The ST Guide To... helping your child sail through examinations

Pupils revising their homework at Queenstown Primary School.
Pupils revising their homework at Queenstown Primary School. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - With the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) this week (Oct 1) and year-end examinations soon to follow, it is not just students who are feeling the pressure. Parents, too, feel the stress. We speak to experts for 12 ways for parents to help their children to survive the exam season.

1. One of the best ways to ease the stress on your child during exam time is to make home life as calm and pleasant as possible. Get other family members to cooperate. Remind them to keep the volume of the TV or music low, for example.

2. Talk to your child and help him decide on a fixed area at home where he can study with the fewest distractions. Make sure he has everything he needs - pens, pencils, highlighters and cards for creating revision notes. Unless your child is actually using the computer for revision, turn it off.

3. Catching an hour of revision here and there won’t do. Work out a revision timetable with your child. You need a plan that is realistic and that he can stick to. Encourage him to mix up the revision for weak and strong subjects. If he starts by revising the subjects he finds most difficult, his confidence may be affected. For most children, concentration falls off after half an hour or one hour. Break revision time into chunks with short breaks at the end of each session. 

4. Encourage your child to get his notes in order for each subject before starting on the revision. Having notes organised into topics for each subject may be helpful. If he is struggling with a topic or question, encourage him to take note of it and seek his teacher’s help. Encourage him to set targets he knows he can reach each day, and tick them off as he achieves them. This will build confidence and lessen anxiety.

5. In the run-up to exams, try to be at home as much as possible. Ensure he sticks to his revision schedule and takes enough breaks in-between.

6. Make sure there are plenty of healthy snacks in the fridge and try to provide good, nutritious meals.

7. Encourage your child to join family meals - it’s important to have a change of scene. Also, encourage him to take a walk with you, say to the supermarket. This will help clear his mind before the next revision session.

8. Check the dates of each exam and keep a record of them where it can easily be seen.

9. It is important for your child to get a good night's sleep before an exam, so discourage him from staying up late to cram.

10. Make a final check each morning before he leaves home for school so that he is fully prepared for the day’s exams. Writing instruments, along with the other requirements such as calculators, should be checked.

11. It is common practice for parents to “bribe” their children to do well in exams. I know of parents who have offered trips, a new iPad or even cash for every A* the child scores. 

But as motivational psychology experts such as Dr Richard Ryan have advised, this is definitely the wrong tactic if you want your child to take responsibility for his own learning. 

In an interview with The Sunday Times a few years ago, he noted that if a parent were to say, “I will give you this if you achieve all As”, the child is likely to do it for that reward. It also means that, subsequently, the child will think the only reason to learn is to get the reward.

This also puts the responsibility for learning on the parent, as the parent has to monitor the child, instead of a child assimilating and really internalising the value of learning and hard work.

12. After each exam,  your child may want to talk about the paper, especially if he found it difficult. Hear him out, but don’t dwell on it. Be positive and continue to encourage him. Let him know that you love him and that you respect his hard work and effort. Tell him you will be there to support him, regardless of the scores he gets.