5 ways you can help your child prepare for exams

Do you sometimes feel more a hindrance than a help to your child when they are studying?

We spare a thought for the thousands of students around the country preparing for Junior and Leaving certificate exams this summer. 
Who in their right mind would trade places with them?
Whilst I do empathise with the students, often it's not just the students themselves who feel the stress and strain of exam preparation. It is natural for parents to be concerned about how well their child will do in their exams, how much revision is stressing them out and whether they will achieve the required points for that university place. Many parents feel a sense of powerlessness in not being able to alleviate this “suffering” like strain. Students can find it difficult to ‘get down to it’ and feel overwhelmed at the thought of the workload.  Throw in a mix of teenage hormones and emotions and you can see students left with a build up of tension, panic and stress resulting in strained relationships at home.
Fear not, as you are not alone in this. Rather than suffering through weeks of stress and potential arguments take a proactive approach and get involved in your son/daughters exam preparation. Prove to them that you are there to help them through this difficult time. Remember that actions speak louder than words! By following these 5 simple steps below you can help your teen to get organised and prepared whilst building positive relationships with them. You will be more informed and will be able to offer more appropriate encouragement and advice and importantly, they will see you as support rather than an annoyance!
Step 1) The low down 
The likelihood is that things have changed quite considerably since you sat your state exams. SPEAK to your son/daughter about their workload, ask them to prepare a document for you which highlights all of the subjects that they are studying and have to sit an exam in. Ask them to give brief details on the subject, how many papers they will sit and if there is a coursework, journal, aural, oral or practical element involved. Getting it down on paper is invaluable and may be the wake up call that they need to kick start the work.
Step 2) The hit list 
Now that you are both in the know, create an exam timetable with your son/daughter, highlighting clearly the dates for all exams. Include deadlines for submission of journals and coursework as well as dates for practical and oral examinations. Keep this information in a visible location in your house so that you can both keep track of it and discuss upcoming deadlines. 
Be warned, having all of this information on paper can seem daunting, even overwhelming at the start…. it is important that step 2 is followed closely by step 3, psychologically this will relieve stress and everybody should start to feel better about the situation.
Step 3) The Timetable 
This is probably the most time consuming step, however, if you invest time together into planning a realistic, comprehensive study timetable you will reap the rewards. 
The most important thing to remember here is to be realistic. Be wary of over planning - if people plan to do too much in a given time, they are setting themselves up for failure [this happens in every aspect of our lives not just when it comes to exam preparation]. Failure to complete what we have set out to do can cause stress, panic and gives us a psychological low.  It is best to create long [and overall plan], medium [weekly targets] and short term plans [daily goals]. Consider having soft copies of the plans so that they can be easily reviewed and adapted.
Manage time so that they spend time blocks on each subject with sufficient breaks in between. The brain needs time to digest new information and store it in our long term memory. Don’t forget to plan for these breaks. A good guide is that the mind works best in 25 minute spans with 5 minute breaks – everyone is slightly different so see what works best for your child. Down time is very important, as are lie in’s and of course the daily social media browse!    
Step 4) The Brain Food 
While study is at the forefront, nutrition is often the furthest thing from students’ minds. However, a healthy diet plays a vital role in attaining optimal academic performance during the rigours and challenges of exam preparation. This is where you can help! 
Key nutritious foods and their components have been found to enhance cognitive function, improve mental alertness and enable sustained concentration to help students learn and remember. It is important to encourage your son/daughter to follow a healthy diet. For optimum academic performance it is best to consume a healthy diet comprising a mix of fruit, vegetables, meat, cereals, nuts, seeds and dairy. Make it simple for them by preparing healthy, nutritious and tasty meals which are packed with brain food! A healthy high fibre breakfast is extremely important to kick start the day and will encourage sustained energy for mental alertness and concentration. Water is important and will fuel the body, helping the students stay alert and hydrated.
Now for some Science…. 
Tyrosine is an amino acid which is key to the transfer of memories to long-term storage and also linked to motivation. It is found in avocados, turkey, chicken, red meat, dairy, lentils, beans and sesame seeds.
Serotonin, produced from the amino acid tryptophan, is found in brown rice, cottage cheese, salmon, red meat, carrots, peanuts and sesame seeds. It helps in the regulation of memory, learning and mood.
Remember the healthier the diet, the more effective the brain is at retaining information and the better your teen will perform come exam time. So its time for you to get into the kitchen and get cooking!
Step 5) The Treats
It is important for students to set SMART targets (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound) for each study session so that they are 100% productive. Think of a variety of different ways that they can reward themselves when a specific goal or target has been achieved. Whilst the ideal situation is that students are intrinsically motivated to study in order to achieve their best, often the reality is that an extrinsic reward can keep them focused and on track during the more challenging times. The key is to keep it simple! Sample rewards include screen time - watch an episode, social time - contact a friend, social media – browse the net, sport- go for a kick around or whatever it is that they enjoy doing. Some outdoor time and fresh air is a great break from what can be intense studying inside.
If they are rewarding themselves with a quick break from studying, it is important to remember that it is that, a QUICK break! Make sure that they set a time limit for the reward/break and don't listen to the voice that says "Just a few more minutes."
Hopefully these 5 simple steps will have you both well on your way to feeling positive about the weeks and months ahead. To finish with a good old teacher cliché…if you fail to prepare….you are preparing to fail!
Watch out for follow up articles on learning styles as well as useful study skills and techniques.
Written by Anna Lawlor, Family Friendly HQ's Education Expert


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