Happy holidays!

Now that your child has broken up for the Easter holiday, you’ll move into a different phase of preparation for exams. It’s a good idea to start the holidays by talking over a few things so that there is a sense of agreement from the start.  Things that I would include are:

  1. Revisit the ‘why is this important to me?’ conversation that you had a few weeks ago (it’s helpful to keep this in sight to stay motivated)
  2. What will Gold, Silver, Bronze look like in the holidays? (You’re not bound to studying only in the evenings)
  3. Plan a few treats in the holidays (not necessarily high cost, but things you don’t get to do during term time). Put these in the calendar now – and stick to them!
  4. Review what has gone well over the last few weeks, and celebrate these with your child
  5. Identify any issues that have slipped and need to get back on track
  6. Ask your child “if everything goes well over the holidays with your study, what will you have achieved by he end of it?” Check that they are being realistic and that they are not expecting ‘perfect’.  If possible, try and check in with them daily to see if they are set to achieve the goals they set.  Remember, everyone has a bad day now and again- if they have one, get back on track tomorrow!

The Easter holiday is often a significant time- until now students have been able to say ‘I’ll start revision in the holidays’. Now that time is here, and they can’t hide any longer. The holidays are also a buffer between ‘normal’ lessons and exams, and that’s about to disappear. So the child who has been hoping that the exams will never come is about to get a reality check.  This can be a really difficult time for young people.

Even for students who have been working steadily, the holidays can be a time when doubt sets in- ‘Have I done enough?’, ‘Will I be ready?’, What if…?’ Are all common thoughts. That’s why the conversation suggested above is really important.  A concern I often hear is that they will ‘let parents down’.  Our teenagers aren’t always good at sharing how they feel – reassurance from you that you won’t love them more or less because of their results will be welcome.  Not every path in life is a straight one – they need to expect some things to go well, others to be challenging.  That’s all part of learning how to be a resilient human being! Chatting through how you have coped when things are tough can also be a huge help.  The main thing is that they feel that there is ‘everything to play for’ at this stage, regardless of how successful or not they have been in the past.  The holidays are also a good time for you both to look at the exam board websites together.  Ask your child to show you where the past exam papers and mark schemes are, and get used to using these documents. 

You could also have a look at the examiner reports which are usually found with the mark schemes.  These take you through question by question the common errors that students made in the exam, and so you can use these to check with your child whether they have made similar mistakes so they can be rectified.  I fully appreciate that this takes time, and you may not have capacity to do ALL of these things.  The research tells us that young people do better when their parents are ‘engaged’.  This doesn’t mean doing ALL of these things, but taking an interest, offering support, providing boundaries and structure – remember by being involved you are making a significant difference!

How you navigate the balance between study and being on holiday will depend on many factors at play in your family. It may be helpful to look at a couple of examples taken from parents I’ve spoken to recently, with suggested responses.

My child is really easily distracted, and will take any excuse not to work. Her friends are similar and will often just turn up at our house. They either then go out or stay at our house for hours at a time. No studying happens!

The chat around making the most of this opportunity to gain qualifications, and revisiting the ‘why bother’ needs to happens ASAP! Setting some boundaries around when they will work in order to achieve their goal (which you’ve talked about) is really helpful for the child who hasn’t got enough self discipline yet.  They may need some help in responding to invitations to friends.  I tell my children to ‘blame’ me; saying ‘My Mum won’t let me’ is far safer for a teenager than ‘I want to study’

I’m at work- I can’t tell if my child has been studying during the holidays.

Again having a really honest chat at the start of the holidays would help. Acknowledge that they could spend the time you’re at work not studying, but that there’s lots of trust between you. If you plan out gold, silver, bronze, and have a copy, then you can check in during the day.  Getting the balance right between trust and making sure they are working is hard, and will depend on your relationship, and how you’ve managed things in the past.  However, if you both acknowledge that distraction is a problem, you can agree how the parent will help to keep things on track.

You can see the recurring theme; a discussion to get things on track at the beginning of the holiday, an agreement of the plan, and reassurance to make sure that your child is as positive as they can be!

Remember the key things we’ve thought about so far:

Is revision effective or ‘pretend’?  I talk about real revision being ‘sticky’ (i.e. learning sticks) or ‘slippery’ (i.e. it slides off the brain and isn’t retained).  Research by Dunlosky in 2013 is really helpful in understanding what is effective.  You can read about that here

I summarise this with students by taking them through this:

sticky vs slippery

 Effective revision will occur when the brain is engaged and active.  In the same way that someone else can’t make you fitter, no one else can make you learn… that’s down to your own brain working!  So, if revision is ‘reading over’, highlighting (and doing nothing with it) or watching online videos (and not following up with anything) you are definitely in ‘slippery’ territory.

However, if you are

  1. Clear about what you need to know (because you’ve checked on the specification)
  2. Break the topic down into 4 or 5 key areas
  3. Try and remember as much as you can about each (perhaps using the Cornell note taking system to record)
  4. Add what you didn’t know or remember in a different colour
  5. Try a past exam question using what you now know
  6. Check the mark scheme and add any further additional information you didn’t have
  7. Summarise the topic for re testing in a few days time

You are really getting sticky!

In summary:

  • Have a chat to get the holidays off to a good start
  • Make a plan for managing things in the context of your family
  • Agree gold, silver and bronze for the holidays
  • Talk about ‘sticky’ vs ‘slippery’ revision

Good luck!