Hopefully you are looking forward to a Bank holiday weekend with your son or daughter, and that you have managed to have positive conversations which mean that stress is minimal.  I was in a school yesterday, where I spoke to some students about keeping the balance.

I shared with them the story of an athlete  who was preparing for a major competition.  The athlete was so desperate and determined to do well, that he started to train above and beyond his carefully balanced programme, and did so without anyone else knowing.  He figured that if he trained when his opponents were recovering and resting, he would gain an advantage.  Within a short time, the athlete had overt trained, became illness, and started to show signs of fatigue.  The upshot was that the athlete was declared unfit, and was unable to compete.

Whilst a determined and hardworking mind set is clearly important for any success, this needs to be balanced with a respect for recovery and relaxation.  Perhaps there is an opportunity to share this idea with your child over the long weekend, and plan to spend some time recovering and resting.  ‘More’ doesn’t mean better… well planned and balanced means better!

As we near the beginning of the exams, the effort on revising and preparing must continue, and hopefully as a result of the work done so far there is a shift in confidence as your child sees that when they practice past exam questions their success is improving.  Last week, we considered strategies for learning knowledge, and looked at the specific strategies that the research points to as most effective.  Using flashcards (digital or on paper) is a really good way of testing small chunks of information. To keep things interesting, you can test knowledge within a topic, and at other times test knowledge across topics, and even across subjects.  This ‘wakes the brain up’ and will activate different areas of the brain.  You’ll be able to judge whether this is challenging and positive (which is what we want) or becomes stressful and negative for your child.  If they find it difficult, step back into smaller chunks of learning and stick within a topic rather than ‘bouncing around’.

Students also need to be testing their ability to ‘recall for understanding’.  That is their ability to explain an idea or concept, linking different pieces of information together.  On past exam papers, these will be questions that begin with command words such as ‘explain’, ‘describe’, ‘consider’, ‘discuss’, ‘evaluate’.  These commands usually ask the student to give more than just recalled knowledge, and are worth more marks in the exam.  One way of doing this is to do a ‘talking mock’.  This is where the child speaks rather than writes the response.  This can be difficult as you will quickly see just how much they know – it’s harder to ‘waffle’ when you’re talking to someone than it is on paper!

Perhaps your son or daughter has tried out one of the techniques for ‘revising for understanding’ we looked at in earlier posts.  If they tried using the Cornell note system, or memory mapping, they will have summarised information into symbol form, and getting them to just look at the summary and talking you through the topic is a great way to check in on their understanding. If they get stuck, remember, they will want to focus on all that they got wrong.  You can really help by showing them how much they got right, and reminding them that making mistakes now is a good thing, as they have time to put things right!  They could also do with a reminder that they can afford to make mistakes in the exam, and still get a good grade.  Keeping things calm, keeps thinking and memory ‘open for business’ and you may have to be the one to make sure this happens!

Remember, small chunks of about 30 minutes is about right for revising.

When they practice past exam questions, keep to the time they would have in that exam

Decide whether this 30 minute slot is to recall information or to explain it, and select an appropriate strategy to work on this

Good luck!