Helping Students Relieve Exam Stress

Every family feels the crunch this time of year.  Our students are busily trying to finish the semester with assignments, lab reports, and papers, while simultaneously studying for exams.

Late May is almost certainly the season of stress for families with high school students.  As parents, we often wonder how we can help our students prepare both mentally and academically for exams when we are so busy ourselves.  To help answer this question, I turned to the experts on the subject, who, as it turns out, are nearby and easy to contact.  You guessed it!  I called the parents who have had a few students go through the exam process in previous years, and who always seem to have their acts together.  As it happens, they are eager to pass their ideas on to others.

The advice I received from fellow parents was simple, easy to follow, and really just a matter of common sense.  Here are some of the tips I received:

  • Stay positive and try not to add stress by focusing on grades.  Avoid questions like, “How many points do you need to get an A?” and instead focus on the study process and learning with questions like, “What section will you review first?” or “Which course outcomes will be included on your exam?”
  • Know your child and follow his or her cues.  Does he or she want help from you?  One parent talked about working quietly on her own project near her studying child so that she was easily available but not hovering.
  • This next tip is a classic but one that is especially important at exam time: have a comfortable study space away from the TV, computer, and family noise.  Make sure it’s not too comfortable though–studying while lying in bed has obvious drawbacks!
  • Encourage regular breaks–studying for hours on end is not helpful.  Snacks during breaks can help too!  Another way to have an effective break is to add physical activity.  Even a little exercise will increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain and will reduce stress.
  • Encourage study groups and studying with friends.  Many parents offer to host these study groups; others encourage “virtual” study groups via FaceTime.
  • Offer relief from regular household chores for a week or two.  This one will be popular in my house!
  • Ensure that your child is using the study guides that many teachers provide.
  • Encourage your child to contact his or her teacher for a little extra help.  Teachers go out of their way to help students all year, but this is especially true at exam time.  Help is available in person and sometimes via e-mail as well.

Above all, it’s helpful to remind our teens that stress is a natural part of life and can actually be beneficial if managed well.  As parents, we can work to be models of effective stress management, and we can help our students to feel confident and well prepared as they head into exam week.

I’m going to take the advice of my fellow parents and try a few things on this list.  What will you try?  I would love to hear back from you with your tips and advice.


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