How to support your child through their exams

Quite often when our children reach this stage, when they are young adults, parents allow them more freedom to make choices for themselves and begin to leave children to work things out for themselves. I think that is a big mistake… children need parental involvement in revision and planning to give them confidence and the support for them to make the right revision decisions. So, what can you do to provide the scaffolding to support your children and help them be successful in their exams? Research suggests that parental support is 8 times more important in determining a student’s grade than social class.

This guide will give you some tips and strategies to help

  1. Make sure a short – term revision plan has been created – with the dates of the exams on with a focus on the subjects that are near those exam dates

  1. Make sure you have the time to be around… most of the time they won’t need you or even want you.. but by being around – popping in and out – they will know you are there if needed, which will provide them with a sense of confidence- they aren’t working entirely alone- revision can be a lonely experience and if there are stumbling blocks then as parents you can provide encouragement. There will always be a point in revision where a student is ready to give up…the best approach is to let them give up for an hour – to get away from the problem. Then have a chat with them about strategies and then to help them get started again. Help them think about why the problem arose? How can they change the way they are revising to make sure this problem isn’t repeated? A good tip is to write down any areas they are struggling with as they come across the issue and then they can ask teachers the next day.
  2. Encourage your child to talk about their revision each day- where are they up to, what still needs doing, how are they feeling about it.
  3. Remove distractions – you may need to block websites, take the phone away, remove leads to games consoles!
  4. Give them occasional surprise treats – a milkshake, small chocolate treat- they don’t have to be exciting! Just show you are thinking of them.
  5. Be prepared to rush out for emergency supplies – pens, paper, highlighters. In a high –  pressured environment young people often go into meltdown. Being around to jump at their every whim is a good idea! In normal life obviously pandering to a child is not sensible.. but be more prepared to run around after them during this period – cut them some slack just this once. It really is not worth arguing with your teenager at this time.
  6. Try to get some factual questions that you can ask them to check their understanding.. to help them test themselves. Your child’s schools may provide these. Revision guides also have factual questions that you can ask them. Revision clocks are a good idea.
  7. In the few weeks before exams start there is not time for days off from revision, so as a family make sure you have cleared out your schedules to allow your child to focus on what matters in the short term.
  8. How much revision is needed? There is no easy answer- some professionals have suggested 7 hours a day- which did result in an outcry. But in my experience the students that do well actually do revise for this amount of time. On school days my students would manage 4-5 hours on top of the school day. Without exception they all did brilliantly.
  9. How long is an effective revision session? Encourage 30-45 minute revision sessions with short breaks in between. Optimally, students should study for no more than 4 hours per day. Studying for long stretches of hours is counterproductive because the brain will become tired, they will experience difficulty in focusing and increasingly less and less information will be retained. The fundamental principle to revising is to do it habitually and constantly, little chunks at a time.
  10. Try to make sure your child still has some time built in for the things they enjoy. Sports, friends, tv. But make sure these things are moderated during the exam period. It is not a coincidence that the students that do best in their exams have spent many hours revising.
  11. Make sure they realise it is never too late to start revision and although cramming is not ideal- most parents can probably remember doing it and I would say most students do some cramming just before the exam- but it is better not to rely on this entirely.
  12. Above all be calm!

The day before / morning of exams

  1. Make sure clear pencil cases have been well stocked the day before the exam- don’t do it on the day.. panic stations will ensue which will not help stress. I know all children of this age are old enough to pack their own bags… but still check it in the exam period- daily.
  2. Make sure they are up early and have breakfast. Make sure they have water to sip on in the exam. Let your child be your gauge – if they want to chat to you let them, if they want quiet don’t bother them.. I get repeatedly told off for talking when I shouldn’t be!
  3. Casually check they know what is on each paper, where they are to go, how long the exam is.. the key is casually! These are tricky times to be a parent as you have to hold your tongue a lot!
  4. When they come home after an exam don’t give them the Spanish Inquisition, just a casual “how did it go” – After exam analysis is not helpful, it will worry them more thinking about what they could have included.

Above all support them, encourage them, show them how to be resilient and put exams in perspective.

Extra resources

General support for teenagers


General parental support

Exam boards

  • the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA)
  • Edexcel
  • Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR)
  • the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC)