Exams – emotional torture?

We are currently working with several children who are taking/have recently taken exams. The ages of these children vary from 11 to 16 and cover GCSE’s, school entrance exams and 11+. The children have all needed to focus on different aspects of their learning to be able to pass the exams (currently we have a very high success rate), however one common theme with them all is exam technique.

Test paper for an exam

During a session recently, knowing that the student had just taken a mock GCSE paper, the tutor asked how it had gone. “It was awful, I had a panic attack” was not quite the response we would have hoped for, (you should know we have only recently started working with this student). From the story that unfolded it sounds like she was unfortunate and had a series of events that went wrong that day, from being sat at the wrong desk with the wrong level paper, to working through the correct paper only to discover that it was still wrong. Everyone else was doing a non-calculator paper – she had been given a calculator paper, with no calculator! Extra time was quickly given and a calculator found, she then sat the non-calculator whilst everyone else was sitting the calculator paper and hopefully it has all worked out in the end.

Even with the exam going to plan are we still putting extra stress on our children? Is an exam “emotional torture?” We hope that with the right preparation and practice that it shouldn’t put any extra stress on a child. With younger children we explain that this is just to see what they understand and that they should have a go at every question; they need to try to do their best. Children can very quickly pick up that their parents think this test is very important and they need to be amazing. This leads to them putting pressure on themselves as well as the possible and unintended pressure from their parents. Older children can also follow the same route as they become aware of how important GCSE and further exams are for their future.

During exam time it is important to keep routines familiar and flexible. Establish a revision timetable as soon as possible so that it becomes part of the routine. Keep calm about the practice exams as well as the actual exam so that it becomes natural. Some adrenaline is a good thing as it will keep energy up during the exam but too much can lead to rushing through questions without reading them properly or thinking what the question is asking.

Exams really shouldn’t be emotional torture; at the moment they are the method used to assess learning and knowledge. The support from family, friends, teachers and tutors can make a big difference to the student and their results.

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