Managing Anxiety

How to help your child manage exam related anxiety

Whether you’re a student preparing for upcoming school exams, or an adult going about your daily life, feelings of anxiety are all too common. Whilst many individuals experience varying degrees of anxiety, it’s fair to say that anxiety has affected almost everyone in one way or another over the course of their lives. During formative school years, a key contributor to feelings of anxiety are exams, a taxing right of passage that everyone needs to endure. Despite vast amounts of determination and preparation, it is normal for your child to worry and feel those butterflies in their stomach before heading into the examination room. However, there are different strategies you can introduce to help your child feel more physically and mentally prepared for any upcoming assessments. Your efforts can help alleviate feelings of anxiety that can have a negative impact on their performance.

Step 1: Communication

Communication plays a vital role in helping to ease pre-examination nerves. Having regular conversations with your child on how they are feeling about their upcoming exams presents an opportunity for them to share any worries or concerns with you. Having this insight allows you to be kept informed of their academic progress and feelings of preparedness. This helps ensure you have your ‘finger on the pulse’ so you can intervene if you feel your child would benefit from additional academic support. Moreover, children can sometimes struggle to articulate their educational feelings, so regular ‘check-ins’ provide a comfortable space for them to be open with you. You can use this information to establish an open line of communication with your child’s educators, discovering how you can help support them as they navigate managing their revision time leading up to exams.

Step 2: Preparation

Once you’ve engaged in some insightful conversations with both your child and their school, it is time to plan. The preparation stage is by far the most beneficial aspect of the anti-anxiety formula, and goes a long way to easing feelings of anxiety as exams approach. Developing effective study habits, something we have previously discussed, ensures your child has a consistent revision routine that they can stick to over a prolonged period of time. This routine should encompass all the different topics your child is studying in school, making considerations for their relative comfort in a subject or topic, as well as the importance of a specific test in determining the overall grade. Dedicate specific days and times to each subject, and try to stick to the routine as much as possible to help it become a habit! The more prepared your child feels, the less concerned they will be in the days leading up to the exams. This has a positive knock-on effect as when feelings of anxiety subside, students can be more productive in their allocated study time. Similarly, the improved sleep that results from fewer concerns allows students to feel more refreshed and energised on the day of an exam.

Step 3: Additional Support

Whether your child is predicted to have excellent grades, or is currently struggling to perform at their best under exam conditions, additional support is an extremely valuable way to ensure a student’s hard work is reflected in their learning and final grades. Hiring a tutor can provide your child with access to a wide variety of subject specialists who can provide comprehensive and immediate explanations to any problematic or complicated exam topics. Tutors can also help your child effectively manage and alter their revision schedule, provide solutions and support if they are feeling overwhelmed by upcoming exams, and serve as an additional point of contact for you as a parent to help manage your child’s education.

Step 4: Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a powerful tool students can adopt to help cope with exam related stress and anxiety. It encourages students to be conscious of the present and maintain control over their emotions (both positive and negative). This helps them to view exams as a less threatening experience, allowing them to focus on the steps they should take to prepare most effectively. Mindfulness can be practised in many different ways. One technique involves the simple process of setting a timer for 20-30 minute revision blocks. This provides your child with attainable mini-goals, making the revision process more manageable which helps them to maintain focus. Breathing exercises are another helpful mindfulness technique your child can adopt, and can be incorporated if they are feeling particularly anxious or worked-up prior to an exam. Practicing controlled breathing exercises can soothe the mind and help re-set the brain. Simplistically, mindfulness is about embracing simple steps to adopt a more beneficial perspective. In terms of exams, mindfulness encourages students to learn how to put themselves in the correct headspace while preparing for and taking tests. Have a sit down with your child to explore different ways you can help them regulate their thoughts and emotions.

Step 5: Encouragement

Regardless of how your children fare in their examinations, it is important to acknowledge the effort they put into learning and revising, irrespective of the final outcome. Overly focussing on the outcome can have unintended negative consequences. Students who performed exceptionally well, but lacked effort in their preparations, can be discouraged from studying for future exams. This can stifle their education and limit the extent to which they pursue further knowledge. Similarly, those students who may have achieved a less favourable grade, but put a lot of effort into their studies, may be discouraged by feelings of helplessness. In such instances it is important to celebrate the journey and find ways to tweak preparations for the next test. The goal is not to perform well on just one test. The aim is to create positive habits that will stick with your child throughout the remainder of their schooling and beyond. Reducing exam related anxiety can play an important role in your child’s feelings towards learning, so helping them better manage negative feelings removes a significant barrier to their continual development.

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