Education Quandary: How can I calm my daughter's nerves before her GCSEs? We had terrible problems with my son last year

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

You have to feel sorry for the children who are going through our nutty educational system, with its huge testing overload and the desperate over-hyping of exams by politicians and the media so that the entire summer term becomes a national frenzy of stress and anxiety. In the past, as a schoolchild, you took your exams and passed or failed or came somewhere in between, with no one but yourself and – possibly – your parents showing an interest.

Now all sense of proportion has gone out of the window (and, incidentally, not just with exams – just how did Nick Clegg's passably competent first debate performance turn into the starfest of Cleggomania?) so that impossible amounts of tension are loaded onto a student's GCSE or A-level performance.

Some schools try to deal with this by offering yoga or counselling, or piping Bach into revision sessions, but what can a parent do at home?

First of all, I have to say that if you are only addressing this problem now, it is rather late in the day. Wise parents encourage their children to put tests and exams into a wider context from the moment that they start primary school, telling them that, while it's always important to be prepared and do their best, there is much more to life than perfect results.

For your teenage daughter, the best plan might be to teach her some tried-and-tested self-help techniques.

Show her how to control her racing heart by breathing in deeply while counting to five, holding it for five more, and then letting her breath out to the count of 10. Then you will have given her an effective tool for any kind of stress relief.

Encourage her to revise sensibly, eat and sleep well, avoid too much caffeine and steer clear of toxic friends who like to wallow in pre-exam hysteria.

Also encourage her to visualise walking into the exam room, sitting down and turning over the exam paper feeling confident, calm and alert. That way she will have prepared a helpful pathway in her brain to travel down when the fateful days finally arrive.

Readers' advice

My way of preparing for exams worked for me and for my three children. At Easter, I drew up a revision timetable and stuck to it, working hard in the week, but always allowing myself time off at the weekends to go out and enjoy myself. I worked hardest up to about a week before exams, but for the last week I took it easier and never worked after 10pm, but always did something else to wind down before bed. I didn't let myself get into a panic by worrying about other people, and how much more work they had done than me. On the morning of my exams, I got up early and read through anything that I knew I wasn't sure of. That way it was fresh in my brain. So much is basically about mind control and keeping hold of your emotions.

Gill Wansell, Leicestershire

Are you sure it is your daughter's nerves you are worried about? In my experience parents' stresses cause students more worry and anxiety than the exams themselves. Maybe you should be calming your own fears?

Phil Mackly, London W8

Your children sound like they are hyper-sensitive. These kinds of children are always excitable and are often sick with excitement at Christmas when they are little, and then sick with nerves about every challenge as they get older. Some children bounce through exams like tough rubber balls. It's not fair, but help your daughter see that her sensitivity might help her in other parts of life.

Phillipa Quirke, Swindon

Next week's quandary

The Lib Dems say they will cut class sizes, but is this important? My son is in quite a big infants' class but there is a good classroom assistant and I have never felt that any of the children are neglected or would make better progress in a smaller group.

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet. com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com. They can be searched by topic.

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