Coping with exam stress in Dubai

Tips for parents and students to avoid a last-minute meltdown


A stressful period for both parents and kids, Dr. Mike Biggs from Which School Advisor offers support tips and study suggestions to keep the panic at bay.

Such is the competitive nature of most school systems that examination outcomes become the focus for many a student and parent. Understandably, high expectations and ambitions of parents for their children inadvertently reflect this and can add further pressure.

Are you locked into thinking that learning is solely determined by the examination results? Stop! Ask yourself, why create this pressure? You want your child to do well in the examinations but do ask why? Is this for you to create mental comparisons and league tables amongst the children of family and friends? Examinations can have this effect on parents!

Success in examinations is just one indicator of learning having taken place. The reality, however, is that it is perceived as the only one by many, particularly in competitive school entry, tertiary education admissions and the job market. So, as the examination pressures start to build for your youngsters, here are a few tips to help you to support them during the coming months.

Schools are very good at preparing the students for examinations and once the syllabi are covered you will note an increasing focus on diagnostic and more targeted work to address specific examination needs. The teachers have good knowledge of their students, their learning styles, their strengths and weaknesses and, therefore, their needs. Teachers often develop considered programmes with appropriate pace and timing, produce supporting resources and offer extra-time to prepare the students. Discuss this with your son or daughter and become familiar with what’s on offer in the school.

The aim is to develop a confident person who goes into the examination comfortable with the content knowledge and well-practiced in the skills required to adapt and present this knowledge to answer the questions.

There is no right time to start revision as, in many ways, this is a continuous process that has been built on over time as the learner progresses. Recognise that each learner is different which will vary from organised and methodical through to apparent disorganisation and haphazard in exam preparation. It is often the latter end of the continuum that concerns most people. Forward planning and time management strategies to create more scheduled organisation can help.

Knowing a little about how to keep information stored in the memory and how to retrieve that information again will help. Basically, the more regularly the learning is reviewed the more likely it is remembered. Moving this learning from the short-term into the long-term memory can be achieved by revisiting after 10 minutes, after 24 hours, after one week, after one month.

Fundamentally, a little and often approach will help to store the content knowledge. Regular practice will help to hone the skills. Discussing and thinking things through with others will also help in the application of these skills and knowledge.

Get to know your son or daughter’s concentration span: ten minutes, fifteen minutes, longer? Get to know what s/he likes to do or not. Encourage revision planning that gets some of the ‘not so nice’ out of the way when s/he is refreshed leaving the ‘nice’ to be looked forward to rather than the converse.

Beware of falling into the trap of trying to do too much. Recognise the different concentration spans with breaks built in the revision process. These breaks could be a few minutes to make a drink or longer to take exercise, listen to a favourite piece of music or play a game. Just moving around from a sitting position could be sufficient to recharge the brain with a bit of oxygen! A healthy, exercised body and mind will be more effective in the exam room than one that has been cramped over books for hours on end with no light relief.

Keeping the body and brain well hydrated is also important both during revision and in the actual examination. That is, water not a can of soda!

Too much sensory stimulation in the revision environment may affect focus and deeper concentration. Establish a quiet, comfortable, well ventilated personal space, but, remember the young are a ‘connected’ generation and what works for you may not for your youngster!

The examination schedules will not be issued for several weeks yet. However, this should not delay establishing a review and revision programme. When the exams do arrive aim for your son or daughter to be a candidate who is confident in the subject and practiced in the exam requirements; one who is rested after a good night’s sleep, sensibly fed, well hydrated and one who arrives early. There is nothing wrong with a little adrenalin, however, too much stress and worry will impact adversely. Teachers can help this by introducing strategies that address exam nerves but you’ll have to deal with your own exam nerves!

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