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A Parent’s Survival Guide to Exams and Tests

Posted on 16 April 2015

Our children are among the most tested in the world. 

In state schools formal assessments begin in primary school with SATs in year two and six and the optional Eleven plus exam. 

At secondary school a potent mix of hormonal teenagers with exams often sparks an explosion of slammed doors and frayed tempers at home.  And your job, dear parent, after a hard day’s work, is to pour oil on these troubled waters.

While there are lots of guides on how to support your child through assessments, less is said about how you the parent can cope with these testing times.

As we head in to exam season we’re rounding up the best survival tips.  And whether or not your child has exams, much of this advice will also apply to supporting your child through the joys of homework.

Of course, if you have any specific concerns your child’s teacher should be your first port of call. 

Primary School - Surviving SATS

The primary purpose of SATs is to assess how well your child is being taught at school and for you to get a feel of how your child is progressing.

Year Two Assessment

Children used to be tested during an assessment week on which their results were solely based.  Today, teachers make a general judgment or “teacher assessment” which combines test scores with evidence gathered throughout the year.

Most schools will keep assessments at this stage very low key and many children breeze through them barely registering they have been assessed.   You will have been supporting your child at home throughout the year with reading, basic maths, literacy homework and like your child, may not be aware assessment is taking place. 

Year Six – The final year in primary school

Effective schools aim to keep Year Six SATS as low key as possible. Nonetheless, knowing what is going on at school and why your child is being tested can go a long way to supporting your child through their assessment.

In the run up to SATs it is not uncommon for schools reduce or clear the Year Six timetable to “teach to the test”, dropping “fun” lessons to focus on subjects the children will be tested on i.e. maths, spelling and grammar, reading and writing. 

Even the most resilient child is likely to revolt against double periods of maths and grammar often registering their protest through tricky behavior at home.  You may want to cut them some slack during this period.  They may really need that extra hour of Minecraft.

The tests themselves take place on fixed dates in an assessment week in mid-May.  Make sure that you know the dates when the assessment takes place. On the weekend before and the days during assessment you may want to keep your extra-curricular calendar low-key and make sure your child is getting to sleep on time.

It is important that you and your child understand what the tests are for. Some secondary schools base their Year Seven sets on children’s Year Six scores. Although this may seem to put pressure on your child to do well, remember that sets can and do change, so even if your child ends up lower than you expected, they might move up later on.

At a time when education has become a means of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses it can feel like SATs will have a major impact on your child’s future.  Do remember your child’s Year Six SATs will NOT end up on their CV or job applications when they’re adults.  They aren’t worth you or them losing sleep over. 

CATS, GCSEs, AS, and A Levels

At secondary school tests are a different matter.  They influence the choice of exams and subjects your child will take as they go through the school.

Revision and regular testing are key skills for your child to develop as they go through the school but, as consultant educational psychologist, Vivian Hill says, what may have worked for you won’t necessarily  work for your child.

For all that you may care about their results, they need to find their own way of doing things. The best support you can give will be to avoid micro-managing and scrutinizing them and doing something to support your child’s revision efforts which is within your control will in turn reduce your anxiety levels.  These i nclude:

-          Creating a quiet, calm environment for study.

-          Providing nutritious meals for brain power as well as keeping the kitchen cupboard stocked with their favourite snacks to boost morale.

-          Helping your child construct and stick to a realistic revision timetable and supporting them to implement whatever revision techniques work best for them.

-          Finally appointing yourself as “fun meister” ensuring your child takes regular breaks and has enjoyable activities to look forward to.

Look after yourself

Exam period is not the time to be giving up chocolate or going on a diet however do be mindful of supporting your own wellbeing during what can be a stressful period through good nutrition, exercise, sleep and social activities.

A reasonable employer will understand the pressure parents feel in the run up to exams.  If you feel you need to spend more time at home with your child during revision period discuss the possibility of flexible working with your employer.

Value what matters

Finally, remind yourself that you value your child for who they are and not their exam results.  Exams are important but your child’s whole life and happiness does not depend on them.