Taking entrance exams to a new school or any other exams can be a stressful and even a traumatic experience for both children and parents. How you handle it is key to how your child experiences it. Although difficult to put into practice, it is crucial that you give your child support with the message that whatever the outcome you love them, you are there for them and you will work out a solution together. Schools, tutors and revision books can help prepare the child academically, but as a parent you can give huge amounts of support emotionally. Below is a list of useful tips when preparing for exams.
- When discussing the preparation work involved use a positive, bright tone of voice.
- Explain that the exam is an opportunity for the child to show the school all his wonderful qualities.
- Praise your child in detail and descriptively, giving concrete examples of what they are doing right: 'You got down to your work straight away and you used the strategies your teacher taught you’; ‘You have written clearly and attempted all the questions on the test paper and even if you didn't know the answers, you tried to do them.'
- Don't tell your child they are 'clever'. Children praised for qualities such as hard work, perseverance, determination, flexibility, open-mindedness and inquisitiveness are much more willing to rise to challenges and push themselves harder. A child that is constantly told he is clever will feel that there is less of a need to try or that if they try and fail it means they aren't clever. Click here to read a very interesting article by the pschycologist, Carol Dwek http://pss.sagepub.com/content/18/4/314.extract
- Show that you understand how they are feeling by putting it into words for them: ‘This is a period when there’s a lot of uncertainty; you feel under pressure to perform to your best ability and you’re probably worrying whether you will be ok on the day.’ ‘This extra work feels like a huge burden and a part of you just wants to run away and hide sometimes.’ ‘Maybe you feel like you have been working hard, but you’re worried that it still isn't enough.'
- Tell your child that life doesn't always go in straight lines and whatever the outcome of the exams, together you will work out a solution. Remind him that, whatever happens, your love for him will be the same.
Felix, aged 10, doing secondary school entrance exam preparation:
‘Mummy, if I don’t get into the schools I want this year, can I go to any school, work hard in year 7 and try again for the one I want – are you allowed to do that?’ I said, ‘Yes, you can definitely do that and if that's what happens then we’ll work out a great solution. I have a feeling we won't need to though, as I know you can show the schools all your strengths during the exam and interview.’
The next day he said, ‘We did a test yesterday and it went well. I went back and answered a question I couldn’t answer at first and I got it right. I’m not scared of exams anymore.’ I talked to him about how much his brain is growing and how much he’s learning and how hard he’s working. It was a lovely chat. It then felt very disappointing later, whilst I was sitting with him as he did some work, when he shouted at me saying I hated him and that he hated me, and I loved Molly (the cat) more and that I was stupid. In the end I just calmly said, ‘Felix, I feel really hurt by what you say and although I want to help you, I don’t want to sit and be shouted at.’ He became an absolute Jekyll and Hyde character during this period. I’m sure it was all connected to the stress of entrance exams and I had to keep reminding myself of that.