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How to help your child revise

Exam season is very nearly here and parents up and down the country are fretting about how to help their children revise.

There’s an awful lot riding on GCSEs and A levels these days so it’s clearly more important than ever to support your child through the stresses and strains of exams while at the same time making sure they don’t get overwrought.

A recent poll carried out for National Revision Week asked more than 500 GCSE and A level students how stressed they were about their exams on a scale of one (‘zen-like calm’) to five (‘terrified and freaking out’). Sixty-two per cent said they were at either four or five while only 11 per cent opted for one or two on the scale.

Similarly, a survey carried out by ChildLine earlier this year found a steep rise in the number of children receiving counselling for anxiety caused by exams. The report, entitled Under Pressure, said: ‘Stresses about exams affected young people’s ability to sleep, triggered anxiety attacks, depression and tearfulness and eating disorders. In some cases it also led to self-harm and suicidal feelings, or made them worse.’

Meanwhile a study of secondary school pupils by Edge Hill University found that while a few nerves before exams are fine, if these turn into high levels of stress grades can be affected.

Exams are undoubtedly nerve-racking so with that in mind, here are our top ten tips on how to help children to revise effectively.

  1. Encourage your child to make a revision timetable – and stick to it.
  2. Make sure your child has a quiet space to work, with no distractions.
  3. Help to find the method of learning and retaining information that works best for them. It could be reading and making notes, using flash cards or Post-it notes, looking at video clips, playing back recordings of their own voice, mind mapping or perhaps a mixture of these. A YouTube video produced for Radio 1, 1Xtra and BBC Bitesize is full of useful ideas.
  4. Check the exam specifications. All exam boards publish these, along with practice papers and mark schemes too.
  5. Search out revision apps and online resources – such as BBC Bitesize and Gojimo – to clarify areas your child feels less confident about. Teenagers sometimes concentrate on their best subjects and leave their weaker ones till the end but it is a good idea to tackle weak areas early on.
  6. Be around as much as possible. You don’t have to be at their side 24/7 but children like parents taking an interest in their revision (but not taking over).
  7. Keep the kitchen cupboard stocked with delicious food. When the going gets tough children really appreciate a cup of tea, a plate of biscuits or their favourite meal.
  8. Encourage them to break revision into manageable chunks and to take regular breaks in between revision sessions. It’s far more effective to do 30 minutes of successful revision – rather than plough on for hours on end and not get anywhere. This is backed up by research by academics at the University of Sheffield who found that learning is more effective when spread out over stretches of time.
  9. Exercise, fresh air, healthy food and lots of sleep are crucial.
  10. Most important of all, help your child to keep everything in perspective. Remind them that the better they prepare and the more confident they feel in their subject knowledge the less stressed they will feel when the exams start. But by the end of June the exams will be over and it will be the start of the long summer holidays.

A good hand?

After the Queen told Alex Salmond that he had ‘the worst writing of any of my ministers’, he changed his signature so that it was more legible when he put his name to bills. Nicola Sturgeon’s handwriting has yet to excite any comment but looking at her, the adjectives small, neat and clear come to mind so perhaps the new First Minister’s signature will be spared one of Her Majesty’s old fashioned looks. 

From perfect copperplate (the Queen’s style) to the clichéd doctor’s scrawl, it’s tempting to link handwriting to personality or even ability, but there is no scientific evidence of a direct connection between handwriting and performance. If a job advert asks for a handwritten covering letter it’s probably to check that the applicant’s grasp of the language in question matches their fluency on the typed CV or application form. Circles instead of dots over the letter ‘i’ may also guarantee a one-way ticket to the rejection pile.

Take a tablet

More and more schools are providing pupils with tablets – or allowing them to use their own in lessons – and parents worry that this could diminish dexterity with pen and paper. Considering that school entrance tests, GCSE, A level and university examinations all require candidates to write their answers (dyslexic students or those with other needs may use laptops), these concerns are not unfounded. Students taking essay subjects such as English or history may write 20 pages or more in an A level or university exam – the thought of it is enough to give anyone writer’s cramp!

Poor handwriting costs marks in exams and slow writers may underperform. The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants has heard of instances where children from other countries are so unaccustomed to writing by hand that they are physically unable to complete a timed test such as the 13 + common entrance examination. Graphologist Margaret White (www.graphocentric.co.uk) puts the emphasis on ‘clear’ rather than ‘good’ handwriting and suggests that 15 minutes’ writing practice a day ‘improves the muscles and nerves of the forearm’. 

Less paper or paperless?

So is technology friend or foe? That depends, unless you are a tree in which case the answer is definitely ‘friend’. On the other hand if you’re a keyboard things are looking less rosy. Ever improving styluses and note taking programmes make writing on a tablet comparable to pen and paper but with the added advantage that vital scribbles are less likely to be lost. Tablets can be used to import and annotate PDF files and pupils can photograph science experiments (for instance) and incorporate these into their work. Students use tablets to take notes in lectures and the technology is increasingly popular in business, making meetings much more interactive than a room of people two-finger typing notes on laptop keyboards. 

Creative use of tools such as smartboards and tablets can add enormously to pupils’ engagement with a topic and schools have been quick to incorporate technology into the classroom. The downside can be time can be wasted sorting out problems – how likely is it that 20 or more iPads will all start up and work perfectly? This is nothing new - hands up who remembers geography teachers battling with the projector?

A century ago there were three or four postal deliveries a day and you could write and send a postcard inviting someone to tea the same afternoon. Email now does this for us, making the receipt of a handwritten card or letter a rare joy (unlike their supposed successors, the ‘e-card’). Despite predictions, e-readers haven’t murdered books and likewise technology has some way to go before it challenges the elegant simplicity of pen and paper.

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