Top tips on how to help your child get through their GCSEsby isbi schools
We’re coming to that time of year again where children in Year 11 (and some in Year 10) are preparing to take their GCSE exams. As parents, we are often torn between wanting to see our children do well and achieve grades to the best of their ability, and fretting about this great burden we place on them to do well in a series of exams that can often seem like an endurance event in itself.
Parental support is incredibly important when determining a child’s academic success. In fact, it is several times more important than social class. Many parents panic at this thought, worried that they don’t know the subjects their child is being tested on but the good news is that you don’t need to be an expert in any of the subjects in order to make a valuable difference to your child’s results.
Parental support, encouragement and just showing an interest can all make a marked difference to a child’s levels of motivation and confidence when it comes to taking exams, as well as their ability to cope with the pressure and organisational demands of the exam period.
Here are a few top tips to help your child to get through their GCSEs.
General tips for supporting your child:
● Make an agreement with your child at the outset, as to the balance between working and socialising; don’t wait until they’ve been invited to a party or event before trying to discuss it. If you’ve already agreed that they need to do X amount of study, or can have X days/nights out during their study/exam period, any request to go to parties or on trips can be put against the initial agreement. Having said that, try to remain flexible. If your child is desperate to go to the party of the year then an outright refusal will not do you any favours! Work out a plan together to ensure their studies don’t suffer if they really want to go.
● Many children will find it hard to delay short-term fun in favour of achieving the long-term goal of passing their GCSE exams. While they should still be allowed to let off steam, it’s important that parents help their children to bear their long-term goals in mind.
● Avoid berating or threatening your child, even if you feel they’ve been slacking off or are not working hard enough. The pressures of exam season can show in many different ways and often when children feel overwhelmed and demotivated they down tools. Try to talk to them about what is bothering them, acknowledge how they feel and reassure them that they will always have your full support.
● Teenagers can often have an all or nothing attitude, where if they feel they’ve done badly on one essay or exam "I may as well just give up on everything now!” Try to help them to maintain a sensible perspective and avoid catastrophising.
● Expect your child to push their boundaries as exam stress increases - and avoid rising to the bait. You don’t need to let them get away with anything they like, but pick your battles carefully.
● Chat about the exams, how they will work, how long they will last and so on. Talk about what might be the main topics that come up and how they feel about them. Don’t push the conversation though; if your child has been revising all day they might not want to talk about exams at all.
● Be involved in the revision process - but also know when to take a step back. Your child will not appreciate feeling that you are looking over their shoulder all the time.
● Make sure other members of the household are aware that your child is studying for and taking exams, and that they understand they might be a little moody or difficult at times.
● If your child is anxious in an exam environment, look at simple relaxation techniques that could help to calm them down.
Practical help you can offer:
● Buy new stationery, revision cards and highlighters to help make the revision process more interesting and engaging
● Offer to ask questions or listen as they go through their notes
● Make sure your child has all the essential books and materials. It might be that there’s a revision guide or notes on a play or novel that will really help them.
● Time your child’s attempts at practice papers
● Make sure there are plenty of healthy, nutritious snacks in the kitchen for study breaks
What about bribes and treats?
Many parents are tempted to promise their child all sorts of treats and gifts if they achieve good grades but this is generally a bad idea. Bribery implies that getting a good grade on an exam is not reward enough, and also might give the impression that you don’t trust your child to work hard and do their best without the promise of reward. Negative messages like this can affect your child’s sense of self worth.
Instead, talk with your child about why it is important to do well in their GCSEs, and encourage them to be proud of their achievements. Make sure they know you are proud of the effort they are putting in, regardless of what their grades might be at the end of it.
These days our children take SATs from a young age, and many schools have annual exams every summer too. Still, GCSEs are the first time they will have such a pressure on them to get good grades so as to move on to the next stage of their academic career. As parents it is vitally important that we support our children as much as possible, to help them through what can be a very stressful time. Your support can help your child to revise well, to cope well and to perform well in exams. As well as this, knowing they have their parents’ support regardless of their grades can help a child to feel more grounded and confident in general and this in itself can work wonders in an exam environment. Never underestimate the positive effect your support can have on your child’s achievements.