5 Pre-Exam DON’Ts!

Thursday, 29.09.2016

Pointers to get the most out of study prep (even at the last minute!)

Exam season is upon us, for both kids and (naturally concerned) parents. By now you would have expected your child to have completed all—or at least most—of his revision. Even if that isn’t the case, don’t panic! Take a deep breath and make the most out of the situation by knowing what NOT to do. It could make a world of difference for your kids’ sanity… and yours!

#1 Don’t engage in study marathons

Getting your child to engage in long stretches of revision is counterproductive, as evidence has shown that the human brain can only truly focus for up to 45 minutes optimally; any longer and concentration gets affected. After 1.5 hours, the brain is significantly impaired when it comes to absorbing any new information.

That’s why it’s simply not realistic to expect your child to pore over his textbooks for extended periods. Mental fatigue will set in and his mind will begin to wander. As Dr. John Grohol, founder and CEO of Psych Central affirms, “the key to effective studying isn’t cramming or studying longer, but studying smarter.”

Studying in 45-minute chunks and pausing for a short break of between five to 10 minutes is all it takes for the brain to literally reboot. It also makes the task at hand “more sustainable and enjoyable,” says Dr. Grohol. Bear in mind however, that the activity your child does during this break also matters.

Avoid any screen-related stuff, and the more contrasting the activity is, the better recharged your child will feel. So if he’s been busy reading and writing for the past 45 minutes, taking time out to read his favourite comic still requires the flexing of some brain muscle!

Instead, encourage them to get up from their desk and move around: one study has found that light physical activity such as a walk can boost memory and brain power in comparison to remaining stationary. 

#2. Don’t sacrifice sleep

It seems that staying up late for last-minute memorising and revision is pretty pointless: “When [students] crammed, they got significantly less sleep and what that happens, it’s more difficult to learn what you’re studying,” says Andrew J. Fuligni, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioural sciences at University of California, Los Angeles.

Other sleep-performance related studies show that students who slept at least seven hours each night during the exam period achieved grades that were nearly 10 percent higher than those of students who got less sleep.

It’s well documented that getting adequate sleep boosts cognitive performance, thinking ability, and learning is improved too, with new information better committed to memory. Pre-schoolers should be getting 11-12 hours of sleep a day, while school-going children should be having at least 10 hours a day.

So ensure your child gets regular and sufficient sleep over a few manic nights of non-productive studying!

#3. Don’t forgo breakfast

It’s well known that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and ideally, your family has already established this as a daily habit. It’s not unusual though, for some parents to let their kids off their hook occasionally for a variety of reasons, from running late to fussiness. If you’ve permitted this to happen, it’s crucial that you put your foot down and insist he must have breakfast in his tummy during the exam period!

Like any other vital organ in the body, the brain needs energy from food to function optimally, and hunger pangs could cause your child to lose his focus during the exam. What your child eats also affects performance—nutritionists advise staying away from foods that are carbohydrate- or sugar-heavy, as they take longer to digest and can also lead to fluctuating energy levels.

Here’s what Dr Alex Richardson, the founder director of FAB (Food and Behaviour) Research recommends. “Research shows that pupils and students who eat breakfast perform better in exams. For the best breakfast, include slow-release carbohydrates, such as whole rolled porridge oats, whole grain bread or low-sugar muesli, as they provide slow-release energy.

Add a protein food, such as milk, yoghurt or eggs, to keep you feeling full for longer. On exam day aim to include a portion of a food rich in long-chain omega-3 fats, such as smoked mackerel, as they are believed to have brain-boosting properties.”

#4 Don’t forget your water bottle

Do you know that 80 percent of the brain is comprised of water? If you wait until you’re thirsty before taking a drink, it already shows mild dehydration, which may lead to a decline in cognitive performance. One of the simplest strategies to help your child perform better on the day of an exam is to just ensure he’s adequately hydrated.

This doesn’t mean guzzling copious amounts to the point where a full bladder becomes an issue, but if your child’s school permits students to have a bottle of water with them throughout the duration of the paper, it certainly helps for them to take sips occasionally.

Researchers from the universities of East London and Westminster found that students who had access to drinking water during an exam scored on average, five percent higher than those without. Also, children aged between seven and nine who drank water fared better on tests requiring visual attention and memory. However, the study has not specifically pinpointed how exactly consuming water helps and researchers say that future research is needed to determine the science behind the benefits.

“Whatever the explanation is, it is clear that students should endeavour to stay hydrated with water during exams,” the researchers said. “Supplementing with water is a really cheap way students and educators can help get better results.”

For a guideline on the recommended daily amount, children aged five to eight should consume five glasses (one litre) while nine- to 12-year-olds should drink seven glasses (1.5 litres) of fluids a day. While those fluids are not just confined to water, the latter is certainly the best choice, if you go by the current findings. Besides, it’s also the safest and most trustworthy option: steer clear from caffeinated, sugary and energy drinks on exam day to minimise the possibility of undesirable side effects.

#5. Don’t nag or criticise

Despite their limited life experience, children are not oblivious or immune to stress, be it emotional triggers or the actual situation. How they respond or handle stress differs among children, but logically speaking, any child will react more positively when there is a source of strong emotional support available. Naturally, parents should be the best providers for this, but some of them add to the pressure cooker environment instead.

Repeated reminders to study turns to nagging, and it becomes worse when it lapses into criticism or even threats: “you’re so lazy! If you don’t get at least 80 marks, forget about going anywhere!”

There are other parents too, who set nose-to-the-grindstone study routines for their kids and deny them all the usual privileges from television time to playground meetups with friends. Over time, the authoritarian reinforcement surrounding exam prep could lead to resentment and a clash of wills, which only make matters worse.

Try to refrain from micro-managing your child and remember that words carry weight. Just because your child isn’t slogging to your expectations doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t perform satisfactorily in the exams. Indeed, if your child has been diligently managing his homework and revision throughout the entire school year, there is no reason for parents to fret excessively. 

In other words, you should have faith that your child knows what he’s doing.

A happy, well-adjusted child who feels loved and reassured will be in an overall better state of mind to cope with whatever challenges and obstacles he faces in life.

And in the long run, a never-give-up attitude may count for more than simply acing exams. Agree?

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