I’m Struggling with Exam Nerves…

Here we go again...

Here we go again…

Seven o’clock. What’s that? Night Owl if I know my iPhone alarms. But it hasn’t got a hope.

I can hear the alarm downstairs. It’s going off right next to Ben’s bed. But with exams starting next week there’s only one way to wake a teenager – a serious shaking. And you learn to live with the inevitable abuse…

I rap smartly on his door. Wait the obligatory ten seconds – when he’s awake, just long enough to guarantee his laptop screen is showing school work – and walk in. I immediately trip over a shoe. Then I stand on a text book.

Yes, yes, I know these are trivialities compared to having younger children. How did the Spanish Inquisition miss standing on Lego in your bare feet? But they don’t make for a dignified entrance.

“Time to wake up,” I say.

“As you’ve just tripped over everything in my bedroom I am awake.”

Six years ago – sorry, Tom – this remark would have sent me into ‘full rant’ mode.

Damn it, Tom, I nearly broke my ankle. Why do you need to store your clothes on the floor? What do you think that chest of drawers is for? And don’t forget your first exam is in three days. I don’t want to come up here and find you playing ‘Halo.’

But I did go up there and find Tom playing ‘Halo.’ By that time he had split screens in his bedroom: alien carnage on one of them, Physics equations on the other. And his underpants all over the bedroom floor.

Back in 2010 teenagers and exam revision were a foreign country. And I didn’t have a map. So I’d go downstairs and turn the dial back to ‘rant.’

He’s up there playing ‘Halo.’ He’s got ‘Halo’ on one screen and revision on the other. How can that possibly work? He won’t listen to us any more. He’s an intelligent boy but this is all wrong. He simply cannot work like that…

But he could. The string of A*’s duly arrived three months later. And I learned one of the most valuable lessons a parent can learn. If it works, leave them to it.

If your child says ‘it works for me, Dad,’ they’re almost certainly right. If they say they can only revise with house music reverberating through their eardrums or aliens lying dead at their feet, trust them. Because by the time they’re 16 or 17 all you can do is get it wrong. You can be there, you can offer to help, you can make sandwiches. But you can’t make them revise. You have to trust them, and to do anything else is simply to make yourself miserable.

So much for the theory.

Yet again, I’m struggling with the practical.

“How’s your revision going, Ben?”

He shrugs. “Fine.”

“Anything Mum or I can do to help?”

“No.” And he pours another bowl of Cheerios and disappears back to his bedroom.

How was Tom’s revision going? Yes there were aliens – but there were equations as well. Jessica? She had a timetable taped to her wall and she regularly came downstairs to give us an update – mostly concerning the plans to burn her Chemistry books after the exam. (And a jolly fine blaze it was too…)

But Ben? I have no idea. He’s organised, he’s focused, he knows what he needs to do. But other than ‘fine’ you’d get more information from Vladimir Putin.

So I sit downstairs, try to calm my exam nerves and realise that even after 22 years this parenting lark doesn’t get any easier.

And I’ve one more question that demands an answer. What exactly is house music…

If you’d like to be kept up to date on the progress of our Pennine Way expedition I’m going to start a separate blog for it in the next few weeks. In the interim, there are updates on my Facebook page. 

Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it – and you’d like something light and “very, very funny” to read – you can buy the ‘Best Dad I Can Be’ sample book with 27 of my favourite posts covering all the years I’ve been writing: it’s all of 99p on your Kindle. Alternatively the first chronological book, ‘Half Dad Half Fish’ which covers the time when the children were 9, 7 and 4 is available here


  1. Fourth time round for me and I can relate to every word in your post. My poor eldest son had to put up with a lot more of me fretting and nagging than the younger three.

    • Absolutely agree on that, Annette. The eldest has it much the worst as he’s the ‘learning curve.’ Anyway, he’s done two of his eight exams now so my nerves can start to calm down a little. Obviously still on full-time taxi duty though…

  2. Thanks for this! It’s very reassuring for a parent who will be going through GCSEs for the first time next year (well, second if I count my own). My son revises and does homework with music or TV on and I have no idea how, but his year 10 exam results took us all by (pleasant) surprise and you’re right – you really can’t tell a teenager what to do! They make their own decisions and their own mistakes (but hopefully not too many mistakes).

  3. Yes! Yes! and Yes!
    Thank you for this post Mark! Our boy is only 14 but we already have this “battle.” His room is a dump, no matter how many times I try to clean it, his weird music from Russia (!?!) is on at top volume while he “does” the hoovering, and as for homework, on his personal sofa with his FireKindle on, his iphone, and his huge Dr. Dre headphones stuck to his head, and two cats sprawled all over he, and his fluffy-soft blanket! Dont ask!

    He’s in a science and maths no-nonsense elite grammar school in Germany, so even though we wringe our hands, and have “family lectures” about “how he’s doing at school” because all we get is “fine!” the eternal teenage talk given to all parents all over the world, somehow I know that we’ll be helping him to move into student digs in 4 years!

    p.s. I do know what House Music is, it’s ….!

Thanks for reading: feel free to comment...