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Exams? You've got this!

9 Oct 2017

To this day, I cannot see a jacaranda tree flowering without my heart giving a little skip…and there is not a romantic reason for this response.

A lifetime ago, when I was studying as an undergraduate, the university I attended had lots of jacaranda trees. A couple of my tutors warned the students, ‘if you haven’t started studying for your exams by the time the jacaranda trees flower, you will fail.’ They gave us no other option…fail…in the Monopoly game of life, ‘you would not pass ‘Go’ and you would not collect $200!’

Well, I picked up this negativity and ran with it! And every year, the trees would flower, and they seemed to flower earlier each time, and I wouldn’t have started to study and so I would trundle off to my exams in a full panic, feeling that I hadn’t done enough, telling myself I was hopelessly ill-prepared, that I was the biggest failure and that something horrendous (insert your own catastrophe here) would happen.

Suffice to say, I was no fun to be around and my negativity made me miserable.

But I passed my exams regardless, and gradually I learnt to tame my negative voice. Instead, I would repeat the mantra. ‘You have been studying all semester for this, you’ve got this!’

My own four children have experienced the joys of both school and university exams, and hence our family has experienced the joys of having multiple stressed-out students in the house. It can be a time when every noise, every look, every interaction has the potential to end in tears (theirs or yours).

My technique has been to let them follow their own method of studying, to try not to nag, and to provide a shoulder, tissues and chocolate when it all gets too much.

They all developed their own exam study techniques: some studied during the day, others at night; some studied at university, in the library, or laboratory; some lay back on the grass; some studied at the dining room table and others sat in their rooms at their desks.

One hunkered down with their mates and formed a study team. No seriously, they did study – they must have, they all got great marks.

I cheerlead, but I treat my student children as the young adults they have become and let them make their own decisions about study.

Here’s what I’ve learnt:

Let them manage their own study. Support and encourage, but don’t micromanage and don’t nag. This is hard for me, because I like to nag. I like to write lists and schedules and organise, organise, organise. The hardest thing for me was letting go and allowing my young adults to manage their own paths. But I needed to, because that is how they will learn what best suits them. Pass or fail, the outcome will be theirs.

Support them practically. Do ask if there is anything they need: a different space to study, perhaps any particular meal they would like. And, of course, study food, which is normally treat or chocolate related. Ask if you can drive them to their exam, so they don’t have any extra worry about missing a bus or not finding a car park.

Cut back on other activities – just for a while. If you possibly can, avoid scheduling too much other family ‘stuff’ around the exam period, and that includes both work and fun. And while the benefits of regular exercise are well documented, maybe long games of golf and tennis could go on hold for just a while – remind your student that when the exam period is over they can play all the tennis they want. But don’t stop exercise all together. One of my students would head to the gym about 10pm after studying, as a way to relax before falling asleep, and it worked for them.

Tell your child that if they happen to see a jacaranda flower on the way to their exam, just give it a nod and remind themselves that they were studying long before that bloom was even a bud.

Levels of stress

A word here about stress in general. It is normal to experience an increased level of stress when we hit one of those speed bumps in life, like exams. But if stress reaches an unacceptable level, support is available, whether it’s you or your child feeling overwhelmed. Contact your health professional or a service such as Lifeline on 13 11 14 In addition, USC provides a range of Health and Wellbeing services to support its students in a range of circumstances, including with managing stress. You can find out more here.

About Dr Janet Lee

Dr Janet Lee received her Doctorate of Creative Arts from USC. She is also mum to four children who have all completed (or are completing) their undergraduate degrees at USC. Janet lives on the Sunshine Coast with two dogs, some very spoilt chickens and her wonderful, noisy family. Janet is a regular contributor to USC's Parent Lounge.

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