Conquering Exams: How to Support Teens with Learning Difficulties

Exams. The very word can send shivers down the spine of even the most confident teenager (and their parents). But for teens with learning difficulties, the pressure can feel even more intense.

Here's the good news: with the right support system in place, your teen can approach exams with confidence and achieve their full potential. In this article, we share 6 practical tips to help you provide support for your teen during exam season and beyond.

Understanding the Landscape

Learning difficulties come in many forms, with dyslexia and ADHD being two of the most common. Dyslexia can make reading and writing challenging, while ADHD can affect focus and concentration. It's important to remember that every teenager, as well as the difficulties they experience are unique, and their specific needs will vary. It can be helpful to work with your teen's teachers and to get a current assessment (if applicable). Once you have a clear picture of your teen's strengths and weaknesses, you can begin to tailor your support and their strategy for studying more effectively.

6 Practical Tips for Exam Success

Exam season doesn't have to be a dreaded battleground. Here are some practical tips to help your teen conquer those exams:

1. Organisation is Key: Help your teen create a study schedule that breaks down their workload into manageable chunks. Colour-coded planners and calendars or online to-do lists can be a real lifesaver. For many teens, being able to visualise tasks can help with prioritisation, as well prevent feelings of dread and overwhelm.

2. Unlocking Learning Styles: Not everyone learns the same way. Some teens thrive with visual aids like mind maps and flashcards, while others prefer auditory learning through recordings or audiobooks. Using what you already know about your child's strengths and difficulties, spend some time experimenting with different methods to find what works best for your teen.

Technology can be a great ally here. There are text-to-speech software programs like Natural Reader that can read out text from study materials, and dictation software like Nuance Dragon can help with note-taking. You can also play around with AI programmes like Chat GPT to help create summaries and study notes.

3. Practice Makes Perfect: Encourage your teen to practice past exam papers under timed conditions. This is a classic, tried and tested method because by simulating an exam, your child can get familiar with the exam format and practise managing their time effectively. Role-playing potential questions can also boost confidence and become a fun, interactive activity for you both.

4. Consider Seeking Help: If possible, you may want to consider some external support such as a specialised tutor, extra classes, or online learning platforms.Virtual tutoring can be a great way to bolster your child's studies while in the comfort of their own space.

5. Taming the Exam Beast: Exams can trigger anxiety, so it's important to help your teen develop stress management techniques like deep breathing and meditation. Regular breaks with physical activity, fresh air or engaging in hobbies are also vital for maintaining focus. Most importantly, keep the communication channels open. Encourage your teen to share their anxieties and work through challenges together.

6. Evening the Playing Field: The UK education system offers support for students with learning difficulties. Schools can provide reasonable adjustments (enquire with your school's SENDCO) during exams, like extra time, a scribe, or a separate room. These adjustments can significantly improve your teen's exam experience and enable them to do their best.

Resources to the Rescue

Navigating your child's educational journey can be a bumpy road, but it's important to remember that you're not alone in this journey. Across the UK, there is a wealth of resources to support parents and teens with learning difficulties.

  • Government Guidance: The Department for Education's SEND Code of Practice (0-25) provides a framework for supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
  • Charitable Champions: Organisations like the National Centre for Learning Difficulties (NCLD) and the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) offer a wealth of information, helplines, and support groups for parents and teens.
  • Tech for Success: Looking towards higher education? The government's Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) provides financial support for assistive technology in universities and colleges.

The Winning Formula: Support + Belief

Exams are a test, but they don't define your teen's potential. By creating a supportive environment, embracing their learning style, and utilising available resources, you can empower your child to approach exams with confidence. Remember, you are their biggest cheerleader. Believe in their ability, celebrate their progress, and focus on the journey, not just the destination. With the right support, your teen can conquer those exams and achieve academic success.