Exam season can be an emotionally tumultuous time, with pressure building and a lot at stake. While it is important for young people to recognise the importance of taking their exams seriously, the impact of stress and heightened tension on performance can be disastrous.
We spoke to two UAE school-based experts, Ms Mahira Zakkiuddin, Director of Counselling at GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis, and Ms Gauri Arur, College Counsellor at Collegiate International School, to get the best advice for parents in supporting students to keep a clear head during exam season.
The chemicals in our bodies have a very direct impact on the capacity of our brains to focus and take in information. Teens may need support in taking good care of themselves during this period. Ms Zakkiuddin explained:
“It is important for young people to have well-balanced meals, to dedicate 20 minutes of physical activity every day and have at least 8 hours of sleep per night. While it may feel counter-intuitive for them to do anything besides study, it is very important that their bodies are well looked after. Caffeinated and carbonated drinks and sugary and salty foods are best avoided. Fruits and vegetables can act as a great source of zinc, minerals and vitamins, and the nutrition found in nuts can also help with memory and recall.”
Ms Arur added:
"It is important that teens are well rested to be able to absorb information well. Some students study better during the night, in which case allow them to do so and ensure that they are able to get the required rest during the day. Heavy reading/study on the night prior to an exam is best avoided."
As the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved, and when it comes to feelings of worry or stress, this advice can go a long way. Ms Arur advised parents to make themselves available:
"Teens may experience anxiety and feelings of self doubt and confusion during periods of heightened anxiety, such as during exam periods. Parents can help by letting them know that they are available for a chat at any time."
Ms Arur added:
"It is a good idea for parents to try to avoid arguments and confrontation during this period. If you disagree with your teen's behaviour, consider whether the issue needs to be handled immediately or not, and if necessary, calmly and sensitively bring it to their notice."
Ms Zakkiuddin shared:
“If your child is experiencing worry or stress linked to a specific subject, encourage them to speak up. It is never too late for them to clarify concepts or confirm their understanding of a subject with their teachers. Keeping worrying thoughts to themselves can add to their mind feeling more pressured and can make preparing for exams harder than it needs to be.”
It’s easy for young people to imagine that their friends are breezing through their revision and exams, on the road to success. In reality, everyone has their own internal struggles and self-doubt. Ms Zakkiuddin advised against making any comparisons:
“It’s natural for students to exchange notes and think about how their friends or fellow classmates have performed, but comparison can at times lead to feelings of self-doubt. It can also cause confusing and distracting thoughts that are unproductive. Encourage your child to believe in their own abilities and express your trust and confidence in them.”
Time management can be tricky for adults and teens alike, and can require some consideration and planning. Ms Arur encouraged parents to support students with scheduling their time well:
"Some students find it helpful to be supported in creating a schedule or timetable for their revision, balancing each of their subjects. Remember to include a decent number of breaks within the schedule and encourage them to take these breaks to avoid exhausting themselves."
Ms Zakkiuddin further emphasised the importance of taking study breaks:
“Study breaks are important for students to ensure they are at their best; this may be the time they decide to go for a walk or prepare a healthy meal. The best indicator of needing a break is feeling overwhelmed or that it is all too much. This is the time when they need to step away and redirect their mind to something that can create calm.”