Students and Exams: A Survival Guide for Families

Oct 23, 2023
Test taking

A good support system is vital to student success year-round, but when it comes to testing or exam preparation, extra support at home can go a long way. Studying is a learned skill, and everyone is going to do it a little differently. Some will get the most out of taking detailed notes on lectures and assigned reading into a notebook; others will benefit from reading over their class notes. 

Whichever method they prefer, what matters is encouraging your children to develop consistent and productive study habits so that they not only learn and retain information but also can recall it during their exams. If your children are about to start preparing for their end-of-semester exams or high-stakes tests, here are a few things every that can be done at home to help them become champion test-takers.

1. Ban the all-nighter

Your children may be too old for an official bedtime, but when exam times rolls around, it can be helpful to bring one back. Students today are faced with a lot of academic stress, especially when it comes to exams and final projects, and as a result, they may try to work through the night to study or complete an assignment. However, if your children are going to bed too late or staying up all night to work, they’re not doing themselves any favors. 

Sleep deprivation has many negative side effects—irritability, confusion, depressed mood, and forgetfulness to name just a few—that children definitely want to avoid if they have a big exam the next day. Instead, put as much of a buffer between screen time and bed time as possible (1-hour at least), encourage a good night’s rest (9 to 11 hours for elementary and middle schoolers, 8 to 10 hours for high schoolers), and then set a firm time for lights out.

2. Encourage early rising

Just like having a healthy bedtime routine, the right morning routine can set you student up for daily success. During exam time, try to get your family on a schedule where your student is getting up early enough to give their body and their brain the opportunity to fully wake up before heading off to school. 

Waking up early enough to put time between when you get out of bed and when you head out the door helps the brain warm up before taking on any important tasks, reducing morning fogginess and helping sharpen your children’s focus in the classroom. Plus, they’ll have time to do some last-minute reviewing and eat a good breakfast.

3. Supply snacks

Food is fuel, and eating balanced, healthy meals during high-stress times of the year is especially important. Not only does it help ward off the distraction of hunger, it keeps energy levels high so that students can stay alert and focused. Stock up on energizing and nutritious snacks you student can carry along with them through out the day when they need a boost, and remind them to stay hydrated.

4. Take short breaks

Studying works best if it’s broken up into chunks; trying to memorize an entire textbook in one sitting just isn’t going to happen. Encourage students to break up their studying into manageable pieces, allowing them to digest the information they are consuming without over-taxing their attention span. Consider using a kitchen or cellphone timer to help define study periods of about 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Unplug and get outside

After studying for a long stretch, encourage students to unwind for a while and take a longer break. Suggest getting out of the house and going for a walk around the neighborhood. Switch your phones to “do not disturb,” leave the study guides at home, and just enjoy each other’s company. Keep the conversation flowing (and your student’s mind at ease) by chatting about fun things you can do over the weekend, your students favorite hobby or activity, or a movie you all recently watched. Taking a break, stretching their legs, and clearing their minds will help your children refocus when it’s time to get back to the books.

6. Study groups can be good

Some students learn better by talking through information, and study groups can be a great way to get through dense material. If you think that it would be helpful for your children to study with their peers, encourage them to invite classmates to a group session. If meeting up in-person isn’t an option, setting up a virtual study group works just as well! Provide some snacks and a quiet study space away from the rest of the family, and let them work.

P.S. - Family members and siblings make fantastic study buddy groups as well!

7. Embrace the power of tech

While it may seem like a good idea to take away computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones during study time, sometimes incorporating technology can be a big help. Online programs are a given in most classrooms today, and often children have access to supplemental materials, including videos, guided examples, and practice quizzes at home. These can be great resources to add to your children’s arsenal of exam-prep tools. 

If you’re worried about your children resisting temptation to browse the Internet, programs like Cold Turkey can temporarily block distracting websites while it is time to study.

8. Be involved

Throughout all the stress of exams, your support will need be needed. Ask your students how they are feeling about their tests, what their testing schedule is like, and if they need any help studying. Offer to quiz them or go over notes together, and let them know you are willing to help. 

Or, if your children do better being left alone to concentrate, try a more hands-off approach. It might be difficult to find the balance between being too relaxed and helicopter parenting, so ask your children directly about what kind of support they want. Communication is key!

9. Encouragement counts

At the end of the day, education shouldn’t be about grades; it should be about learning. You know that your student’s happiness will always come first, and you don’t want to see them stressed out over a test. Be sure to let your student know that success isn’t measured solely by straight A’s and that doing poorly on one test won’t be the end of their world. Remind them that you are there for support, whether its by taking the time to write a short note for their lunchboxes or simply giving them an extra big hug when they get home. Little things will mean the world to your student when they’re nervous about exams and instill a sense of confidence that will help them perform to the best of their abilities.

Preparation is key when it comes to test-day success. For more tips on test preparation, explore our article, An Exam Prep Survival Guide for Families.

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