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Your Children and Exams: A Survival Guide for Parents

Friday, November 18, 2016 -- McKenna Wierman

It’s not hard to guess when your children are preparing for exams—the house gets a little quieter, their bedroom lights stay on a little later, and the overall mood gets a little tenser.

Studying is a learned skill, and all children are going to do it a little differently. Some will get the most out of simply copying their textbook into a notebook. Others will be fine just reading over their class notes. Whichever method they prefer, what matters is encouraging your children to develop consistent and productive study habits so that they not only learn and retain information but also can recall it during their exams.

If your children are about to start cramming for their midterm or end-of-semester exams, here are a few things every parent can do at home to help them become champion test-takers.

1. Ban the all-nighter

Your children may be too old for an official bedtime, but when exam times rolls around, it can be helpful to bring one back. Students today are faced with a lot of academic stress, especially when it comes to exams and final projects, and as a result, they may try to work through the night to study or complete an assignment. However, if your children are going to bed too late or staying up all night to work, they’re not doing themselves any favors. Sleep deprivation has all sorts of negative side effects—irritability, confusion, depressed mood, and forgetfulness to name just a few—that children definitely want to avoid if they have a big exam the next day! Instead, explain to your study bugs why it’s important that they get a good night’s rest (9 to 11 hours for elementary and middle schoolers, 8 to 10 hours for high schoolers), and then set a firm time for lights out.

2. Encourage early rising

One of the best things about getting to bed early is that it makes it easier to get up the next morning. During exam time, try to get your children on a schedule so that they are getting up at a consistent time that gives them an opportunity to fully wake up before heading off to school. Waking up early helps the brain warm up before taking on any really important tasks, reducing morning fogginess and helping sharpen your children’s focus in the classroom. Plus, they’ll have time to do some last-minute studying and eat a good breakfast.

3. Eat a good breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Speaking of breakfast, you’re going to want to plan a healthy menu for your study fiends during exam week. Make sure that everyone is eating a full and healthy breakfast before they head out the door for school. Limit sugary snacks and caffeine intake, and opt for fruits, veggies, and healthy grains. Pack water bottles for sipping during the school day, and tuck a granola bar into your children’s backpacks for a snack. Eating right is extra important during stressful times because it helps ward off the distraction of hunger and keeps energy levels high so that your children can stay alert and focused during their tests.

4. Take short breaks

Studying works best if it’s broken up into chunks; trying to memorize an entire textbook in one sitting just isn’t going to happen. So, help your children break up their studying into manageable pieces. Use small rewards as incentives to complete studying blocks, like a 15-minute dance party, a piece of candy, or the chance to watch an episode of their favorite show. This is a great way to encourage your children to muscle through their material and make the process a little more fun. Consider using a kitchen or cellphone timer to help define study periods of about 20 to 30 minutes.  

5. Unplug and get outside

If your children have been studying for a few hours, it’s often a good idea to encourage them to unwind for a while and take a longer break. Try getting out of the house and going for a walk around the neighborhood. Switch your phones to “do not disturb,” leave the notes at home, and just enjoy each other’s company. Keep the conversation flowing (and your children’s minds eased) by talking about fun things you can do over the weekend, extracurricular activities you children are involved in, or a movie you all recently watched. Taking a break, stretching their legs, and clearing their minds will help your children refocus when it’s time to get back to the books. 

6. Go easy on chores (for now)

Building up good study habits at a young age is key to helping children carry good study habits for the rest of their academic careers. Limiting distractions for your children during study time is important because it helps train them to focus on completing one task at a time. So, cut your children a break during study time and hold off on chores. While they should still keep up on the basics like maintaining a neat study space, keeping up with good personal hygiene, and picking up after themselves, let them skip out of some bigger tasks like doing the dishes, helping with yardwork, or taking out the trash. They’ll stay more focused on their materials for school, and they’ll appreciate the gesture too when they see that you recognize how hard they are working to do well on their exams.

7. Study groups can be good

Not all children do well holed up in their rooms to study. Some  learn better by talking through information, and study groups can be a great way to get through dense material. If you think that it would be helpful for your children to study with their peers, encourage them to invite a few classmates over for a group session. Provide some healthy snacks and a quiet study space away from the rest of the family, and let them work. Just keep an ear open to make sure that they’re staying on topic.

8. Embrace the power of tech

While it may seem like a good idea to take away computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones during study time, sometimes incorporating technology can be a big help. Online programs are a given in most classrooms today, and often children have access to supplemental materials, including videos, guided examples, and practice quizzes at home. These can be great resources to add to your children’s arsenal of exam-prep tools. If you’re worried about your children resisting temptation to browse the Internet, programs like Cold Turkey can temporarily block distracting websites while your children study.  

9. Be involved

Throughout all the stress of exams, your children will need your support. Take some time during dinner to ask them how they are feeling about their tests, what their testing schedule is like, and if they need any help studying. Offer to quiz them or go over notes together, and let them know you are willing to help. Or, if your children do better being left alone to concentrate, try a more hands-off approach. It might be difficult to find the balance between being too relaxed and helicopter parenting, so ask your children directly about what kind of support they want. Opening up these conversations can offer big benefits for both you and your children.

10. Encouragement counts

At the end of the day, education shouldn’t be about grades; it should be about learning. You know that your children’s happiness will always come first, and you don’t want to see them stressed out over a test. Be sure to let your children know that success isn’t measured solely by straight A’s and that doing poorly on one test won’t be the end of their world. Remind them that you’re there for support by taking the time to write a short note for their lunchboxes or simply giving them an extra big hug when they get home. Little things will mean the world to your children when they’re nervous about exams and instill a sense of confidence that will help them perform to the best of their abilities.

Preparation is key when it comes to test-day success! Looking for a tool to help your children practice grade-appropriate skills in math, ELA, science, and social studies as they prepare for midterms or end-of-semester exams? Check out Study Island for Home!