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The countdown to the end-of-year exams has begun and many learners are likely to experience feelings of stress, and even panic. These tips will help your child survive exam stress. 

Eight hours of sleep

Sleep is crucial when teens are writing exams. Eight hours a night is the minimum. Reports state that losing one hour of sleep every night could lower your IQ by one point. Because our brains process the information we receive during waking hours when we’re asleep, a loss of sleep can result in a decrease in reasoning skills and linguistic coherence. 

If the learner in your home is struggling to sleep, try an app like Headspace or Noisli. These allow them to choose from different sounds (like thunder, wind or white noise, and even the buzz of a coffee shop) to create their ideal sleep soundtrack. Pink noise is another option. It moves between lower and higher frequencies – almost like the sound of the waves – and is less harsh on the ears. Find a pink noise playlist your child likes on YouTube or Spotify. And make sure they don’t have any drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee, cola and chocolate, for least four hours before bedtime.

Ensure good sleeping conditions

A comfortable mattress can make all the difference to the way your child feels when they wake up. A good mattress  supports our bodies as we sleep, keeping our spines in a neutral position, says Teljoy CEO, Jonathan Hurwitz. 

More tips to manage exam stress

“You wouldn’t run a race without the right shoes, or climb a mountain without the correct gear, yet despite the fact that humans spend up to a third of the day sleeping, we often don’t don’t consider how an old mattress, or one that isn’t offering adequate support, is affecting our quality of sleep,” he says. 

 Do proper research when choosing the bed that’s right for you. If your child suffers from back pain or allergies, for example, a foam or latex mattress might be your best bet. If a soft mattress doesn’t give you adequate support, opt for a medium-to-firm mattress.

Water, water, water!

Dehydration can lead to tiredness, headaches and poor concentration.  US researchers at the Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences have found that dehydration doesn’t just affect your physical ability, it can also lead to cognitive decline. This will impact functions such as complex problem-solving and attention. Keep a jug of water and a glass on your child’s desk, and flavour it with slices of apple and mint.

Revision is crucial

Good revision techniques are crucial for exam success. If facts are learned quickly, they’re forgotten quickly. Regular revision allows you to remember facts as they’ll be embedded in your long-term memory. Using past examination papers is a useful tool as they help your child become familiar with the ways in which questions have been asked. When your child practises exam papers, urge them to do so under exam conditions, with enough time to spare, so that they can revisit their weak areas.

Give them time to study

Now isn’t the time to enforce house chores and tasks. Rather ensure your child’s energy is put into studying. And be mindful of noise. Make sure music and TV noise is turned down at study times. Exam times may seem to drag on for other family members, so have a positive conversation with everyone present to discuss how important earning a matric, and good grades, are to your child’s future. To take the pressure off the household, consider hiring a home-cleaning service like SweepSouth to help with general cleaning and tidying up. They also have gardeners who can come in to mow the lawn, clean the pool and do other outdoor gardening chores.

Exercise as a release

Exercise serves as a great stress outlet during exams –  even if it’s just a half hour walk. It gives the brain an oxygen boost, and releases various brain-boosting hormones like dopamine, which positively influences learning and attention, and serotonin, which boosts mood and helps regulate sleep cycles. Some young people benefit from early morning exercise, while others prefer to exercise after the day’s studying, to help release stress before bedtime. 

Regular breaks

Spending hours and hours studying without a break can result in a frustrated, exhausted child. Set regular study breaks every 40 minutes.  During the break, encourage activities that allow the brain to take a break from thinking and remembering. A movement break – a short walk or stretching – refreshes the mind, and a quick meditation or breathing exercise in a quiet setting will help to improve your child’s productivity when they return to their books. After the break has ended, gently but firmly, encourage your child to go back into the next studying stretch. Once back at their desk, your child should take five minutes to sit down with their study material in front of them and do nothing, to help them calm their thoughts and focus their minds.

Healthy snacks and diet

The brain is the greediest organ in the body, so make sure their overall diet is based on starchy foods like bread, rice and pasta, with added dairy, meat and veg. Food like chips, sugary snacks and soft drinks can result in concentration problems and restlessness. During study breaks, learners should have healthy snacks and drinks on hand. Your child’s favourite snack is a great reward for a successful study session. 

On the day….

Keep the house calm and positive. Make sure your child eats a protein-rich breakfast soon after waking, such as scrambled eggs and toast. Other protein-rich foods include cottage cheese, yoghurt, nuts and whole-grain cereal with milk. If your child is too nervous to stomach a breakfast, try a protein shake instead.

….and after

Spend time after an exam chatting to your child about how the paper went. If they want to talk, just listen and don’t interrogate them. There’s no point in scrutinising the exam paper at length, and could even serve to demoralise your child after they’ve just given it their all. Use this time to encourage them for the next paper, and give them a pat on the back for their efforts thus far. Getting praise from a caregiver serves as a super motivator during exam times. Praise them for successful study sessions, for having finished an exam paper and for actively taking part in determining their future lives.