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Ask the expert: my kid blanks out during exams

There are several strategies you can use to achieve this

Russell Hemmings
20 Nov 2015 | 12:00 am

My 15-year-old son works really hard in school and is desperate to do well in exams. The trouble is, when it comes to taking them, he goes to pieces, gets stressed and then says his mind goes blank. Have you any tips about how he can overcome this?

First, let me say this is an issue that I see a lot and it is definitely something that can be tackled.

From a parents’ perspective, it is naturally very worrying, because you see your son trying his best and you feel that all his hard work should pay off.

Then, at the last minute, you experience the agony of seeing him crumble and not achieving what he deserves. Add to that the pressure of getting those all-important grades, and it can feel like a mountain to climb. As a parent, you want the best for him, but sometimes children can feel overwhelmed by those high expectations.

Letting him know that you love him no matter what happens might ease his worry
of failing you and letting you down, which may be causing him to panic at the last minute.

The key to getting to the bottom of why he becomes so deeply stressed is to allow him to talk about it. Reassure him by offering your support, and then between yourselves, formulate a pre-exam plan you can all stick to and that will make him feel like you are all in it together. By the time he has to face the exam, you want him to feel prepared and relaxed, so blanking out, which is a sign of pure panic, will not be an issue.

There are several strategies you can use to achieve this.

Structure is the key component here. I recommend you visit his teachers and explain the situation and then make sure you fully understand what he needs to cover for each exam. Armed with this information, help him to come up with a revision schedule.

This should start well in advance and be reasonable when it comes to workload.

It’s vital he has time to spend with his friends and family.

Twenty-minute bursts of study are far more effective than sitting for long periods of time. Get him to intersperse these periods with completely different activities, preferably where he is exercising, which is brilliant for alleviating that stress build-up. Encourage him to get involved in sports, go to the gym or simply take a brisk
walk in fresh air.

When it comes to studying, get him to break down the information he needs to
remember into small chunks that will fit in postcard-size record cards. This will force him to revise in an active way, because he will have to distil the key points, and also give him a portable revision method that others can use to test him.

Make sure he eats healthy food too. High-sugar foods might seem like they will give him an energy boost, but they actually lead to mental fogging right when you don’t need it.

Finally, quality sleep is essential for ensuring the brain is functioning at its peak. Limit the time he spends on things like computer games and set expectations about when he goes to sleep. You’d be surprised how many kids stay awake until the early hours on phones and games and how much it affects performance.

Build in rewards along the revision period. This way he’ll understand that it is hard work you’re proud of, which will motivate him to keep going.

Russell Hemmings

Russell Hemmings

Life coach, and clinical and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist. More info: www.russellhemmings.co.uk / 04 4273627 / 055 2867275.