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How to survive exam fever -- a guide for anxious parents


Keep secret stationery supplies, know the timetables ... Kim Bielenberg offers 10 tips for mums and dads

The Junior and Leaving Cert exams are only three weeks away. In households across the country there are wild mood swings, sleepless nights and nervous biting of finger nails over maths formulae -- and that is just the parents.

Now is the time for mothers and fathers to stay composed.

Dublin guidance counsellor Andree Harpur likens being a parent at exam time to being a football manager.

"It can be more difficult for parents than for students.

"Ultimately, you can't go out there and kick the ball, but you can provide encouragement from the sidelines,'' she says.

Good parenting is an essential part of the exam equation, according to Brendan Guildea, a maths teacher who holds popular Junior and Leaving Cert revision workshops.

He says: "In some cases, what is happening at home can make a difference of 10pc. That could prove crucial in the exams."

So how can parents support their children as nerves become frayed?


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Now is not the time to go on your much-lauded charity trek through the Himalayas.

It may seem obvious, but parents can help simply by being around and available during exam time.

"The first piece of advice I would give to any parent is to be physically there at home to show your support,'' says Harpur.

"A teenager will probably never say how wonderful it is that you are there, and might not even wish to say anything about the exams, but the fact that you are there will help.''

If your child is off school in the run-up to the exams, it may be advisable to be around as much as possible at that time.


Treat exams like a middle-distance race rather than a sprint.

Guildea says the student should be encouraged by their parents to pace themselves through the exams.

He or she might get very worked up about the early exams, and decide to stay up all night revising and cramming.

"The problem is that the student becomes jaded and by the second or third week they have lost all interest.''


Parents should secretly get a copy of the exam timetable.

"It is a good idea to ask the student what exam he or she has on the following day, and then check it yourself against the timetable,'' says Guildea.

"When you are doing seven exams and you are under stress it is easy to get times mixed up.

"Boys, in particular, can get the exam time wrong, and if they do, it's game, set and match.''


During a time of stress, it is inevitable that at some point the student might blow a fuse.

If they bite your head off, it may be a good idea to take a couple of deep breaths and tolerate some erratic behaviour.

Emotions can easily be heightened, according to Harpur.

"At a time like this it is perhaps best not to react.''

It is a time to be forbearing.


Pupils can become flustered by minor details and caught out by practicalities, such as a calculator not working.

"Pupils often rely on their fellow pupils for things such as pens, rulers and other equipment in school. But in an exam that is often not possible,'' says Guildea.

"Quietly you can buy equipment, so that if they say they haven't got something you can quickly come up with it.''


"You have to step back from it a bit,'' says Jackie O'Callaghan of the National Parents Council.

"It may well be that you are feeling their stress and apprehension.

"The less stressed you seem the less anxious they will be.

"So, you have to relax and they will be less nervous themselves.''


Try to avoid getting involved in analysis of exam papers. The chances are that you won't have a clue what they are about, and the exam is over anyway.

Harpur says: "It may be a good idea to suggest that they ring a teacher the following day for reassurance.

"In the meantime, they can get on with revising for another subject.''


It is important to take regular breaks while revising. Parents should encourage students to take a break every few hours.

A short brisk walk will help students relax and concentrate better. Emphasise the importance of regular sleep.

Research shows that pupils who got lower grades went to sleep on average 40 minutes later than top performers.


This is not the time to re-discover your faith in the virtues of public transport. A lift to the exam will avoid distractions.


Students who have health problems should be helped to take the necessary precautions. Hay fever sufferers should be alert to conditions that cause the symptoms to flare.

Asthmatics should have an inhaler at the ready. Students should be discouraged from lying out in the sun -- if it ever appears -- as sun stroke can be debilitating.

Smart foods for studying

The Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute offers the following nutrition tips for exam students

- Don't skip meals, especially breakfast.

- At breakfast ensure you choose foods that are high in fibre and give your body a slow steady release of glucose -- for example wholemeal bread or porridge.

- Avoid any kind of weight-loss diets during this time as many of these are lacking in essential nutrients and can hit concentration.

- Take a healthy snack with you to eat either during or before the exam.

- Try to eat a good lunch, and avoid the local chipper. Fatty foods will leave you feeling full and sluggish.

- Don't overdo it on caffeine, but do have other drinks such as fruit juice, herbal tea and water.

More information: www.indi.ie/docs/ 22_smart_foods.pdf

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