Exams advice for parents: How to support your son or daughter
Remember, these papers are not designed to catch students out, writes Brian Mooney
What you eat and drink affects your performance in any activity, especially one involving mental sharpness. Photograph: Getty Images
For many parents having a son or daughter take the Junior or Leaving Cert this week brings back waves of fear and anxiety which they last experienced when taking the exam themselves.
For many parents this sense of dread leaves them feeling overwhelmed and powerless in assisting their child to successfully negotiate their way through the next two weeks of exams. You can do a huge amount now to support your son or daughter, to make the experience for the whole family a rigorous but not necessarily stressful one.
There is a variety of course options open to all students, whether they secure high points or not, which will ultimately leave them in a position to enter their chosen career area. Very high points simply speed up the process.
Parents need to reassure their children the State Exams Commission (SEC), in drafting the papers in each subject, has not set out to catch them out. Rather the exams are designed to enable students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of each topic they have explored over the past two to three years of their programme.
Certain sections within individual questions are designed to test the brightest and the best students to the absolute limit of their potential. So parents should reassure their child that success is always relative to your ability in any paper, and not to get upset if the child fines the paper impossible to complete, perhaps a section or part of a particular topic.
Principals and deputy principals, who have guided students through this process over many years, will also be close at hand every day to resolve problems which may arise.
Junior Cert students face the biggest challenge this week with two papers daily in English (Wednesday), Irish (Thursday), and Geography/Maths (Friday).
Leaving Cert students on the other hand have an easier week ahead of them, with almost all students sitting English Paper 1 on Wednesday, English Paper 2 Thursday afternoon, and Maths Paper 1 on Friday afternoon.
Smaller numbers of Leaving Cert students will sit papers in home economics S&S on Wednesday afternoon, Engineering on Thursday morning, and Geography on Friday morning.
Ten tips for supporting your son or daughter
(1) Know the exam schedule. Pin the exam timetable up prominently at home, with each exam to be taken highlighted. Diary the date and time of each paper your student has to take. In the stress of the whole exam period you need to be always aware when they have to be in the examination centre.
(2) Ensure that your son or daughter is present for each exam. For parents who are working, and leaving home early, avoid the ultimate disaster of your child missing an exam. Ensure they are up and dressed before you leave home for work each morning. A small number of students regularly fail to turn up for morning papers.
(3) Draw up a check list of daily requirements, based on the day’s exams. Make a final check each morning before you leave home, so your son or daughter is fully prepared for the day’s exams. Writing instruments along with the other requirements such as rulers, erasers, calculators, should be checked, along with reading glasses, water, and any non intrusive nourishment such as glucose sweets, or fruit.
(4) Listen to the story of the day and move on. After each day’s exams allow your son or daughter to recount to you their daily story. Do not be tempted to review in detail with them any errors or omissions in the paper. Such a process achieves absolutely nothing, other than to increase the student’s stress levels. Simply allow them the time and space to tell their story and move on to the next challenge, the next paper.
(5) Help them to focus on the next challenge. It can be helpful to your son or daughter to review the paper or papers immediately ahead. Simple questions such as, what is up next? Are there any compulsory sections? Are there any predictable questions? These questions can be useful in helping your student devise a study schedule for the time available before the next exam.
(6) Help them maintain a well-balanced daily routine. You should ensure your son/daughter has a proper balance between study and rest. After an exam they need time to rest and recharge before they can do any beneficial study for the next paper. Remember that on average this is a two-week process and they need top be as sharp on the morning of their final paper as they are today.
Late-night study sessions are not advised.
(7) A good night’s sleep improves exam performance. All study should end at least an hour before bedtime to allow the student to unwind before sleep. To help relaxation at this time, simple treats such as a hot bath, or some simple breathing exercises to slow down the body and mind can result in a refreshing night’s sleep. It is not advisable to fall straight into bed from the study desk as your mind will be buzzing for hours as you attempt to get to sleep.
(8) You are what you eat. What you eat and drink affects your performance in any activity, especially one involving mental sharpness. As a parent you should try to ensure your son or daughter has nutritious food during the coming weeks, starting with breakfast each morning, the lunch they bring with them if they are facing two exams, their evening meal, as well as snacks during the day. Grazing on junk food is very tempting at times of increased stress. Avoid this at all costs.
(9) Success is always a team effort. Drawing on the support of everything that is potentially positive in a student’s life helps to maximise exam performance. Such supports include a heightened awareness on the part of all family members in their interactions with the person doing exams, appropriate interactions with their friends, and participation in any sporting or social activity that is not injurious to ongoing success in the exams. All these factors help to maintain a student’s spirits during such an extended exam period.
(10) Do not over hype the importance of any examination. It is very easy in the middle of a stress-inducing experience such as a major exam to get the whole event totally out of perspective. Parents need to be aware that sons or daughters taking terminal examinations can sometimes mistakenly believe their standing in their parents’ eyes is dependent on their success in the exam.
Parents should ensure their student facing into the State exams over the coming weeks is absolutely clear that your unconditional love and regard for them is in no way dependent on how they perform in the Junior or Leaving Cert.
This affirmation is the greatest gift you can give them at the start of their examinations.