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Because family life matters

Help! It’s exam time

The digital age has revolutionised our lives, bringing both advantage and challenge in equal measure. This includes, of course, the impact it has on how our teenagers deal with exam revision.

As their parents, we can help them make use of all that digital technology has to offer and encourage them to guard against the things that may hinder rather than help them.

There’s nothing wrong with the tried and tested methods of revision such as record cards with bullet points and wall-to-wall Post-it Notes, but there’s also no reason not to take advantage of new methods of learning.

One of my children found that the best way to revise was with his peers, and many young people have found that Facetime revision sessions or Whatsapp groups give them much more opportunity to work together. The fact that they can keep in contact with friends is also a great encouragement and antidote to what can be an isolating and lonely season of study leave. One teenager told me that her group of friends would set reminders and then contact each other to double check they had studied a particular topic or woken up on time on the day of the exam.

But the great benefits of technology also come with many challenges, especially in exam season. Technology has the potential to affect concentration and sleep, and to increase anxiety and FOMO (fear of missing out) – all of which can lead to procrastination and unhealthy levels of stress.

We all know how easy it is to become distracted by an incoming text message or social media alert, and experts in ‘interruption science’ have found that if an employee is interrupted in a workplace setting it can take 25 minutes for them to refocus on the original task. This has obvious implications for our teenagers. Learning the elements in the periodic table, how sedimentary rock is formed, or even memorising Portia’s speech in The Merchant of Venice are bound to come second to the latest Instagram post or comments from their network of friends.

Some exam-sitting teenagers I talked to recently came up with a few ideas they have found helpful in preventing technology from becoming a distraction:

  • Plan revision sessions, (with regular breaks!) and put the phone in airplane mode or even better out of sight during that time.
  • Turn off notifications so you can focus on the task in hand – then enjoy them when you turn them back on.
  • Consider using apps that block specific platforms or websites for a set period of time and can’t be unlocked.
  • Use apps that cut out blue light at the end of the day which helps promote sleep (most phones have this facility installed).
  • Charge your phone outside the room at night to avoid the temptation of late night digital activity.
  • And finally, once the exam is over, try to limit the use of social media to compare notes on how the exam went as this can cause ‘anxiety contagion’.

As parents, our role during exams can be challenging, especially as each child is different. Some may be studious and anxious, so we will need to encourage them to take a break and to keep things in perspective. My experience tended to be at the other end of the spectrum: my children were generally relaxed – at times, even horizontal – and my role was to try to galvanise them into action!


[1] Edward Cutrell et al, ‘Notification, Disruption and Memory: Effects of Messaging Interruptions on Memory and Performance, Human-Computer Interaction – Interact 01, January 2001, IOS Press.

Katharine Hill, UK Director of Care for the Family