Racing heart beat. Nausea. Sweating. Trouble sleeping. Stomach aches. These can all be symptoms associated with exam anxiety. As your child moves through school, she will undoubtedly experience increasingly long, complex, and stress-inducing exams. Help her beat this exam stress with the ideas detailed below.
Create a GRAND plan
The amount of information your child needs to learn for an exam can feel downright overwhelming. There are dates to memorize, vocabulary terms to learn, notes to process, books to read – the list goes on. To help him feel less overwhelmed and more in control, encourage him to come up with an organized “grand plan” for tackling his exams. He should start by creating a diagram on a large sheet of paper, with a bubble at the top of the page containing the subject and date of the exam (i.e. English, March 1st; Math, March 3rd, etc.). Underneath each bubble, have him list the topics he needs to learn for each exam. Then, as he studies and learns each topic, he should cross it off the list. This “crossing off” action will give him a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of mastery – building motivation and confidence and reducing exam-related stress.
Break studying into steps
Rather than trying to learn all material for an exam in one night or studying at random times, encourage your child to break down her studying into organized steps and put each step into her assignment book. For instance, if she has a history exam to study for covering five chapters, she may want to map out a six day plan that involves studying one chapter per day for five days and a final (sixth) day for reviewing all five chapters. Then she should detail each day’s plan in her assignment book. For instance, on Monday she might study chapter one by reviewing the chapter material, creating flash cards on important terms, self-testing herself on the flash cards, and then perhaps answering the study guide or end-of-chapter questions. She should follow this same procedure for days two, three, for and five, and end by reviewing all of the information on the final (sixth) day.
Help your child come up with a plan for avoiding all distractions that may divert him from his study plan. He should turn off all phones, tablets, and noise making devises that he doesn’t need for studying. If he does need use his tablet or computer for his work, he can try using an app like Cold Turkey which blocks social media websites for a designated time period, so that he can focus solely on studying. Not only can checking social media be distracting, but it can lead to increased stress if his friends, say, post comments about how much they’ve already studied or how well prepared they feel for an exam, when your child feels far from ready.
Help your child prevent information overload by ensuring that she doesn’t study for hours straight. Instead, she should build in regular pre-planned breaks. For instance, she may try a strategy like STUDY-REFLECT-BREAK, where she studies for perhaps forty minutes, reflects on what she learned for ten minutes, and then takes a ten minute break. She might even build in small rewards for herself during her breaks, like a cup of hot chocolate, a quick phone check, or a short walk outside. If she effectively completes her “grand plan” (like the six day study plan detailed above) she may plan a “larger” reward for herself, like a trip to the movies, a manicure, or dinner at a special restaurant.
Try relaxation exercises
If your child continues to display ongoing stress, he may benefit from relaxation exercises. For instance, he can try laying flat on his bed or sitting comfortably on a chair and closing his eyes. Encourage him to relax his body parts, one at a time, while breathing deeply. He may start with his feet, then move to his legs, arms, torso, and so on, visualizing each body part fully relaxed and taking long, slow breaths. This type of relaxation exercise can help him feel calm, in control, and free of stress.
As your child moves through school, she will encounter an increasing number of complex, stress-inducing exams. Encourage her to try these strategies to help her tackle each exam with confidence, control, and success.