Creating positive coping strategies for tests in primary is a great life skill, says a top educational psychologist. Dr Clare Daly from Swotties explains
Does your child ever come home stressed or anxious because they don’t feel like they did well in a test at school? We’re all well aware of helping teenagers to manage exam stress, but in my role as an educational psychologist I often have to remind parents that school exams are not children’s first experience of tests, and that most kids would benefit from a little support when it comes to learning how to cope with ‘test stress’.
Tests or assessments are an integral part of teaching and learning. Children from as early as Primary 1 or Key Stage 1 will have weekly spelling and maths tests which continue all through their school years, as well as the SATs testing that occurs in May of Y4 and Y6.
Primary school is the perfect time to help children think about preparing for tests, so that positive strategies become a habit (and a great life skill!) before low-key classroom tests become important exams at secondary school.
Here are some of my tried and tested techniques for taking the stress out of tests…
Help your child learn to use their time more effectively. Start by breaking homework into small chunks that are easier to manage and encourage them to stay focussed and on task for this short time. As they get older you can extend this incrementally – try saying, ‘we’ll look at this English homework for 15 minutes and stop when my timer goes off!’. This way, when they do timed tests at school, they will stay calm and switch into concentration mode.
Basic breathing techniques can instantly calm, reduce anxiety and regulate your child’s emotional state by bring more oxygen into the body. Like other skills, these need to be practised regularly to be effective. Even a few minutes a day or a week is enough once a few techniques are mastered (by mastered I mean practiced) and they can use this strategy in any potentially stressful situation.
There are many examples of very simple, fun breathing exercises online like belly breathing, dragon breaths, star breaths and box or square breathing. Do it with them, it really works!
Children need support in all aspects of their lives to prepare them for testing situations. Proper nutrition, sleep and encouragement cannot be underestimated. Small changes add up. Some ideas…
● Nutrition – make sure they never skip breakfast – they need the energy. Things like eggs, whole-grain cereals, toast or even a banana are ideal brain boosters.
● Sleep – going to bed at an age-appropriate time, without phones, iPads etc. is important most of the time (not just the night before a test!).
● Confidence in one’s own ability is important for academic (and life) success. While it may feel natural to say things like “You’re so clever!” or “Good job!”, comments like that can be counterproductive. Be more specific, comments such as “That was a great answer,” “You have worked so hard on that question,” will help your child help to understand the learning process.
● Working with friends, family or tutors is also a great way to encourage your child and help them to develop academic confidence.
Learning takes time and effort, and short bursts of focused quality learning are much better than lengthy periods sitting at a desk.
Make sure your child has other interests that give them that much-needed time out and brain-break. Regular aerobic exercise changes the brain’s hippocampus growth which improves memory and thinking skills. So make exercise a priority – even family walks allow your child to unplug and rest their brain.
I’m often jokingly asked by parents if tidying their room counts as aerobic exercise, and it does! Many household chores burn more energy than workouts… and having a tidy room/workspace helps massively with organisation and time management skills. Win-win!
Dr Clare Daly is educational psychologist at affordable tutoring platform Swotties, where 1-2-1 online learning sessions with confidence-boosting study buddies are £15.99-£19.99/hr. Swotties offers curriculum catch up, homework help & core topics like English and maths patiently explained.