Thursday, 26 May 2016

How to beat exam stress with just the power of your brain

Stress is part of life. Too much stress, over a sustained period, is clearly damaging, but normally we can deal effectively with short bouts. In fact, while stress may be uncomfortable, it can actually be a key motivator and the right amount of it can help to boost our performance.

But there is a limit. Too much stress and the opposite tends to happen, leading our confidence and performance to decline at a rapid rate. The stress and performance relationship is often seen as an upside down “U” – as you get more stressed, your performance improves until you reach an optimum point – then it declines. In reality, it is more common for it to act as a motivator and then reach a sudden and severe drop – this is something I like to refer to as falling off the “fear cliff”.

Stress can easily turn to fear and what happens when fear raises its ugly head is twofold. First, all our good intentions go out the window and we snap back into our comfort zones. Second, we panic and believe that just because in the past we have made a mistake this is bound to happen again.

To avoid the “fear cliff” it is important to take a couple of steps back from the edge and think about your goals in advance. Set yourself realistic targets, two hours study may well be effective, but four hours is not twice as effective.

Research shows that the human brain can only effectively concentrate for about 45 minutes – after that your concentration levels dip. So make sure you plan breaks into your revision schedule. Split the day into hour-long chunks knowing that for the last 10-15 minutes of the hour you will have a break before you move on to your next topic.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Eight ways you can help your children revise

Whoever said that your school days are the best days of your life may have been a bit of a sadist. Either that or they weren’t ever part of the British education system. It’s no secret that children living in England are some of the most tested in the world, and with pupils as young as ten said to have been “left sobbing” after SATs tests in UK schools recently, it’s clear that exam pressure is something that starts early in the British isles.

But as much as most children (and parents) hate tests and revision, exam time is just another part of school life – and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. But the good news is that there are things you can do to help the exam period stay as stress free as possible – helping to keep door slamming and tears to a minimum.

1. Get ahead

In the run up to exam time, sit down together with your child and work out the best times for revision. Make a revision timetable on a big piece of paper and pin it up somewhere prominent. When it comes to revision,research shows that little and often is better than overlong sessions. Cramming at the last minute is also counterproductive, so it’s best to start early and put in the groundwork while there is still time.

2. Learn what works

We know that different people have different styles of learning, and it is important your child is working in the way that’s right for them. Find out what motivates them and use it to your advantage – be it an end goal, such as doing well in an exam, or building a skill, such as learning a language. But don’t use bribes. This puts undue pressure on your child, and sets the wrong precedent. They should want to achieve for their own sake, not yours or because there’s a cash reward in it.

3. Stay positive

During exam season, it can be all too easy for your child to forget that learning can actually be enjoyable. The field of positive psychology takes a “glass half full” approach to life, celebrating the positive rather than the negative. Looking at revision from this angle, there are numerous benefits, such as increased knowledge and working towards personal goals. It can also be an opportunity for you to support and help your child to achieve. Research has found that parental involvement in their child’s education has a significant positive effect, even into adulthood – so what you do now could make a big difference in the years to come.