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Supporting Teens Through Exam Season


Exam season is coming—and with it, a lot of stress, headaches and perhaps a few tears. As a parent, it can be bewildering to watch your teen prepare for something so critical to their future. It’s hard to know how to give them help or support, so we spoke with Nickeisha Thomas, the high school guidance counsellor at ACS International School, Doha, and student, Melanie Meijer, for tips on keeping your teen on track for success.

1. Prepare a study space

Your teen likely already has a favourite study space. Before the start of revisions, make sure it’s clean and stocked with all the materials they’ll need. Invite them to make it their own—a shopping trip to Daiso or Hema may yield exciting new possibilities for sprucing up their study area. If your teen prefers to study in a common area, you will need to keep tabs on things like noise and activity levels.

Keep little siblings from playing nearby and ask other family members to keep the volume down on the television. That said, some do find background noise helpful, so gauge their preferences and act accordingly.

2. Make a schedule 

Your child needs to take the initiative by drafting a schedule that outlines their revision sessions. Once they have a proposed schedule, review it with them to ensure that it is realistic. For example, few students can concentrate for more than a few hours at a time, so make sure they pencil-in appropriate breaks. Melanie finds building small rewards into her study schedule motivating and effective at limiting procrastination.

Alternatively, if you notice that they are not following their study plan, avoid nagging them. Instead, Nickeisha recommends offering to take another look at their schedule. Help your child discover why their studies have not gone according to plan and review options to improve. “Discussion will be an important sign that you are thinking of their whole wellbeing,” Nickeisha adds.

3. Suggest a new study style

Rote learning has its place, but many students benefit from exploring more dynamic ways to grasp new concepts. Consider buying a whiteboard for a more visual style of revision, or encourage them to record lectures on their smartphone for playback at home. Melanie says she finds practice tests useful, while her twin brother prefers to rewrite classroom notes. No one method works for everyone, so it might take some experimentation for your child to discover what clicks for them.

4. Encourage healthy routines 

Decision fatigue isn’t just for busy execs—life can seem suddenly overwhelming in the face of a giant to-do list. Ensure that mealtimes are set at the same time every day so your teen can anticipate the evening ahead. It’s also important to ensure that they get seven to eight hours of sleep every night, as deep sleep reinforces learning and improves memory recall. Melanie notices that many of her peers stay up until midnight trying to get on top of their revisions, which is ultimately counterproductive. Remove any temptation to aimlessly scroll through social media apps at night by asking them to leave their phone in another room. You can also consider leaving your phone as well in a show of solidarity (it’s a good habit to cultivate anyway!).

5. Give them space

Your role is to support, not direct. “It is possible for a parent to do too much!” Nickeisha tells us. You might wonder whether your teen can manage it all on their own, but for future success, they need to have the ability to act independently. If you are worried, have a discussion upfront and review their study schedule. But ultimately, step back and give them space to execute their plan.

6. Pencil-in fun 

We mean active fun—passively sitting in front of the television or flicking around on a smartphone doesn’t count! Exercise is a great stress reliever and releases feel-good hormones, which are huge plusses during revision time. Try booking them a boxing or yoga class, or plan a bowling session with family friends. Alternatively, a low-key night spent playing cards or games is a great way to relax after intense study sessions. Melanie’s parents take the initiative to plan family board-game nights. “They know I need to take a break every now and then, even though sometimes I don’t!” she says.

Remind your child to take a balanced approach to exam revision. If you’ve noticed that they’ve become too wrapped up in their studies, encourage them to make time for friends and family or unwind with a favourite hobby. You can initiate this discussion by asking about a close friend or inquiring whether, for instance, they’ve drawn anything or read something interesting lately.

7. Don’t add stress 

Constant pushing or nagging by well-meaning parents can aggravate an already stressed child. Questions like “did you study?” or “did you do well on the mock exam?” can cause your child to become resentful and shut down. “These questions are going on in our mind already!” says Melanie. Phrase things in a way that relieves, rather than heightens, anxiety. “Parents tend to stress and get worried about their child’s success … but that stress just adds stress!” explains Nickeisha.

Teens need to know that, whatever the result, you still love them and are proud of their efforts. You might think this is an obvious point, but it’s one worth repeating.

8. Watch for signs 

You know your child—if you feel that they are unusually stressed or anxious, say something. Approach your child, noting any peculiar habits or behaviours you’ve seen during revision time. Perhaps they’ll open up; perhaps they won’t. But if they do share their anxieties, then you can gently guide them through these difficult feelings. You can help them figure out whether their fears are realistic or their worries are likely to happen—you might even help them come up with a plan to prevent unwanted outcomes. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from teachers or other school staff. If your child is suffering from severe bouts of anxiety or depression, then the staff can often make referrals. Nickeisha says that ACS connects students needing  support to professional therapists from Hamad’s CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and Sidra Medicine.

A final note

It’s all too easy for students to lose perspective, so parents need to help them learn to cope with feelings of stress and anxiety. A good piece of advice, shared by Melanie, is this: “If you have a feeling that an exam went bad—whether it did or not—don’t take that mindset into the next exam!” The ability to stay positive and keep going, despite doubts, is an essential life skill that your teens can learn.