How to survive GCSEs: a guide for parents

GCSE season is drawing near and it won’t be long before Year 11 students embark upon the most significant examinations of their lives to date.  Supporting your child through GCSE examinations takes time, energy and patience, but it isn’t rocket science.

Misconception 1: “My Year 11 child doesn’t need my support with schoolwork” 

Oh yes s/he does! Parental support throughout school is crucial and has a bigger impact on GCSE grades than social class. Yes, you might find that your subject knowledge is lacking at this stage – but your emotional and practical support is so important. Stay involved: your input will help to keep your child focused and calm.

Misconception 2: “My Year 11 child doesn’t want to talk about schoolwork”

Young people sometimes find it hard to express themselves, hence the stereotyped idea of a monosyllabic teenager. Just like adults, however, young people benefit hugely from talking things through. Asking your Year 11 child about their day can result in a non-specific shoulder shrug, so avoid yes-no questions.

Keep a copy of your child’s timetable so that you can ask about individual lessons. Don’t ask: “How was P.E. today?” Instead, ask: “What did you do in P.E. today?” or “What topics did you cover in History?” Follow this up with questions such as: “Did you enjoy that?” or “Did you find that difficult?”

Misconception 3: “I need to agree with my Year 11 child when s/he complains about school”

Parenting teenagers can be challenging and it’s tempting to agree with them when they complain about their teachers or other aspects of school they are not enjoying. But whilst it’s vital that your child feels you are on their side, bolstering their negative views is not likely to help them feel better. Instead, turn negatives into positives. For example, if your child complains that his/ her teacher has kept them behind to finish work, try pointing out that s/he is lucky to have a teacher dedicated enough to spend break or after school time ensuring his/ her students are on track for success at GCSE level.

If you do believe there is cause for concern, contact the school directly.

Misconception 4: “My Year 11 child knows how to revise”

Although revision seems to be a straightforward process, many young people have not a clue how to go about it. This is where you can help. First, help your child plan a realistic revision timetable. Next, ensure s/he has appropriate revision guides and workbooks. S/he will also need plenty of paper and folders for note-taking as well as coloured pens and highlighters. Access to a computer is a bonus but you should certainly add parental controls to avoid the distraction of social media.

A good, basic revision strategy is to watch a video online (for example, here is one covering averages), then read the relevant section in the revision guide (CGP guides are excellent) or notes from school. Next, take some notes to summarise the topic and complete some exercises in your revision guide or online (BBC Bitesize is one of many excellent revision sites).  Work in 40-minute sessions, broken up with healthy snacks, five-minute walks and distracting activities such as juggling (it really works).

Misconception 5: “My Year 11 child doesn’t care about GCSEs”

Parenting teenagers can be a lonely business. You might feel that your child is out of your control (this is largely correct) and that s/he is more lazy, surly or unmotivated than others. You are probably (hopefully) wrong! Many parents of teenagers feel just the same. Firstly, hormones dictate that teenagers need more sleep than younger children or adults. Secondly, hormones dictate that teenagers can come across as rather unenthusiastic to put it mildly. Thirdly, this is a stressful time for your Year 11 child and you cannot expect him/ her to deal with it as an adult would.

I taught in secondary schools for many years and around Easter a terrible thing would happen: even the most sensible, diligent, able Year 11 class would suddenly transform into a distracted mob of disinterested degenerates who couldn’t have cared less about their GCSEs. It was hard work to keep them on track but usually this phase passed after a couple of weeks. It happened so many times that I eventually realised that this behaviour was quite normal and is more than likely a reaction to the stress of imminent examinations. They wouldn’t be stressed if they didn’t care. Easter is coming up, so brace yourself and remember that your input and support will make a difference, no matter how much your child may deny it. Good luck!

We are now taking bookings for current Year 10s to begin GCSE lessons in Maths and English with us in September. Contact us to book.

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