Does your child fall apart when faced with a test or exam?  It’s not unusual for kids who perform well in class and get good grades for homework assignments to find nerves wipe their memory clean of all they’ve learned in a test. There’s no magical cure – and you certainly don’t want to start your kids on Valium to calm their nerves!  However, familiarity with answering questions under pressure helps.

Practice makes perfect

Unfortunately, there usually isn’t a means of students practising answering exam questions in exam conditions, other than in the classroom.  However, you can get previous exam questions for quite a range of GCSE subjects here and also AS and A level papers here. To help your child get used to the exam environment encourage them to pick a question and write their answer with no computer, no mobile phone, no interruptions in as near exam conditions as you can create.  The more familiar they are with reading exam questions and writing answers, the more comfortable they’ll get with the actual exam situation. When they know they can answer questions well, it will give their confidence a boost and help to calm their anxieties. To add encouragement ask them to write a list of ‘small treats’ and reward them when they’ve completed an ‘exam’.  Treats might include a cinema visit, breakfast in bed at the weekend, Mum or Dad playing taxi-driver outside normal trips, or something else that will give them something to look forward to.

Slow and steady wins the race

Other things that can help is to work with your child, using previous exam questions, to encourage them to take their time reading the question and planning their answer.  This is particularly useful where narrative answers are needed. One of the biggest hurdles children fall at is that they don’t read the question properly and panic when writing their answers.  Help your child to slow down, take the time to read the questions carefully before starting to write an answer and do some planning of what needs to be included. Get them to discuss the question with you and outline what they think the key issues are that need to be covered.  Ask the questions like ‘why is that important?’ and ‘what impact will that have?’

Turn them into a teacher

When it comes to learning formulae and processes, get them to teach them to you – there’s nothing like explaining something to someone else to embed concepts. The more confident they are that they know a concept thoroughly, the better they’ll be able to recall it, even when nerves are interfering.

An alternative approach

If exam nerves are a big problem, it might be worth getting some help with some hypnotherapy or counselling support. The Exemplar programme offers revision of key Maths and English concepts up to Year 12.