How to help your child prepare for exams
Exams are an obstacle your child has to navigate from early on in their childhood, but it rarely gets easier for them or for you as a parent looking on. When your child is little taking SATs, it is almost easier as you are often more familiar with the material and you control their life at lot more. By the time they are taking GCSEs, however, growing independence means that the best help you can provide is a delicate balance of respecting that freedom while managing and supporting.
How to Revise
There are tons of great books out there that cover revision techniques and how to make revision work for your child. Here, we will give a summary of the most important information on the topic.
Step 1: Assess
The first step in the revision process is always to assess the revision playing field, so to speak. What subjects and what topics are being assessed? Make sure you take a clear look at syllabi for the exams and go through it with the notes that you already have side by side. This enables you to see if you have gaps, perhaps from being ill and missing a lesson, and you can, therefore, build in time to catch up.
Step 2: Timetable
Next, it is important to have a think about how difficult you find each subject, and particular topics within subjects, so you can decide the most effective way to use your time. Only then are you ready to create your revision timetable.
A revision timetable allows you to feel in control of your revision. It is recommended to have revision blocks of up to 40 minutes. Studies show that your brain cannot concentrate for much longer than that, so 1 hour sessions are unlikely to benefit you long-term. It is also a good way for your parents to keep a track of what you are working on, without you having to discuss your revision plans all the time with them.
Step 3: Get down to revision. Make it as fun as possible and find out how and where you work best. A useful thing to do is to figure out if you are a kinaesthetic, aural, or visual learner. Kinaesthetic learning is learning through movement or doing, for example acting out a play or book you have to learn for English. Aural learners are helped by listening to resources, such as podcasts or audiobooks which cover a certain History topic. Visual learners work best reading or seeing, whether that’s a textbook or an image.
These are broad categories and there are many other learning styles to consider. Some people find it best to mix up how they learn, especially when they have a long revision period like for GCSEs. Don’t just read a textbook for hours on end: make notes, record yourself saying the notes, summarise material on revision cards, teach your teddy bears, make presentations, or whatever works for you.
The final stage of revision is doing past papers. Knowledge is important but applying it is even more so. This goes for the sciences as well as the humanities. Look at articles on essay tips and the guidance given by the exam board. If you are short on time, plan questions instead of writing them out in full.
Motivation is a difficult and complex issue. It is hard to control your own, let alone someone else’s. Exams, especially those which don’t count towards transcripts, can seem meaningless to children and, therefore, revision is a waste of time which could be used for fun. Explain to your child the benefits of learning the material properly and how it will actually save time and help them in future exams. Emphasise what good results can lead to a place in a good college, a good job, or a good university. Some parents use financial rewards or gifts to incentivize their children, but you have to decide whether that approach is right for you. During long periods of revision, your child may lose motivation because it is too repetitive or monotonous so a break of a day or few days is an excellent idea.
The most important piece of technique in an exam is timing. If you get your timings wrong, then everything is affected. Write down the time you need to start and finish each question, double-checking them and factoring in number of marks each is worth in addition to how difficult you find them. Stick to those timings no matter what, being too flexible with them is the most common downfall in exams.
It sounds basic but start by looking through all of the paper, including the back page, even if you have done many past papers before. Every year students miss questions and are, therefore, deducted many marks.
Plan any essay questions you have as thoroughly as possible. Circle or highlight the key words in the question to make sure you do not miss anything significant, like dates. Using a bullet pointed list or a brainstorm, including the main points and sub-points for each paragraph as well as some of the evidence.
The fourth step in revision is exams. This is usually the period of maximum stress for your child. It is important to keep a routine going and act as normal as possible, even though you may be stressed yourself. Remind your child that you love them no matter what happens as taking the pressure off is often the best method to ensure your child performs to the fullest of abilities. Food and sleep are the two most important factors in exam success at this stage. Make sure that your child has a regular sleep schedule. If they are finding it difficult to sleep, then hot tea or milky drinks can be helpful as can baths or meditation. Getting some exercise in the day can also aid your child mentally as well as in terms of their sleep.