Helping children with learning challenges prepare for exams

Tips to help minimise anxiety during exam season .

Surviving the exam season can feel like navigating a field of landmines: you know an explosion is coming, but you’re not sure where the danger lies. As a parent, caregiver or teacher, your role is to support your children in achieving the balance between being too relaxed and being paralysed by anxiety. This is not easy, and for children with learning challenges, this task is even greater. Consider the following tips to alleviate some of the pressure during this stressful time:

  1. Time management

Routine is essential for grounded students. Establishing good habits and regular revision helps ease the pressure as the exams draw closer. Regular, short revision sessions allow for peace of mind and shine the light on areas that may need some additional input before the exams. Planning is key. An idea is to get a large calendar and highlight important academic and social dates. This visual reminder is motivating as tasks get checked off the list, but also essential in managing stress and anxiety around tasks requiring extended input. Making these small changes helps students set up good habits for the future and provides a pathway for conquering what can feel like a mountain in front of them.

  1.    Workspace and organisation

A consistent, organised work area with all the necessary tools and materials is essential. This supports a regular routine as the brain becomes accustomed to concentrating in a designated space. Allocate time each week to organising the space and create a filing system with different colours for each subject to support an organised learning plan. Furthermore, visual prompts such as the school timetable, or the large calendar mentioned above are helpful organisational tools.

  1. Revision topics and homework 

Teachers can ease stress around this by ensuring clear and detailed homework instructions and exam demarcations are provided. If the schools phone policy allows, students should consider photographing these for reference. Failing this, teachers should ensure ample time is given to write down revision topics or homework tasks. Parents and caregivers should check that this important step is in place, in order to ensure the study plan is supported.

  1. Technology

There is a myriad of useful applications learners with learning difficulties can consider making use of to support them, for example:

  •    Smart phone calendar applications to assist with reminders and time management
  •    Text to speech software
  • Audio books
  • Voice notes and recording capabilities
  • Phone cameras to take photos of written information
  1. Multi-sensory revision methods

We all learn differently, and simply reading through the learning material is not enough to support the learner in exploring their potential in exams. Multi-sensory learning strategies such as concept mapping is something all learners, especially those with learning difficulties, should start implementing when revising at home. These strategies require learners to commit time and practice and initially and supervised practice may be required to ensure the correct skills are being developed. The earlier learners develop these skills, the more likely they are to use them when navigating large volumes of work.

  1. Exam practice

Discuss question wording and instruction terminology with learners prior to exams. Encourage learners to highlight the question words when they are going through the exams. Students should also consider time management when answering questions, this is a skill that can be taught and can help learners when they become ‘stuck’ on that one tricky question.

  1. Exam stress and wellbeing

Some stress can be beneficial to us as it focuses our attention and improves our performance. However, when stress is chronic and debilitating, it hinders performance and can lead to mental health issues. Exams can cause genuine stress and anxiety, and children with learning disabilities are more prone to this. The tips above are helpful in managing stress and assisting in ensuring learners feel well prepared. A balanced lifestyle is key, and one should not forget following: a balanced diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, mindfulness techniques and having some fun.

 * Source: Information supplied by Bellavista School. For details, visit

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