Tag Archives: exams

Ask Rachel: Teenage stress around exams

Dear Rachel, I am really dreading my upcoming GCSE exams and all the stress that comes with it. I find it so hard to deal with all the pressure of having to buckle down and work and wish I could ignore all the expectations of my friends and parents who are constantly asking me my marks.
The stress is really hectic and causes me to feel anxious and not sleep properly. Please help!

I totally remember that feeling when I had exams. Some stress can actually help you to feel more motivated to work and certainly an adrenalin rush improves concentration in the actual exam. It’s a fine and difficult balance, as too much anxiety can lead to panic and underperformance.

Doing well in your exams should be to make you feel good. It’s not to satisfy your parents, teachers or impress your friends. True gratification comes from within and only you are responsible for your own success. On results day, you want to feel you gave it your best.

I think exam success boils down to 4 main things:

• Memory retention/ knowing your subject matter
• Organisational skills/ balancing different subjects
• Exam technique
• Attitude/ coping with pressure

Whilst tempting, it can be really unhelpful to speak to friends about how they are progressing. Try not to measure yourself against them. They may be the type to say “I’ve been making notes for the last 2 years and done loads of practice papers”. This could make you even more stressed. Or they say “Don’t worry, I have barely done anything”. This may not be true and will give you a false sense of security. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your marks with your friends then don’t.

Having a positive attitude and the right mind set will determine how much you learn and ultimately how well you do. For example, if you repeatedly say to yourself “I’ll never be able to remember all this” then you won’t! Athletes work a lot on their mental state and use psychologists to ensure peak performance.

Procrastination can also be an issue when studying; just the thought of getting started may be holding you back or not knowing where to begin. Set yourself realistic expectations and targets. Make a revision audit for each subject and break subjects down into manageable chunks, so you feel daily that you are making slow but steady progress.

Your brain will processes information whilst you sleep, so regard sleeping as essential study time. Exercise will also help get more oxygen to your brain and work off excess adrenalin to help with keeping calm. Try and establish a regular sleep pattern and try different techniques to help with sleeping such as a warm bath, hot drink, limit caffeine, meditation and breathing exercises.

Whilst GCSEs feel hugely important now, in the big picture they don’t define you.

Wishing you all the very best.

Exams looming – What is the Parent’s Role?

As a parent, of course you can’t revise for your child or sit the exam for them! However there is lots you can do to help your children get organised, stay motivated and keep calm.

How can you help your child get through exams?

Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher

Don’t leave it all up to the school.  No teacher no matter how dedicated cares as much about a child’s success as a parent does. Parental support is 8x more important  in determining a child’s academic success than social class.


Help your child to set realistic goals. Encourage them to go for their ‘personal’ best. Separate yourself from what you wished for at their age. Some, children are terrified of disappointing their parents. You may feel disappointed by a result but never by the child.  On results day, whatever the outcome, they want to be satisfied that they worked as hard as they could and gave it their all.

The reality is that many children just don’t have the maturity to conduct themselves in this way.  Try and explain when they are older and look back on this period that is what will count, not the individual grades.

Support & encourage

You are the person who loves them the most and they need to know that you are proud of them whatever happens. Try to remain calm and friendly through the revision period, rather than nagging, repeating, arguing or shouting. Help them to keep things in perspective and break down tasks into manageable chunks. Perhaps be a bit more lenient with things like chores.


Encourage your children to work for their own satisfaction, not through bribery. Schedule small and frequent rewards for effort and have some light, fun moments together as a relief from the studying. Focus on what they are doing well and use descriptive praise to mention when you notice them working without having to be reminded, staying focused for a long period etc


Encourage your children to talk about how they are feeling. Help them feel heard and understood so you are an ally not the enemy! Listen attentively to their fears and anxiety without denying them or just trying to make them feel better. Reflect back what they are feeling and empathise.

Training in good study habits

Children need to be taught how to learn and study effectively. This should be happening at school but it could really help if it’s reinforced at home. Some ideas on revision techniques here.

Help them to plan a revision timetable and get organised. Maybe you need to reorganise the family schedule so their revision is a priority and the atmosphere at home is as calm as possible.


Of course, being supportive and giving your children learning tools can help a lot. Unfortunately you can’t however make your child care!  At some stage they must take responsibility for their learning and be willing to put in the hard work.

Wishing your children the very best of luck!

Learning how to Learn – revision techniques

It is not necessarily the hardest working or the brightest child/teen who will achieve the highest marks in exams.  How well a child does in school reflects their attitude and study methods as well as ability.  Parents and schools can give children the learning tools but then of course the child has to accept responsibility for their learning and be willing to put in the hard work.

4 key elements to success in school:

  • Knowing the subject matter
  • Organisational skills
  • Revision and exam technique
  • Attitude/mind-set

Since the summer is a time for many children to sit both public and school end of year exams, I want to focus on revision techniques.  Many children rely on revising by re-reading or highlighting their school notes or the text book.  This is quite boring and is not a very effective method since it ignores the way the mind works and does not require any understanding.  Memory needs to be treated like a muscle so that dull information can be stored.  Brains need a hook – picture, pattern, colour, story or connection with other memories.  The more interested the brain is, the easier it is for the information to go in and stay in!  The left side of the brain is used for thinking about words and numbers but we need to engage the right side during revision and ‘work’ to get information into the long term memory.

Most children feel bored, resentful and anxious during revision periods but it should be effective, interesting and enjoyable.  People learn in different ways so it’s about helping your child to find a method that suits them or changing the method so the brain remains alert.

Top Revision techniques:

Post it notes/flash cards

Key words or phrases on one side, definition/answer on the back.

My 15 year old son has been using a brilliant online resource to create flash cards http://ankisrs.net/


Mind maps

See http://www.tonybuzan.com/about/mind-mapping/

Summary page

Reduce and condense notes as much as possible until a whole topic is on one side of A4.  Practice reconstructing the sheet from memory.  This is a method I relied on studying for my history degree but mainly because no one had told me about other effective methods!!

Link to song/rhyme

Kids often have an amazing ability to memorise words to their favourite songs.  Encourage them to tap into this by making up a song with a catchy tune.

Record notes

Read out notes and listen to them in bed/ travelling to school

Teach others

Explaining out loud to parents or friends in their own words is a great way to secure and clarify understanding of a subject.  Ask questions to stimulate your child’s thinking.

Practice papers

It is absolutely essential for students to be familiar with the format and rehearse what they are required to do in the exam.  Move to completing papers under timed, exam conditions.

For GCSE & A level, all the exam boards have past papers on their websites

Also see http://www.fastpastpapers.com/ where they are all in one place


The most effective way for children to learn material in the long run is to test themselves and try to retrieve material from their memory. Also planning ahead and not doing all the revision on one subject in a block before moving on to the next (distributed practice) helps to store the material in the long term memory.

Best of luck