Exams! If this word sends jitters down your spine, read on. This year’s exams may be over, but there’s no time like now to help your child start preparing for next year’s grind.

Exams are stressful, and not just for children. Some might say that exam stress hits parents just as hard. This came under the spotlight recently, with The Straits Times reporting Education Minister Heng Swee Keat’s comments on parents being concerned about whether their children could cope with the “excessive competition and stress” inherent in our education system. Even lower primary students are not spared; some Primary 1 students apparently spend hours on their studies everyday.

While nothing can replace sheer hard work, there are ways that you, the parent, can help your child to study better:


1. Identify Key Questions:

What are the key questions of the topic that your child is revising? Look for them, and set them as your child’s achievement targets. By giving your child the task of answering these key questions, you will be able to motivate him for subsequent study.

2. Practise, Practise, Practise:

Practise actual test or exam questions. Simply reading a lot of material without applying the methods studied means that they remain as theoretical knowledge. Get your child to practice actual math problems or English sentence constructions.

3. Stay Positive:

Help your child to adopt a positive mindset: have him tell himself that he likes what he is studying and that he wants to do well. It may be necessary for you to sit next to him to encourage him. This will slowly build up his confidence to study independently as he grows older.

Try not to add to your child’s stress levels by focusing on outcome (eg., you must score 95 out of 100 marks). Instead, focus on the study process, and help your child to break it down into more manageable parts (e.g., I will study this section first, make sure I am familiar with it and then move on to the next part).

Methods For Means

No two children are the same. Here is what you can do if your child falls into either of these three categories of students:

Colour Pencils

1) Very slow or behind in his work

Short-term cramming may be a quick-fix for the exam at hand, but in the long term, you need to assess why your child is a slow learner. If it is an issue of motivation, or the child not seeing the relevance of the subject to daily life, you can make the subject more interesting (for example, pointing out how mathematics principles can be found in the working of modern day gadgets, or in the construction of public road-works or bridges).

For the child, using excuses such as “Oh I didn’t do well in this test because I didn’t study” only leads to self-handicapping behaviour in the form of even less study. Do not pressure your child by threatening him with dire consequences should he fail. Encourage him to try out problems or questions, even if he makes mistakes — and learn from them.

2) Average in class

If your child is an average performer, continue revising. In English compositions, encourage your child to boost his marks by remembering lists of adjectives, and inserting them at appropriate points in his essay to add colour and variety.

For example, if the composition topic requires him to describe his feelings, he can use terms such as “petrified”, “stupefied”, or “transfixed”, instead of plain old “frightened”. Examination markers prefer to see novel expressions rather than staid, run-of-the-mill prescriptions.

3) Bright and ahead of his peers

Remind him not to be complacent, and emphasise the value of hard work. Child psychologists have found that the best way to praise one’s children is to focus praise on the work they have put in, and not on their ability.

According to American psychologists Elliot Aronson, Timothy Wilson and Robin Akert, this would include praising your child with comments such as, “you worked hard on your science project and really learned a lot; you’ve become quite an expert on plant pesticides”.

They say that this is to prevent the child from developing a fixed mindset about his abilities, otherwise he will never want to improve and will react badly to setbacks. Therefore, give praise for hard work instead of genius!

Tackling The Oral Exam

Practice matters. If your child is not proficient in his mother tongue, try to converse with him in that language more often. Other obvious things would be to remind your child to speak with feeling and expression. A good night’s rest before the exam is important.

There is no one recommended mode of relaxation, study or time during which children concentrate best. Some children find it beneficial to take 10-minute breaks after two hours of study. Others can go on for longer.

Some children find taking a walk around the house useful, or talking to parents as a good way to relax. Others find that they study better during the morning, while some concentrate better in the evening. It is important for each child to explore various alternatives, and to find the level that he is comfortable with.

Help From Other Sources

Your child depends on you for guidance and for an injection of confidence, and this, to many parents, is a heavy responsibility. It is important to remember that you, the parent, are not helpless.

There are numerous resources available, from online forums to websites where you can find like-minded parents with whom to share study tips. There are also professional websites which help parents who wish to equip themselves to guide their children in their studies.

Most importantly, parents should try not to pressurise their children into studying. There are many different routes to excellence in studies, and some children are late bloomers. Ultimately, while parents can and should be concerned for their children’s future, they should also remember that it is not an end-all if one door closes.

Dawn is the co-founder of iDiscipulus and is currently pursuing her PhD at Nanyang Technological University. She has an MBA from the University of Warwick, and is an Economics honours graduate from the National University of Singapore. She has been a teacher in some of Singapore’s top schools for almost a decade.

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