If you have child in Year 11, you’re more than likely living with a teenager suffering from GCSE exams stress or living through it yourself. This is a huge milestone in their life and one that they are likely never to forget. I still remember taking my GCSE’s; the mocks, revision and finally the exams. Unlike today’s GCSE’s, I don’t remember having 3 separate exams for each subject, but I do remember the hideous hay fever I had for the 3 week exam period. I’d never suffered from hay fever before and have never had it since, I can only put it down to the level of stress I was under.
Our house at the moment is geared to make things as easy as possible for M, who is 4 exams in. Her revision has been reasonable and just about good enough, but she has stepped up the intensity over the last week and had a totally revision immersed weekend leading up to the first exam. She text me on the way back from the exam to say that everything she had revised came up and she felt positive she did well. I was delighted for her as it will give her confidence for the rest of the exams looming over her.
I’ve stuck to some simple but hopefully effective guidelines leading up to and during the exams, and have summarised them below.
As a parent or carer, you are fully aware of how important the GCSE’s are – the results will determine whether they get into the college course, 6th form or apprenticeship of their choice, let alone the effect on the rest of their life choices! Regardless of how much they roll their eyes when you say the dreaded word ‘revision’, these kids understand the pressure they are under. M is fashion obsessed and talks all day long of celeb style, but I overhear her talking about grades and revision just as much. M has expressed concern about what will happen if she doesn’t get the B grades necessary for her first choice of college. She’s also been defiant and appeared indifferent depending on when I talk to her about exams. Some parents I know are offering big rewards for good results whereas Hubby and I have offered small and regular rewards for revision well done, or sticking to her revision timetable. This means she gets rewarded for what she’s already done and it is not just dependent on the results in August. We try to be supportive, and giving M permission to take a break or to make her own choices regarding revision has worked. She feels more in control and can channel her exam tension rather than succumb to any pressure being heaped upon her.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to enforce a reasonable bedtime with M and it’s the longest running battle in our house. I do pick my battles, but this is one I feel strongly about and have been trying (without much success until recently) to get M to understand the importance of sleep, particularly when you need to be at your best. All the parenting books say teenagers need their sleep and suggest up to 8 hours. I disagree and feel they need more like 10-12 hours. I’ve tried to explain that a good night’s sleep can be more than just restorative but can improve memory and performance.
Just as important as sleep, is finding the right place to revise and establishing a good bedtime routine. A desk is better than revising on the bed. Not only will it focus their mind but also the bed then becomes a place to sleep and relax rather than multitasking as a work station. I’ve had to be firm with M about phones and laptops in bed as there is much evidence to show that screen time just before going to bed is considered bad ‘sleep hygiene’ [i] and disruptive to sleep. I’ve suggested a warm bath or hot chocolate before bed but these have fallen on deaf ears. However, letting her catch up on sleep at the weekends is not considered good ‘sleep hygiene’ but works for M.
Food for Thought
It’s not rocket science and we know enough about food, appetite and brain performance to know that a good breakfast or lunch on the day of the exam is important. M has never been good about eating breakfast and is particularly bad at the weekends, opting for a sugary snack later on in the afternoon. I’ve talked to her about giving herself the best advantage, but it’s a tough habit to break. M’s exams start at either 9am or 1:30pm and she has several days in a row when she has two exams on the same day. If you can get your teenager to eat breakfast then a combo of protein and carbs is the best option. M will never eat porridge, but it’s an ideal choice, or scrambled eggs on toast, which I can occasionally get her to eat. I’ve also talked to her about keeping hydrated, as being thirsty is a sign you are dehydrated which can cause you to lose concentration and in my case gives me headaches. I’d prefer her to eat a balanced nutritious breakfast but have stocked up with ‘on the go’ breakfast drinks and cereal bars which appeals to M’s ‘on the go’ lifestyle.
The day before her exams started I spoke to M and told her how proud I was of her. I wanted her to know that me being proud of her wasn’t dependent on her exam results and I loved her no matter what the August results envelope said. Not getting the exam results you wanted isn’t the end of the world and as adults we know that there are several routes to success. An exam they perceive as not having gone well will feel like the end of the world to them and it’s important to talk about it (if they want to) and then move on, putting positive energy into the next exam. Roll on mid-June; the last exam, a slap up meal at a restaurant of M’s choice and our summer holiday to look forward to.