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Supporting your child during exams

The home and consequently family, must be a child’s number one support system, a launching pad from which the child takes off, to face the world.

It thus goes without saying that any sound and fruitful exam preparation, must start a home.

It is important to remember that your child’s performance in exams is not about you. It does not reflect on you in any way. If they choose not to work, that is their problem, not yours.

One of our key jobs as parents is to help our children to develop their own intrinsic motivation. This means the capacity to want to do things because they are worth doing, and not because someone else is standing over them telling them that they must.

It is, however, perfectly reasonable to help your child to think through the consequences of failure, which might include, for example:

Having to retake a year or more’s schooling;

Not being able to attend the college of their choice, or study the subject of their choice.

It is, however, important to stress that this is about helping them to become aware of what might happen, not forcing them to work by another route.

It is important also, to develop a strategy for supporting studying that works for you and your child, but at the very least it needs:

To help your child to develop habits of studying effectively on their own;

To enable you to stay abreast of your child’s work, and provide help if necessary. This may be from your own knowledge, or advice about research, or even a note to the school to explain where a problem lies.


Be familiar with your child’s exam schedule

Most parents have 9 to 5 jobs, and those who don’t, have a business or hustle that takes most of their time. As a result, planning is critical, and this entails knowing everything there is to know about the exam. Don’t leave it to your son or daughter to inform you of their exam timings. Get a printout and pin it up where you can all see it and keep an online copy for reference, if required.

Avoid arguments

Exams are generally stressful. Thus, you don’t want to your child’s stress. Do all you can to ensure there is peace at home. If the bed isn’t made, you’re within your rights to point it out, but avoid prolonged arguments over it for now, since your child needs to focus on their exams. It’s a team effort and the family has to pull together and make sure all energies are devoted to the task at hand.

Have meals with the family

Chances are, your child is cooped up in their room for long hours preparing for their exams. Make sure they have their meals with the family, so that they get a break from the monotony of constant studying. Keep the dining table conversation light, so that your child feels refreshed.

Avoid burdening them with your stress

We know you’re stressed, probably even more than your child. But when the exam date nears, it’s time to back off and let the child be calm. If you’re still wracked by nerves, vent to a partner or a friend. Your child is stressed enough and can do without you adding to it.

Make sure they get a good night’s sleep

A good night’s sleep is very important. Check your child’s timetable to ensure they have enough time for a well-earned sleep. This will calm their nerves and keep them alert on the big day.

Keep them away from digital distractions

It’s difficult to

steer clear of digital devices completely, but it’s critical to do so during exam time. Install parental controls on your child’s devices so that you can ensure they keep away from distractions and focus on doing their best during exams.

Incentives and bribes

There’s a fine line between an incentive to do well and outright bribery. Your child should be motivated to put their best foot forward in their exams, without you offering a bribe, such as an expensive gift. However, a family meal or outing is a good idea after the exam as it will also help take the pressure off.

Be a sounding board

Ask them how their exam went, but withhold judgment. Offer to be a listening post, without blaming them for anything they’ve got wrong in the answer sheet. Be encouraging about the remaining tests and keep them hopeful about the outcome. Let them know you’re there to them support, whatever the outcome.

Be available

Make time for your child, particularly during the important papers. If possible, if you have leave left, inform your office and take it during this time so you can be around your child. Stay aware of their needs, whether it’s a spot of revision, a cup of coffee to perk them up or just being available to address any concerns.

Maintain a balanced diet and routine

Whether it’s the daily glass of milk or almonds, make sure your child isn’t skipping meals and is eating on time. Nutrition plays an important role in keeping energy levels up.

Failure as a symptom of something else

It is not unknown for failing exams to be a symptom of a bigger problem, particularly an undiagnosed learning difficulty such as dyslexia.

Rather than assuming that your child has simply failed to work hard enough, it may be worth discussing what problems and issues they have found during the year: have they, for example, struggled to get through reading lists, or found it difficult to understand some of the concepts for no obvious reason?

If so, they may need additional help, and you should discuss this with the school or psychologist.

How to manage a ‘disappointing’ results day

If your child, or you, are unhappy with their exam results it can be tough to deal with. Here are some things that can help:

If your child is happy to show you their results statement, you might find it helpful to have a look, just in case they have misread or misunderstood, or overlooked something.

Accept their feelings, whatever they are – disappointment, anger, embarrassment, bravado. Their feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are.

Don’t offer immediate judgement, or solutions, or even reassurance – there will be plenty of time for conversations later. Reflect back how they are feeling to show you have understood, for example, “I can see you’re disappointed with the Maths result.”

Let them know you love them through highs and lows. Big hugs are good (although probably very embarrassing in public).

Show you’re on their side - it could be something small like getting their favourite snack. 

Give yourself some breathing space and time to reflect.

Ask the school to help your child explore any possible next steps, such as including re-takes, re-marking, alternative courses.

If your child is disappointed with their results, they might also be embarrassed. Agree with your child how they want their results discussed with family and friends, if at all.

Educationally Speaking



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