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Getting to Grips with the Exams

Teenagers entering their final years of schooling are often confronted with statements outlining the extreme importance of doing well at this stage in their lives - and this comes when they have very little grasp of the context of what is being said, having not lived all that long. Here are some key things you can try to do to support them during this potentially stressful period:

1. Understand the exam timetable.

You’ll get more cooperation and communication with your teenagers if you take the time to understand the mechanics of what they are going through. In Years 10 and 11 in the UK, things get very focused on exams which occur normally towards the end of Year 11. Schools usually have this worked out like a well-oiled machine and are normally willing to share their plans with parents so that their students get the best possible results. Spend time taking this all on board; draw up your own calendars and schedules if you need to; get estimates of workload and times of the year when things are particularly stressful. Be seen to be interested and supportive and your teenagers will flourish that bit more, knowing that you are working with them.

2. Ask the school questions.

Sometimes what schools consider normal language about such matters can come across as gobbledegook to parents who have been out of the education system for years. Get terms explained if you need to; show a willingness to engage and be part of the process. Most schools will welcome your participation with open arms as in the end you and the school are working towards the same goal here: a happy and productive child who has been able to demonstrate competence in a selection of subjects.

3. Be vigilant.

As the exam years get underway, the teenagers themselves often do not automatically recognise that anything is different or that a change of gears might be required - quite the opposite, in fact. Old routines, social patterns and bad habits normally roll forward and impede the concentration and progress that will be needed for the person to do well. As early as possible in Year 10 - or even before, if you can - you need to try to convey to your child that these coming years are different and that the approach needs to change, even if only slightly. Work out with them what they want to get out of the process and then establish some guidelines that they can agree with - then be watchful. A slight deviation from successful routines in Year 10 can slowly, incrementally turn into a major problem by Year 11. Keep things on agreed-upon rails from the beginning.

4. Install agreed safety routines around social media.

One of the biggest forms of distraction and destruction during this time is the modern phenomenon of social media. At its best, it can help a teenager to stay anchored and in touch with friends even during busy times; at its worst, it can lead to the teenager placing themselves at risk. In between, it can waste a lot of their valuable time. Tackle this as early as your child can grasp what you mean. Their safety has to be paramount at all times, and this is one of those areas where it can be undermined right under your nose because of modern technology. Don’t be ‘anti-technology’, but be vigilant.

5. Monitor homework.

Contact and cooperate with the school when it comes to homework rather than leaving it all to your teenager, even though he or she may be aggressive in asserting that ‘everything is under control’. Schools usually have ways of tracking homework and should be open to you being kept in the loop regarding a child’s progress through bodies of work. This will probably mean that you will have to set up a different timetable over these years: students revising for exams are normally expected to spend many hours a week on each subject, so something will have to ‘give’. Again, getting a teenager’s cooperation with this adjustment is key, and so try to do this when you have their full attention and they can be cheerful about it rather when an issue has already started to appear.

Teenagers aren’t normally used to the kinds of demands placed on them during these later years of schooling. They may try to ‘put a brave face’ on things and convince you that all is well. Contact the school and use the tips above to help steer your teenager through these challenges.

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