Exam time is upon us and parents often ask how they can support their child through the experience. I always suggest they focus on the process of preparation and avoid getting caught in the trap of teaching their child the material.
For most students, exams are introduced in grade 9 and become an important component of their education for the rest of their academic careers. The ability to prepare for and write large examinations effectively is not something a student is born with but is developed through experience.
As parents we are limited in our ability to help with content; however we can provide the support and guidance they need to learn and develop this important skill.
Here are a few ways you can help.
1. Discuss your child’s goals for their exams.
The goal here is not to impose your expectations on your child; have them share with you their goals and determine if their goals are realistic. Setting unrealistic goals can be demotivating for students and make it easier to quit when reality starts to set in. Always encourage your kids to set realistic, yet challenging, goals for themselves.
Ask your child to rate how difficult they expect each exam to be and estimate how many hours of study he or she feel will be required to be prepared. Though difficult to do for inexperienced students, this information will be helpful when it comes to prioritizing study time.
Establishing the “big picture” early on will help everyone keep proper perspective and avoid the stress and anxiety that exam time can produce.
2. Encourage your child to make a Study Plan.
A study plan will encourage your child to study with purpose. The first step is to break down each subject into “study chunks” that can be reviewed in an hour or two. Dividing a course by chapter, unit, or topic can be effective ways to create these chunks. Turn these “chunks of information” into study sessions by setting specific learning goals for each session. This may mean subdividing chapters or units based on the type of question they are likely to be asked on the exam. For example, a chapter in science could be subdivided into a session focused on learning the key terms, and a session focused on practicing word problems. Other sessions could be dedicated to learning short answer questions, essay questions, diagrams, memorizing vocabulary, etc.
Finally, using a calendar, indicate the dates of the exams and schedule in each study session, spreading them out over time. This approach will insure that all the relevant material is covered. It will also help your child to study with purpose and help him or her avoid the procrastination that is often caused by “not knowing where to start.”
3. Create a “Study Spot”.
Having a unique space for studying can have a positive impact on the student’s ability to retain and later recall information. The ideal study spot will have two characteristics: lots of space and minimal distractions. The ability to leave books and papers out between study sessions allows your child to pick up where he or she left off. Since your child will not likely have the self-control to overcome the temptations of their phone or computer, encourage him or her to leave these distractions in another room.
4. Ensure your child takes breaks, eats well, and gets lots of sleep.
Make sure to have healthy snacks available to ensure your child can stay focused and maintain energy. Getting a good night’s sleep is very important as it is during our sleep when our brain consolidates our memories. It is better to forgo a couple hours of study to ensure that your child is well rested and able to take advantage of the productive time spent studying.
5. Provide lots of encouragement.
Exam time can be stressful. Try to keep your child’s spirit up with positive reinforcements and forward focused feedback. Now is not the time to point out how much easier studying would be if he or she had worked harder during the term. Instead, let them know that you appreciate how difficult final exams can be and that it is a learning process that will continue to improve throughout their academic career.