Exams. Although it can be torture for many, some people enjoy the challenge. Whatever your take on exams, there’s no doubt they often cause angst way before you hear those immortal words: “Turn over the exam paper!”. The problem is one of revision. How much, how often, how detailed, how...? For many of us who left school decades ago, revision is a hit and miss affair generally – and, in any case, as with most things educational, the methods and advice given out nowadays could be completely different.
One thing’s for sure. Even if you’re feeling nervous about how your child will acquit himself, it’s crucial that your sense of impending doom isn’t transmitted to your child. Try to keep a sense of perspective, too: if they’ve revised for three evenings on the trot, let them go out on the fourth. It’s also counter-productive to expect teens to cram for hours; they are as distractible as much younger children and after about 45 minutes the brain loses its ability to retain information.
Common sense should also prevail. Breaking revision down into bite-sized chunks is vital to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Adopting a methodical approach is another essential tool – a scatter approach will leave your teen feeling that he hasn’t got a real grip on the subject.
There are, however, certain tips that seem to hold true. Revising facts – dates, formulae, vocab – just before bed is a good idea as the brain absorbs information during sleep. Getting plenty of sleep and really good nutrition goes without saying: a meal of oily fish such as mackerel or salmon just before an exam, will ensure plenty of omegas! Drinking lots of water will also facilitate the brain to be effective. If they’re sporty, encourage them to keep on playing rugby or go swimming during revision time as exercise is good for blood flow to the brain and will give them a mental rest.
Revision guides have their place too and there are good online sites such as BBC Bitesize. Find out which exam board and syllabus your school is following before buying or your teen may end learning the wrong things or becoming confused. Friends can help too: especially with languages and vocabulary,as they can test each other. You can think you know something but it’s always valuable for someone to test you. (You can reward them with pizza if they do well!)
Some teens insist on revising in front of the TV, often with their iPod plugged in at the same time. Too much extraneous noise can be a distraction but for many people, some background music is helpful – and, after all, the world of work is rarely silent.
Another good idea is to try to work out what type of learner your child is. Many schools will run questionnaires to identify whether they’re visual, aural, verbal or kinaesthetic – or a combination. Once you know this, you can tailor revision to suit the learner.
A visual learner will work well with colour-coded flashcards and notes stuck up around the house. Try to come up with word tricks and mnemonics to help those who don’t have a naturally good memory. Aural learners may benefit from recording facts on an audio file then playing it or you can read out information and test them. The most fun is if you have a kinaesthetic learner, as I do. She will lie on my bed with her legs straight up in the air, doing various yoga-like positions, or walking round the room. Shame she has to sit still for the exam.
Jo Lamiri is a freelance writer.