night watching the clock tick agonisingly closer to its alarm.

Instead, give them a book to read, or even a puzzle to do. It might be tempting to stick the TV on or let them browse the internet on their smartphone, but the incandescent, unnatural light has been proven to hinder a healthy sleep.

  1. Drink water, but not too much

Surprise surprise, it turns out that the stuff that makes up 60% of our bodies is good for us.

It’s no secret that water is rocket-fuel for the brain, and instead of only giving your child a bottle to take into the exam, it’s a good idea to keep them hydrated days in advance.

Hydration in moderation is of paramount importance, though. A visit to the bathroom every 30 minutes is of no benefit on the night before an exam, or the day itself!

Caffeine is also a major no-no. Whether it’s in a cup of tea or can or coke, the late-night-inducing stimulant could play havoc with all of your careful preparations.

  1. Keep things in perspective

Last but far from least is a piece of meta-advice, for both student and parent. Keep everything in perspective.

With the pressures of exams, it’s so easy to forget that education should be something to be relished and enjoyed.

Make sure your son or daughter has their priorities right: they should simply do their best, and know that a bad mark isn’t the end of the world.

Spend some family time together in the evening without mentioning the exam at all. Simply turning a child’s mind away from the exam will help them realise that life will go on, no matter what happens.

Keeping a philosophical, calm exam-attitude quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: students under less stress perform better, get better results, then feel more relaxed before their next exam. Get in the habit today.

The night before an exam can feel like a tumultuous blend of nerves and panic for students and parents alike, but it can (and should) be a straightforward affair:

  • Get a good sleep
  • Drink some water
  • Eat healthy food
  • Do some light exercise
  • Let a tutor handle any last minute reviews (it’ll be much more beneficial, and fun that way)
  • Keep the bigger picture in mind

…and that’s about it!

If you follow the list above you won’t need it, but good luck nonetheless.

Parents – Stress Free Revision Tips For Your Child

It’s that time of year again when exams loom and schools start to circulate exam timetables and remind parents about the importance of getting our kids revising as early as possible. The whole time can be very stressful so here are some stress free revision tips for your kids you may find useful to implement now.

girl revising from a book - stress free revision tips

Should you take your child out of school?

You may recall from recent years, there has been a great deal of press coverage about parents protesting about the stress some of their children were feeling when faced with Year 6 SATS.  In fact, some parents were so incensed they pulled their children out of school on the day of the test.

Here in Wales we have the National Reading and Numeracy Tests which Caitlin (now 10 and in Year 5) and Ieuan, (aged 8 and in Year 3) will be sitting in the second week of May.  These tests enable recording of a child’s academic performance on a database so that this can be compared to the national average.

I can see no point in pulling your child out of school in protest.  It will not change the system and nor will it help the child to cope with the stresses Academia places on all of us for as long as we are students. The most sensible approach, I think, is to view these examinations as a ‘learning curve’.

What early testing can do

These tests offer a chance for our children to begin to learn how to deal with examination stress and to make the vital psychological link between effort and results. These tests are also a chance to learn other skills, such as revision, planning and even self-care in the face of times of worry and pressure.

If our children learn these skills early on then, arguably, GCSEs, and A Levels may be slightly easier to cope with.

What is important, I think, is how we as parents explain all this and how we help our children to understand what the results mean.

Whilst an exam result is an indication of intelligence and effort, it is a marker in the sand.  Because the results are calculated taking into account the performance of your child’s peers.

There are other variables such as how the child felt on the day. For example, are we really saying hay fever sufferers who gave a poor performance on the day of the test due to summertime sniffles are less intelligent? And what about those children whose teachers have been absent and replaced with a totally disinterested supply teacher?

We need to explain to our kids that the result of their test will be an indication of their current ability and no more. With the proviso, of course, that they need to give their best effort. Once that is done they can do no more.

We must also be careful not to communicate our own stress about their performance to our youngsters. After all, exams can be retaken.

We need to instill the importance of competition

As a nation we are not the economic powerhouse we once were, largely because we are not as competitive as, say China.

I am not saying we should hot-house our children as is the way in some parts of Asia but we do need to teach our kids that competing is a vital skill if you want to move up the career ladder.

Our children will need to compete for university and college places.  They will need to compete for jobs.  We do them no favours if we don’t at least begin to explain how the world works in this regard.

