One thing I never expected as a parent was to become an expert in All Things Exam. Want to know what are the best ways to revise? Pull up a chair. I’ve got you.
Between 15 and 18 it feels like there’s just no let up in the relentless pursuit of exam grades (and the swing of the pre-, mid- and post-exam mood cycle…). Regular readers know I have four ‘kids’ – aged between 14 and 22, exams have been my unhappy-place for more years than I care to think about (with still a few more to go. Sigh.)
As a parent you really cannot do this for them – they’re in that exam hall on their own, and nothing you can do outside will help the knowledge magically show up in their brain. But what you CAN do is help them figure out the revision – how to make it effective, and really work, giving them the best chance of the grades they deserve for their next step, whether that be to the next level of education, out into the ‘real’ world of working or even heading out on a travelling adventure. We all just want to achieve what we know we’re capable of, and maybe surpass our own expectations, right?
So What’s the best way to get your brain on your side?
I think we all remember that feeling (funny how every parent feels that their own exams weren’t that long ago; unlike parenting a toddler, the memories of your own teen years make your teenager’s struggles entirely relatable) – spending hours gazing at your notes, reading chunks of textbooks, making more notes, efficiently using an array of amazing highlighters… and then the next day feeling like you didn’t grasp a thing.
So how can you help your teen not only revise, but revise well. Get their brain on their side, and ensure, as Collins puts it, it’s Revision That Sticks.
Memorising bundles of notes is one thing; your brain is an amazing memory stick. But if you’re not understanding what you’re reading, your brain isn’t processing it – and if it’s not processed, it’s not stored in the long-term memory, and therefore entirely unusable in an exam.
So tpo help your teen see if they’re recalling or understanding, have them explain it to you.
Not looking at notes, just using their own words to explain a principle of science/two sides of a battle/the meaning of a poem. It doesn’t have to be word perfect, or the most elegant explanation – simply putting it into simple terms shows whether the basic understanding is there.
It’s a basic principle – your remember what you understand.
Don’t just stick to notes taken in class, and a required-reading textbook. There are so many options out there. Use an online provider like ICS Learn to access course content with real tutors, live online classrooms and past & practice papers. Past papers are an essential learning tool – encourage your teen to do as many as they can. It’s not just about testing their understanding, they’ll strat to feel very comfortable with the format,m the marking schemes, what exactly is epxected – all ways to pick up extra marks and decerease strees during the real thing.
Don’t forget to use YouTube videos top brush up on specific points – educational YouTube is a wonder to behold. BBC Bitesize is a terrific free resource when you’re struggling to understand a concept too – simply having something explained in a different way can often switch the light on.
Repetition is Key
We all know that the more often we do something the easier it becomes, and the better we get at it. It’s the same with memory recall – paths between neurons become ‘well-trodden’ with frequent use, so simple repetition can be the best way to fix knowledge.
And tie it in with the point about understanding. Don’t just repetitively learn chunks of text – do new things with it. Make yourself maps and diagrams and cloud bursts of key points. The more ways they reproduce the same information, the greater their understanding of it, and the more ‘paths’ they tread to those essential memories.
Very few people have to study in isolation – there’s always a large cohort of people taking the same exam. So use that hive mind to assist each other. It’s easier than ever before to do this – it doesn’r have to be class mates, Facebook groups, Reddit threads, Discord servers, there’ll be a lot of ways your teen can acceess people studying the same subject at the same level. They’ll also read other people’s answers to a question, widening their own viewpoint and understanding.
Sleep – and Get Up!
I know, this is the least popular of all. I feel the collective parental pain at trying to persuade their teenagers that getting to bed and then making an early start is actually good for them. But in the evening, your brain is already weary from the day, and those neurotransmitters you’re desperately trying to get on your side simply won’t be at their best. Give them a helping hand – try and learn when they’re ready for you, fresh as a daisy in the morning time.
Brain recall is much stronger after sleep; sleep allows memories to consolidate and ‘fix’. Learning doesn’t stop when you close your eyes, you simply let your brain carry on without you. Those desirable 7-8 hours of good undisturbed sleep actually becomes crucial during revision and exam periods…
So. Going to bed early and getting up early really will help. Getting up on time will then help you stay focussed, and your brain will be firing all over the place – it’ll remember what you did yesterday, and be more responsive to what you’re working on today.
Get up and crack on!