Stephanie Smith: Exam fever grips – at least in some households

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This week I get a phone call from school. They’re asking where my son is, because he’s not there. And he’s got an exam, about to begin, oooh – right now.

I am at work, but I tell the teacher that I believe he set off in good time, because I asked my husband to make sure that he did. In fact, as I left for work that morning, I issued my stay-at-home husband with a short series of recommendations regarding son and exam, as follows: Make sure he gets up and dressed early; make sure he eats a decent breakfast; make sure he knows what time the exam starts (timetable is on fridge); make sure he sets off in good time.

Not for the first time, I felt a twinge of guilt as I gave these instructions. Even I am sick of the sound of my own voice. Our son is 17, an intelligent lad. And my husband’s not an idiot – of course he’s got it covered, all those just-in-case scenarios. I do not need to stay at home to supervise.

But my son can be a bit forgetful, and doesn’t really take much seriously, which is probably my fault. I have perhaps not instilled in him a healthy respect, fear, for the UK examination process.

It’s too late now. Research this week found that children as young as 10 worry that doing badly in official tests could set them up for failure for the rest for their lives. One in five said they were unable to concentrate due to nerves, and 22 per cent said they lost sleep, rising to 59 per cent among those who skipped breakfast. Now that’s what I call respect for exams (for the school, most of all, for yourself). Maybe not a healthy respect, but I bet these nervous children will always make sure they get to their exams on time. With pens (I am now wondering if my son had a pen).

Back at work on exam day, I phone my husband to see if he knows anything. I’m sick with worry myself; there must have been an accident.

But my husband knows nothing. Did he, I ask as I churn over what might have happened, did he by any chance forget to make sure his son knew what time the exam started?

Ah … maybe he didn’t check on that, as such … but it’s on the fridge.

School calls again. He’s safe. He’s arrived. He’s a few minutes late, but he’s there. In time to take the exam (yes, he read the time wrong). All’s well. I’m speechless.

I’m still speechless when I get home. Son and husband look sheepish, but I’m not interested. I don’t want to know how the exam went, I don’t want to hear about all the useful activities my husband has been up to. I have nothing to say.

Except ... yes, there are too many children worrying too much about too many exams. But there are also plenty of kids who don’t worry enough. If nothing else, can we please spare a thought for their exasperated parents.

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