Talk to any parent whose teenager is taking exams and they will talk about the stress. Whether their child is working too hard or not working hard enough, parents will report lots of stress and tension at home.
Our education system now includes more testing and exams than ever before. Parents, teachers and pupils complain. The politicians also complain, often wanting to change them. Exams are not seen in a very good light and the level of stress associated with them is rising.
Why do we have all these exams and tests? GCSEs at age 16 are quickly followed by AS Levels and A Levels, one year after another, with no break in between.
Exams are often perceived as a necessary evil. As a means to an end. The way to get the grades to get into University or to move onto the next stage.
Yet the real value of education is intrinsic. It’s the learning that is so valuable. The exam results are merely the way to prove it.
Education is the foundation of our society. Improve education and you improve society as a whole. Improve education and you improve an individual’s life chances, giving each person wider choices and a greater the opportunity to create a better life for themselves.
Testing and formal exams are an effective way to deliver improving education standards. What your child learns and the skills they develop whilst preparing for and taking exams are in itself extremely valuable. The knowledge they acquire is only part of it. There are so many other skills: facing challenges, overcoming obstacles, thinking clearly, stretching themselves. And this is on top of the skills they learn which actually improve their intelligence, such as memory skills and analysing information. Advances in neuroscience show clear evidence of neuroplasticity, that we can actually improve our intelligence with effort.
The actual process of preparing and taking exams is beneficial; it is not just a means to an end. It stretches young people way beyond what they thought they were capable of, usually without them even realizing it.
A little stress can actually be good for us. It can make us focused, driven, enthusiastic, even excited about life. A lot of stress is really bad for us. It produces bad chemicals in our bodies, it affects our health and means we can’t think so clearly. Long-term high stress is really, really bad for us leading to illness and disease.
So how can we help out child to feel less stressed about exams? We can shift the focus away from the results and the grades and on to supporting their studying.
Acknowledge that the work they are doing is valuable. Reassure them that all their studies are worthwhile. Remind them that when they are revising for exams they are improving their intelligence and developing their skills. Show your child you support their education and are not just interested in the results. Let them know you value all the effort they put in, whatever the outcome.
This change in focus will help your child shift away from worrying about what is going to happen in the future. It will help them to focus more on the present time, help them to see there is real value in what they are doing and engage them more in their studies.