Friday, 8 May 2015

Exam fever

Forget hay fever, the mums around me at the moment are suffering from exam fever, and they're not even the ones taking them. It's especially afflicting the mothers of boys, I notice. 

Exam season is upon us and I've been through it all before with Eldest so I could come over all a bit weary and smug now if I felt like it, but I don't, because it's stressful every time - although some children do seem to cope better than others. This time it's Middle One's turn, GCSEs, starting next week.

I remember one of my friends, a mum herself, with children just lagging behind mine in age, saying: "Surely it won't affect you, they're his exams aren't they?" When Eldest was approaching his GCSEs. Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha, how I laughed. And how I laughed even harder when it was her son's turn and I heard her telling a mate about the revision timetable she was drawing up for him. 

Another mother of a boy I know even told me she was "teaching her son how to revise". If she's cracked that one then she could earn a fortune hiring herself out. And then there are those mothers who actually sit next to the boy and go through the curriculum with him, piece by painful piece. You know who you are. 

But even if you fully intend to stand back and let him sort out his own life, as I do, schools just don't let you. The GCSE evening 'Helping Your Child Through GCSEs' a few years back (I didn't go to it again this time around) was two hours long. TWO HOURS of being lectured at in a draughty school hall on a hard wooden chair about how stressful it's going to be and that you need to make sure he gets a good night's sleep before an exam day. Durr. 

The thing is that so many mums I know are highly conscientious and no doubt approached their own exams with colour-coded efficiency. Now they are expecting the same from of their sons. Disappointment looms. Because this is the rub: boys just aren't all that fussed, well, most of them aren't. Yes, plenty could get A*s if they put their minds to it, but they can't be arsed. They don't measure their self-worth against academic success in the same way that girls appear to. They don't get all lathered up by what their friends are up to. They don't really care. And mum whinging on at them day and night about sorting themselves out and doing some, you know, actual revision, just gives them something to rebel against. 

I remember a story about a boy banished to his room to revise, his laptop confiscated so he couldn't play games on it, who texted his mother the minute she'd gone out - 'Ha! I still have my phone up here. I'm playing games on that!' If they are determined to fritter away their time on displacement activities (improve my guitar playing, anyone? Suddenly become incredibly politically active?) they will.

So here's some random advice below gleaned from when Eldest took his exams, not all of it stuck to by me at the time I should add…

1. Do be supportive, interested, sympathetic. "It's a rough time." "Poor you." "How are you feeling?" all GOOD.

2. Don't be anxious and over-dramatic: "So you want to fail ALL your GCSEs and serve hamburgers in McDonalds for your whole life then!" BAD.

3. Do provide revision guides, paper, pens, Post It notes, coloured highlighters, a quiet place to study away from siblings and distractions. GOOD.

4. And do STAY AWAY. Don't pop up to his room every five minutes for an update. "Just thought I'd check how you're doing up here." BAD.

5. Do provide snacks, treats, nice food, their favourite meals, a good breakfast on the day. "And would you like homemade blueberry sauce with that pancake, my darling?" GOOD.

6. Don't write out a revision timetable for him. That's your plan, not his. He has to own it. "I'm not being controlling really, just call me Svengali." BAD.

7. Do pin the actual proper exam board timetable from school up in his room so he knows when they are. "Here you are, darling, just a little info for you there." GOOD.

8. Don't insist he get up early and go to bed early but SUGGEST this might be a good idea. 7 am: "Are you up yet working on your Physics yet?" BAD. 

9. 10 am: "Would you like to come down for your homemade blueberry sauce now, darling?" BETTER.

10. Don't do a constant countdown about how many months/weeks/days/hours there are left until the exams: "You only have a week left you stupid child, so you had better get on with it!" BAD, BAD, BAD.

11. Do encourage other activities apart from revising. Sport and going outside for a nice walk or a run, all GOOD.

12. Don't book a 6 day holiday in Italy when he is meant to be revising, as I did. BLOODY STUPID.

13. Do be around before and after exams to offer food and a friendly ear if you can and, crucially, only if this is desired. GOOD.

14. Remember it's his life. (Good luck with that one.)

15. Some of this also applies to girls but I don't have any of those so things with them may be a little different. I hear tell they revise in GROUPS at the kitchen table in a collaborative and friendly manner. 


Love E x


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