"Shouldn't you be revising?": How to respond to unhelpful comments about exams

This article was first published in April 2019.

If you’re doing your exams at the moment, there’s a high chance you’ll have heard some phrases that made you roll your eyes so much, you thought they’d come out of your head.

Even when other people are encouraged to steer clear of these types of comments, it’s inevitable that you’ll hear at least one at some point. The question is though, how can you respond whilst avoiding the falling out of the century?

We’ve spoken to Mark Anderson, a life and careers coach, to get some tips.

What’s the absolute worst thing you can do if someone makes an unhelpful comment during exams?

Empty reassurances or unhelpful comments are not what you want to hear during exam season. However, the worst thing you can do is see such comments as an opportunity to start a full scale argument. It will just put you in a bad mood and this is not what you want when you need to remain calm, cool and collected during exam season. Remember that they are simply trying to reassure you, not start a fight.

What tips and tricks would you recommend to avoid getting angry when someone makes unhelpful comments?

Decide now how you will respond if you hear such comments in a way that will help you to keep a lid on it. If the comments don't come as such a shock, you are more likely to respond in a calm manner. You might want to start with something like "I know you're trying to help, but...".

What if I get annoyed easily?

If you do have a short fuse, you could politely excuse yourself from the room to calm down first before returning with a measured response. Perhaps you could calmly explain why their comment isn't helpful to you. Then they'll be less likely to repeat those comments. If face-to-face isn't your thing, why not send a text to your parents? They may see it as being impersonal but at least you are still communicating.

What is it, do you think, that makes us act angrily in the first place when someone makes those comments?

Exam season is a tense time and it's easy to feel the pressure, not only from parents and teachers, but also the pressure you put on yourself to achieve. It's no wonder that you can easily snap when you hear unhelpful comments.

It can be frustrating when other people say unconstructive things, but it doesn't have to end in World War 3.

Keeping things in perspective is vital. Although exams are important, your results don't define you as a person. Of course, there may be particular grades you need to achieve in order to progress to the next level in your career journey. However, your character, personality, qualities and many skills cannot be measured by exam performance and these are the key things that employers are looking for when they are recruiting.

At the end of the day, as long as you can look yourself in the mirror and be confident that you have done your best, then whatever grades you get you can hold your head up high.

How can you pick yourself up if a comment like this makes you sad, and you focus on it for a long time? What can you tell yourself?

Whatever you focus your mind on will have an impact on your performance. If you focus on negative comments and limiting beliefs, guess what happens?

It's therefore important to constantly think about your positive traits and past achievements in order to combat the negative things that make you sad. What have you done or achieved in the past that has made you proud? What qualities did you use in order to achieve whatever you did? If you've drawn on these qualities and strengths in the past, there's nothing to stop you using them again. If you regularly remind yourself of this, such thoughts will have a positive impact on your revision and exam performance.

Take things a step further by writing down a list of your positive, evidence-based qualities and achievements and keep them somewhere close by so you can look at it regularly. You could keep them in a purse, write them on a poster on your bedroom wall or type them into your phone as a screensaver. Do whatever works for you.

So how can teens taking their exams respond to the following unhelpful comments?

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine”

Such a comment is empty without evidence. So in a polite way, ask your parents what evidence they have that you will be fine. This could be a good thing. Perhaps they will refer to positive comments from teachers at parents evening or the amount of revision you have been doing. If you've been doing all the things that you should be doing in order to perform your best, such a comment can be turned into a real positive.

Nine times out of 10, people are just trying to help, so listen carefully to what they say and respond accordingly.

“The bar is set much lower these days - exams were much harder when I was at school.”

Even if this was the case, there is no evidence to suggest that it will be easy this time around. Therefore explain to your parents that you need to prepare for the beast of all exam questions. Remember the 6Ps: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevent Poor Performance

“Shouldn’t you be revising?”

The best way to respond to this comment is with a written revision timetable. That way you can show your parents the dates and times you are revising each subject. Show them that you have it all under control, don't just tell them because they won't believe you!

“It’ll all be over soon”

Simply say, that this is no reason to take your foot off the gas. You need to stay focused until the end.

“Are you sure that’s the best way to revise?”

As long as you can explain that your way works for you, there will be nothing else they can say. Better still, get them to test you on what you've learnt in your way. It will reassure them whilst helping you. Win win!

“I expect you to get…”

No pressure, eh? Here you could simply respond with "Surely you will be proud of me if I simply do my best?"

“Something I found really useful when I was revising was…”

If your parent says this to you, politely listen to what they have to say. You never know, they may have a great idea that you can use. However, if you think that it won't work for you, tell them why and then explain why your method works best for you. One size does not fit all when it comes to revision technique.

If you need support

You should always tell someone about the things you’re worried about. You can tell a friend, parent, guardian, teacher, or another trusted adult. If you're struggling with your mental health, going to your GP can be a good place to start to find help. Your GP can let you know what support is available to you, suggest different types of treatment and offer regular check-ups to see how you’re doing.

If you’re in need of in-the-moment support you can contact Childline, where you can speak to a counsellor. Their lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are more links to helpful organisations on BBC Action Line.

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