How To Guide And Support Your Teen With Revision And Exams By Alicia Drummond, BACP Accredited Therapist, Parenting Expert,


Anything, and I mean literally anything, is preferable to revision which fulfils not one of a young person’s needs for novelty, excitement, and immediate reward. We all know that failing to prepare equals preparing to fail, but there is often a big gap between knowing and doing. It is called resistance and it is one of the most subtle ways we self-sabotage. Think about it, have you ever really wanted to do or achieve something, but always found an excuse for not doing it? Are you someone who puts in loads of effort at the beginning, but then tails off and finishes poorly thereby sabotaging the whole? Perhaps you are someone who is so afraid of an outcome not being perfect that you don’t start? Or maybe you have spent so long living up to the expectations of others that you need to self-sabotage so that you can get off their pedestal and breathe freely again?

Our kids will have all the same unconscious processes at work, so if they are struggling to get down to revision it is worth exploring their resistance with them. What are they afraid of and what can you do to help them overcome it?

Perhaps they are self-sabotaging by overwhelming themselves. They set out to do three hours revision, but when they actually sit down to start, they can’t. At the end of the morning, they have achieved a tiny proportion of what they set out to do, and they feel disheartened and panicked.

They need to learn to break things down into manageable chunks. Create a revision timetable but make it realistic by dividing the day into three parts - morning, afternoon, and evening, one of which must be kept free for doing something they enjoy. If an hour’s revision seems too hard, encourage them to break it down into three twenty-minute sessions with a short break between each one. Some people are larks and others are owls - they need to work out when they are likely to be most productive and build their schedule around it. Recognise that what might work for you, won’t always work for them, so let them take ownership.

If you want to keep them motivated, offer praise when you notice them putting in a little more time, effort, or dedication, rather than criticising what they get wrong. Do not offer bribes that are attached to outcome rather than effort – they might not get the grades for many reasons, some of which will be out of their control, what they can control, and what we want to see, is effort.

Some people work better with background music and others need total silence, but I would argue that no-one works well with a phone pinging social media alerts every five seconds. Rather than setting boundaries around revision, expect, and encourage them to take control. You can offer practical help and regular healthy snacks, you can make sure they have a quiet place to work, and suggest things which might help, such as the Forest App which rewards them for staying focused, but the bottom line is they need to engage and take ownership of this process.

At the risk of stating the obvious, encourage them to learn what they don’t know, rather than what they do know. Too often they go over and over the stuff they know because it makes them feel more © Teen Tips 2022 confident, but this is a waste of time and effort. Before opening a book to revise, encourage them to jot down everything they can already remember about the topic. This information is already in their long term memory and does not need to be revised.

They also need to learn to prioritise. Right now, many will be more interested in their social lives than their studies. They need opportunities to socialise but keep these low key - a big Saturday party can impact their ability to study effectively for several days.

If your child is nervous about exams remind them that stress for short periods of time (situational stress) is good for performance. If they are highly anxious, and working with a therapist is not possible, the Clear Fear app may be helpful.

Finally, and I think this is important, we need to keep the whole exam process in perspective and remain calm. If we are freaking out, the message we give them is that we don’t think they are capable, which is unlikely to do much for their confidence. Exams exist to open doors and if one door doesn’t open another will.

So, breathe, plan nice things for the summer and remember that each and every one of your children is worth infinitely more than any set of certificates they might pick up along life’s path.