How can families help kids better manage Year 12 exam stress?
Key to reduced anxiety and exam success is creating a study environment where students can thrive, says a UNSW Sydney educational psychology researcher.
Exam stress is normal, but families can play an important role in managing this difficult time. Photo: Tim Gouw/Unsplash.
Final Year 12 exams are a very stressful time for students, families and teachers alike. While feelings of anxiety and other intense emotions are normal, the skills and strategies to manage these situations are vital to getting families through this busy, difficult time.
Scientia Associate Professor Rebecca Collie, School of Education, UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture, is an educational psychology researcher in teacher and student motivation and wellbeing. She says creating a study environment where students can thrive is key to their success.
Preparing for study
Preparation is important. First, make sure your child has a quiet and neat space to study without distraction, says A/Prof. Collie.
“Encouraging your child to create a study schedule that works for them is the next step. For some, 50-minute blocks with 10-minute breaks work. For others, it might be 25-minute blocks with five-minute breaks.”
A/Prof. Collie says to remember to revisit the schedule with regular check-ins with your child and discuss whether it’s working.
“Ask how things are going and if anything isn’t working out. It’s ok to change the schedule until you find what works best.”
Study and performance strategies
Once a dedicated study space and study schedule are underway, A/Prof. Collie has some tips to help students study.
- Breaking study up into smaller pieces: “Our research shows that setting small, achievable goals and marking them off can be motivating for students,” she says. “For example, breaking up revision work into different areas and ticking each off as it’s completed can be really encouraging.”
- Regularly making links with prior knowledge: “We often learn better when we can link new knowledge with prior knowledge,” says A/Prof. Collie. “By building on prior experience, students have a solid foundation to acquire and remember new knowledge.”
- Distilling vast information into its essence: “Efforts to isolate and remember the key facts about a topic can help students to learn the material,” says A/Prof. Collie. “This strategy is associated with better performance in exams.”
- Developing strategies for the unexpected: “Sometimes tricky exam questions can make students panic. It may be helpful for parents to model and discuss strategies for when the unexpected strikes,” says A/Prof. Collie. “So pausing and taking a deep breath would be where to start, and then thinking about the fact that this question must be linked to something studied. Suggest the student looks for those links.”
- Modelling adaptability and self-regulation: “Our research shows that being adaptable is a skill associated with greater academic success,” says A/Prof. Collie. “Adaptability involves adjusting our thoughts, emotions and behaviours when we are faced with a novel experience. An example of adaptability when studying is the student going and asking a teacher or peer for help rather than sitting there without making progress. Or minimising frustration by focusing on positive feelings, such as by looking at the progress they’ve made in their studying so far.”
Ensuring tidy, dedicated study space is key to success. Photo: Iewek Gnos/Unsplash.
Health and wellbeing
Ample research shows that physical and mental wellbeing is vital to student success, says A/Prof. Collie.
“Sleep is required for the brain to learn effectively,” she says. “Given this, a good night’s rest should be made a priority.”
Encourage your child to maintain social connections and a sense of belonging even during the busy study times.
A/Prof. Collie also emphasises the importance of breaks from study. Productive breaks could include going for a walk, socialising or even playing a video game if that’s what your child enjoys.
Should the focus be on results?
Every student is different. Some will want to focus on grades, while others will be less inclined to.
“Overall, it's important to remember that Year 12 is just one year and hold this in perspective,” says A/Prof. Collie. “The end-of-year exams isn’t the only entry into university or whatever a student wants to do next. There are many alternative pathways to get where they want to go.
What’s not helpful and what is?
A top-down approach that dictates a student’s time and schedule is likely to be less effective in terms of achieving success and supporting students’ well-being.
“We know from research that generally it can be stressful for students when parents or caregivers are too inflexible,” says A/Prof. Collie.
“Instead, parents can let their child have a say by figuring what schedule and study routine works best for them.”
A/Prof. Collie’s research also shows that when parents use supportive strategies and take time to listen to their child’s perspective and provide rationales for why certain decisions are made, this contributes to greater motivation, engagement and achievement.