Exam revision: pizza, sport and sleep help pupils in Wales

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Bethan Lewis,BBC Wales education and family correspondent

BBC A teacher and small group of pupils in a classroomBBC

Breakfast revision sessions are on the menu to get pupils ready for exams

Thousands of pupils and their families are counting down to the start of summer exams.

At Islwyn High School in Caerphilly, wellbeing and revision support is offered through breakfast and after-school sessions as well as online tutoring for students who struggle to attend.

For the first time since 2019, there will not be extra support to address the impact of the pandemic.

One teacher said pupils had been “hit really badly” by the effects of Covid-19 and its aftermath.

GCSE exams begin on 9 May and Oliver and Josh, both 15, will be sitting about 15 papers.

“You’ve just got to make sure that you’re not constantly revising. If you do too much it just builds the pressure”, said Josh.

Two Islwyn High School pupils smiling

Pupils at Islwyn High School, Caerphilly county, are gearing up for GCSE exams

Oliver said some friends were finding this period stressful and he thought there would be “a bit more pressure than last year” when they sat a few papers in Year 10.

Josh finds exams “almost thrilling”, but both of them are looking forward to finishing them.

Looking ahead to “one of the longest summers” is what motivates Oliver ahead of six weeks of hard work.

What can parents do?

It is not just pupils who may be feeling the pressure of exams.

Charlotte Camplejohn, who shares parenting tips on her blog, Mummy Fever, lives near Mold, Flintshire, and is a mum-of-four.

One of her children is doing GCSEs this summer and another A-levels.

She can help by “making sure they are well-fed and they’re not eating rubbish, and they are well hydrated”, Charlotte said.

And sleep is another key element, she added.

Charlotte Camplejohn Mum, Charlotte Camplejohn, and her daughter smilingCharlotte Camplejohn

Charlotte’s daughter Megan is doing A-levels this summer and her son is sitting GCSEs

Megan, who swims competitively, sat her GCSEs two years ago and one lesson they learnt, said Charlotte, is that sport helped.

“I know for some parents the tendency is to pull children out of those activities because they must be revising,” she said.

“From our experience, that’s kind of counter-productive – actually keeping that routine and keeping them focused on things, particularly if it’s sport, is actually hugely important.

“It keeps them disciplined.”

How do you deal with exam stress?

  • Get organised the night before: Prepare your things. Check when and where the exam is happening. Leave plenty of time to get there
  • Try relaxation techniques: Avoid last-minute cramming. Focus on staying calm. Breathing exercises can help
  • Don’t compare your answers: Try to let go of exam talk after it’s done
  • Reward yourself: Do something nice afterwards to help you switch off

Source: Young Minds

Megan, 17, said swimming is “a mental break” from revision.

Course content was taken out when Megan did her GCSEs, after exams had been cancelled over the pandemic.

This year none of the content has been removed and, unlike last year, there is no advance information of what could come up in papers.

“It does feel like a lot more knowledge and a lot more pressure this year,” she said.

Pupils ‘hit really badly’

There is revision help before and after school, at lunchtime and during holidays at Islwyn High School, near Blackwood.

“We’ll offer, especially in half term, pizza and stuff like that to have that incentive of coming in to school to revise ready for the exam,” Deputy Headteacher Owen Williams said.

And for pupils who have been reluctant to attend school, there is still help through online tutoring.

“We have teams of staff who are in regular contact with pupils who we know to be struggling at this time of year,” Mr Williams added.

Their aim is to support them to come into the building and “make sure that they do attend exams”.

Deputy headteacher looking into the camera

The impact of the pandemic on pupils is still being seen, especially at exam time, says Islwyn High School’s deputy headmaster

The pupils in Year 11 doing their GCSEs now were in the first year of secondary school when Covid hit, which is “such an important time”, Mr Williams said.

They “have been hit really badly by the pandemic”, he added.

This year exams have returned to “normal” after two years of extra support because of Covid.

Exam regulator Qualifications Wales said this summer’s exams would be sat “in line with pre-pandemic arrangements” after considering the needs of learners and its responsibility to “maintain confidence in the Welsh qualifications system”.

But it said there would be “a safety net” if necessary when it came to grades in individual subjects if results were well below what would be expected.

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