It's countdown time to exams. SATs, GCSEs or A levels, the weeks leading up to exams can be a stressful time for the whole family.
The last thing you want to be is a nagging mum or dad – so how do you help keep your child focused, motivated and positive?
Do you remember best by what you see, or hear, or discover by doing? That's your learning style coming into play. Everyone learns better if they know their learning style. Some of us learn visually - that's by reading and taking notes - whereas auditory learners enjoy listening and repeating aloud, and kinaesthetic learners prefer a hands-on style. There are plenty of on-line quizzes which can help older children discover their learning styles.
• If your child is a visual learner, they will be helped by making notes, reducing these to headings and sub-headings, and re-writing what they can remember. So buy lots of file paper, post-its and blank post cards.
• If your child is an auditory learner they learn by listening and talking. You can help by asking them questions and talking about the topics.
• If your child is a hands-on person they learn by doing or making something. This can be harder to practise but any activity that is not simply reading or listening will help. One example would be doing a simple science experiment, rather than just reading about it.
It might sound obvious - but is the environment right for learning? Research has shown that girls work just as well with background noise, but boys work better if there is a quiet atmosphere. If your house is short of space, think about what you can do to make it revision-friendly. Maybe you can create an area that is away from the noise of younger brothers and sisters, or the television. Other strategies that might help are:
• Everyone does their homework at the same time. For example, between 4.30pm-6pm it's heads down, no television, no practising musical instruments and no friends round.
• Noisy, younger siblings may be able to visit friends after school.
• Turn it down! TVs, radios, and personal music.
These really can help. Teenagers may say they have a revision plan, but it sometimes amounts to no more than maths on Mondays, technology on Tuesdays and science on Saturdays.
Research shows that learning a little, but often, is best. So instead of devoting an entire evening to one subject, a lot more will stick if revision is planned in one or two hour slots.
Scheduled breaks are important because no one can concentrate properly for hours on end.
• Help your child plan a revision timetable. Divide the after-school times into one-hour slots. Block out times for dinner, and build-in 15-minute breaks every hour or two.
• Choose subject topics which can be revised in the one-hour slots. Don't simply write "maths".
• Plan to revise topics on alternate days to test what has stuck and what needs more revision.
Food, glorious food
Did you know that the brain is one of the greediest organs in the body? It uses a huge amount of energy. Your child will learn best if they are eating well and drinking enough.
So, a ready supply of healthy snacks always helps. Most teenagers do not need encouragement to eat, but it's worth watching out to see that they are eating well around exam time.
• A healthy, protein-rich breakfast is a must. Without it, energy levels never recover over the day.
• It's not the right time for teenage girls to start diets!
• It's more important than ever right now to avoid junk food and refined carbohydrates. These make blood sugar rise rapidly which gives a great energy boost - but is followed by a slump and tiredness. This roller-coaster of energy is not helpful when trying to learn.
• Make sure your child is well-hydrated. Water and sugar-free drinks help the brain perform better, and many children don't drink enough.
It's easy for teens to develop a negative attitude to revision if they feel swamped and easy for parents to become annoyed if they see them wasting precious revision time.
• Try to be encouraging, not critical. Create a "can do" attitude.
• Offer to help test them on a topic. This works much better than reminding them of the consequences if they don't get on with it.
• Chill a bit – now is not the best time to insist on tidy bedrooms or help with the housework.
• Expect mood changes. Many teenagers are moody and exam pressure doesn't help. Your teenager may not be good at expressing their feelings. They may not say they are worried or anxious, but instead become more argumentative or withdrawn.
Good luck! And remember it will soon be over - at least until the next lot of exams!
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