Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 29 Apr 2010

How can I keep my daughter calm before her GCSEs? We had real problems with my son last year.

Hillary's Advice

You have to feel sorry for children struggling through our nutty education system with its huge overload of tests and exams, and the ridiculous over-hyping of the whole thing by politicians and the media so that exam season becomes a national frenzy. In the past you took your exams, and passed or failed or came somewhere in between, without anyone being the slightest bit interested except yourself and – possibly – your parents. But these days all sense of proportion has gone out of the window (and not just with exams -- just how did Nick Clegg’s passably competent First Debate performance transform itself into the astonishing starfest of Cleggmania?) so that a ridiculous amount comes to hang on a student’s GCSE and A level performance.

Some schools are trying to calm student nerves by introducing yoga and peer massage, or piping Bach into revision sessions, but what can you usefully do at home?

First of all, I’d say that if you are only tackling this now, you are coming to the problem very late in the day. Wise parents help their children put tests and exams into context from primary school days, encouraging them to understand that, while it is always important to be well-prepared and to do their best, there is much more to life than perfect results.

With less time in hand, I’d suggest helping your daughter with some tried and tested self-help techniques, the most effective of which is undoubtedly deep breathing. Teach her to how to breathe in for five, hold it for five and let it out slowly, counting to ten, and she will learn a great technique for calming herself. Also help her prepare a good revision timetable, get enough sleep, avoid too much caffeine and limit her exposure to any ‘toxic’ friends who love to wallow in pre-exam histrionics. And get her to practise visualising walking into an exam, sitting down at her desk and turning over the exam paper feeling confident, positive and alert. That way she will be laying down a pathway that her brain may obediently follow when exam days come round.