In classes of mixed ability which we now have, the pace seems to move to accommodate the slowest child and, although this makes sense from the point of view of developing a strong social community where each individual is valued, the trade off is an environment where those who could benefit from extra attention don’t get it and teaching staff have to struggle to cope with behaviour that is often driven by far more than just occasional naughtiness.

Some parents think that if a child is not particularly academic it is not fair to subject them to tests which may dent their self-confidence.

But surely with the right attention and tuition, overcoming learning challenges may actually boost the confidence of these children.

There are, after all, enough hugely successful entrepreneurs whose own academic performance was dismal.  Richard Branson, and Steve Jobs to name but two.

My stress free revision tips

So how can parents help their kids?

I wrote a practical guide to revision which you and your children may find helpful.  “Revision Tips To Show Those GCSEs Who’s Boss”. You can read it here.

But here are some stress free revision tips that will help children and their parents.

Don’t over-react

If you make these exams / tests the be-all and end-all you will add undue pressure on your child. Hence, Ieuan’s school is very wisely calling the Year 3 testing a ‘Quiz’.

Make sure you familiarise yourself with your child’s curriculum and study topics

Our school sends out regular term updates so we know what our kids are studying and what their learning outcomes are.  If you have been working with your child throughout the academic year, you will be better placed to help them with their revision.

You will also feel a bit calmer because you will know what needs to be covered.

Invest in some study guides

There is a lot of age-appropriate / Key Stage learning material you can buy or download.  In Wales, past tests can be downloaded free of charge from the Learning Wales website.

There are also websites such as Twinkl which, for a nominal monthly subscription offer a great range of educational resources.

Set a regular study timetable

Design a timetable which has study ‘periods’ of about 45 minutes and help your child work through his topic book or a past paper.

All gadgets stay off until the homework is done (even if it means changing the WiFi password!).

Add an incentive

Whether this is extra family time – such as a trip to the cinema or to a favourite local attraction, make sure you prioritise down time too.

Ban Late Nights

For you and your children.  You’ll need your sleep to cope with an emotional, antsy child and to keep your patience in the face of the inevitable “I don’t want / need to revise” rebellion.

Improve your diet

Mainlining on take-aways and high sugar foods will make you all feel low and under par.  Now is the time for some proper home cooked meals.

Buddy up

Why not form a little study group with your child’s best buddies and their parents.  You may find it more effective to get the kids studying in a more relaxed atmosphere.  They can then do a fun activity once the work has been done, football, swimming or some other form of stress relieving exercise.

Work with the school

If your child is really struggling, don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s teacher to see if there is the possibility of any extra tuition or support.

It may be there is a gap in your child’s knowledge (perhaps something that was covered when your child was off sick) that can be easily filled by a fact sheet or online resource.

Exams, tests, whatever blood-pressure-inducing terminology we apply to them, are designed to put us under pressure to see how we perform.

Watch for signs of extreme anxiety / depression

If you feel that your child is really suffering physically or mentally through exam stress, you need to get your child to open up and talk about their fears.  It may be worth taking them to see your GP if their anxiety symptoms are becoming unmanageable.

If they won’t talk to you, perhaps they will talk to another trusted adult or perhaps an older sibling who has gone through the pressures they are facing.

As parents there is a lot we can do to help our child and, in doing so, help ourselves to feel a little more confident too.

We just need to remember that exam results do not define who we are and certainly don’t dictate who we will become.

Do you have any stress free revision tips to add?

Revision Tips To Show Those GCSEs Who’s Boss

It’s the time of year again when revision stress wreaks havoc in family homes and our youngsters (and sometimes not so youngsters) feel the nightmare of the approaching exam season. You will find reams written on the subject of revision and mine include some of the common sense basics.  Here are the GCSE revision tips which will really help.

GCSE revision tips - pile of books for studying

I’ve also included what worked for me personally.  I studied the old ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels, got a Degree in English Literature and later spent a couple of years studying Administration for Personal Assistants (sadly no James Bond included) and Chartered Institute of Marketing qualifications, so I have done plenty of studying and completely understand that lurch of the stomach when you contemplate the moment when you are asked to turn your paper over.

I have also tutored in English to GCSE standard and understand how confidence-sappingand stressful the revision process is if you don’t grab it by the scruff of the neck and show it who’s boss.   I have also seen the consequences of leaving your revision until the last minute – clue, not great grades.

Killer GCSE revision tips

So let’s revise some of the things you need to do:

1.  Plan your revision timetable.

As well as studying, allocate time within it for eating, sleeping and some leisure activities (yes, browsing Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat is not classed as revision!).  Filling it with wall to wall studying is unrealistic and will make you just want to bin / delete the whole thing.

2.  Start weeks before.  Not days.

As soon as you have the dates for the exams, arguably even sooner, you should be starting your revision.  Re-read your course notes.  Make sure you have actually read the set texts and re-read them.  I remember in University being told by one (possibly over zealous) English lecturer that you don’t really ‘know’ a novel until you have read it at least FIVE times.  Clearly, this may not apply to non-fiction texts but I don’t think it’s that bad a maxim to apply!

3. Break your revision sessions into chunks

Study sessions should last approximately 45 minutes with a 15 minute break per hour. This is because your brain and your memory need a rest to absorb your learning.

4. Do something in the break

Get up and move around.  Make a coffee (better, have some water) and a protein based snack.

5. Build in a reward

It doesn’t matter whether it’s an episode of your favourite soap or current box set passion but give yourself a clear objective.  “I will watch Game of Thrones when I have re-read the first three chapters of my textbook”. Sitting in your room painting your nails whilst staring vacantly at your notes does not count.

6. Write it down.

I found it invaluable to test myself by writing my answers and thoughts down on paper (or typing them up on a PC).  There’s something about seeing your notes in writing that helps cement them in your brain.

7.  Get a blackboard and play teacher. 

No, I haven’t lost it, honest.  It’s amazingly effective if you pretend to be the teacher in front of a class (or your favourite celebrities) and teach them your study topic.  You may want to pretend you’re a world class lecturer at an international conference.

Go on, see if you can talk clearly about your topic for 15 minutes and illustrate your points with quotes, facts and figures on the blackboard.  From MEMORY.

You could even get someone to record your lectures on their mobile and upload them to YouTube to see how convincing you are.

8.  Make a Mind Map. 

All in the spirit of making it a bit more fun,  the theory goes that using visual cues will help you remember more effectively.  A mind map is a simple diagram you make with lots of branches demonstrating related ideas.  Why not start each session by drawing a mind map and you may find you include ideas you had forgotten or that may be genius inclusions even your teacher or lecturer has not considered.

Make a mindmap - GCSE revision tips

9.  Record it. 

I once learned the whole of Shakespeare’s Macbeth almost word for word.  I did this by recording the whole play on an old fashioned tape recorder (tricky doing all the parts, I can tell you) and then I used to play it to myself whilst going to sleep.

Never underestimate the power of the subconscious. You’ll find information coming to you effortlessly rather than having to struggle to recall it.

You could do something similar by recording the key facts you need to know and then playing them back through the day or just before you sleep.  Possibly not the most exciting track on your iPod but just consider the fabulous career getting your qualifications may lead you to.

10. Revise on the move. 

Having your notes recorded means you can listen to them anywhere – on your morning commute, whilst waiting to see the dentist etc.

11. Make it mini. 

If you prefer something written down, challenge yourself to note down key facts on postcards and whip them out for a quick run through during the day.

12. Flashcards are king. 

Or, create full A4 size flashcards with important points on and get your relatives to test you on them (hey, why should you be the only one to suffer)?

13. Buy / lend past exam papers.

If you can afford copies of past papers, please contact your local exam board and get them – even if it’s just for the past 2 years.  You’ll get a sense of what the questions are like and, if you know what came up last year, you may be able to guess what will come up this year.  NOTE:  you still need to revise everything but just give a bit more emphasis to the themes which may appear.

14.  Have a mock (we won’t mock). 

Sit those papers.  Recreate the exam scenario.  Desk, watch, water, fruit pastilles – the whole shebang.  Do the paper to time.  Get the cat to invigilate.

Get the cat to invigilate - GCSE revision tips

Picture credit: Paul Anderson

15.  You are the evil examiner. Now that you have sat the paper – be absolutely ruthless.  Mark yourself as harshly as possible.  Penalise yourself for spelling mistakes and grammatical howlers.  Be honest.  Would you have passed?  If you’re not sure, take the paper in and ask your teacher or lecturer.

16.  Prepare the night before. Not by cramming, not by panicking but by having a decent meal and an early night.  Reread your flashcards, listen to one of your home-made recordings, try to relax.

Remember, there is no such thing as failure.  If you don’t pass this time then you have learned what not to do next time.

And if you have tried your best with your revision and you can honestly say you did the best you could, pat yourself on the back and tell yourself this is just one step towards success.  And even Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Do you have any killer GCSE revision tips to share?