Temper the stress of exam time

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Ah the stress of April and May – SOL’s, AP’s, SAT’s …..the alphabet continues. Exams, projects and more.

Today I was greeted by  a good-morning text from that college kid who was up all night studying for exams. Last week,  a client  shared that at the end of her Spring Break, she was so anxious about the numerous AP exams ahead of her that she was unable to enjoy her last weekend of vacation.  My sophomore in high school is spending the end of April reviewing for all of the upcoming assessments that occur in May. (My confusion lies in the fact that  Fairfax County schools  have been extended until June 25, and yet, this high schooler claims that they are done learning new material in the third week in April.  Once the exams are done the  Finding Nemo  continuous feed begins in many of the classrooms while the kids sleep at their desks…don’t get me started)

So, how do we help the kids with the stress and the reviews and the push for high grades and high scores?

If I have learned anything, I have learned about the diminishing returns of sitting on one’s butt and staring at a page in a book.  Sadly, I didn’t really learn it  until graduate school, thus have wasted many an hour in the library getting nothing done.

I encourage students to spend a finite amount of time (1 1/2 -2 hours depending on the student) focusing  hard and then take a break.  Get up, take a walk, have a snack for a brief period of time (20-30 minutes) and then return to the studying a bit fresh and renewed.    So many of us have spent six hours at a desk but only gotten half as much work done.

Sleep.  It’s a good thing.  How can we operate at our best either studying or performing at an exam if our body is in overdrive from not sleeping?

Food.  That helps too. Especially  a breakfast before an exam.  I remember being told for best results to eat eggs for breakfast the morning of the SAT’s;  the green smoothie phase had yet to be enacted in the early eighties. Blend away my friends, our current SAT takers need their kale.

Other things that have been helpful are group studying. Not the kind where your basement is filled with teens and closed backpacks while the XBOX is on.  But,  two or three kids seriously quizzing one another and talking about the material can really help kids learn the content, retain the information and stay focused.  I might encourage some popcorn or pizza to add to the focus.

And, please, remind your kids that it is all okay.  All that matters is that they do their best.  The students that are super high stressed need reassurance that it is just a test.  It is an assessment of what they know at the time that they sit for the exam.  The tests are not self-esteem measures, although too often some kids see them as so.   A child who may struggle academically may view a hard test or a low grade as another failure on their part; this should be avoided at all cost.

Academics and grades are one part of who we are.  I hope that we all remember to remind our kids that they are special and unique people despite their GPA’s;  this can be easily forgotten amidst the stress of the moment.

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