The focus this week is to get a good revision plan together. The reason you have spent some time talking to your child about exams is to ensure that you are ‘on the same page’. One of the hardest things to get right is agreement as to how much revision is ‘enough’.
I fully appreciate that some parents have a child who does not want to do any preparation at home, whilst at the other end of the spectrum there are young people who are doing far too much, and are at risk of ‘burn out’ well before the exams.
If you are at the ‘not doing much’ end, it’s time to revisit those motives, and ask what it will feel like to have limited choices because you didn’t put in the effort to prepare. No one ever regretted working hard for the success they enjoy, but there are plenty who regret not trying when they had opportunity! If you are really struggling, it may be time to talk to your child’s school. There are exceptional people in schools who mentor young people, and your school may be able to offer further support.
If your child is one who is danger of ‘over working’ it’s time to talk about the vital part that rest plays in helping our brains be effective. The tired brain doesn’t take in new information, and definitely doesn’t store it for use in the exams! Some young people believe that means more work must equal better results… This isn’t the case if you are so exhausted going into exam season that you can’t think straight!
Many students are still getting homework at this time of year. As teachers reach the end of teaching the content in each subject, homework will be gradually replaced with revision. This means that students need different plans over the coming weeks:
A plan for now (that they can do alongside their homework)
A plan for evenings whilst at school during the day and doing revision in the evening
A plan for days when they are not at school during the day (e.g. Easter holidays)
When I first started working on exam preparation with young people, I used to be quite prescriptive about how much revision they should be doing. I have now completely changed my approach, and use one that is far more realistic. Feedback from students is enthusiastic, and parents tell me that their children actually revise using the approach, so it’s time to share it!
One of the main barriers to revision particularly at GCSE is the sheer volume of work involved. Students are preparing for exams across a wide range of subjects, and will be examined in their learning over Years 10 and 11. We estimate that on average, a student will cover 200 topics across their GCSE learning (varying depending on the courses your child has taken)… No wonder they are overwhelmed and the play station/phone/fridge/TV are more attractive!!
I encourage students to focus not on the amount that has to be done, but on small steps to get there. 1 step is a 30 minute chunks of learning/revision. 30 minutes is enough time to do some focused learning but not so long that students get distracted. This feels achievable, and these 30 minute chunks soon add up!
Start by agreeing how much study/revision your child will commit to (revisit motivation if you need to!)
I start by looking at how much time is available in the evening.
From 4pm to 10pm there are 6 hours. If a student spent half of this time revising, then that would be 3hours, which gives us 6 sessions of 30 minutes. 6 sessions is a lot of revision, but there is still half of the evening available to do the things they enjoy doing. I don’t feel that a student should need to do any more than 6 sessions of 30 minutes if they start revision early, (i.e. About now; early March!)
So the first selling point’ is that you’ll never have to do more study than ‘your own time’ in an evening!
So Gold standard might be 6 sessions of 30 minutes. We then agree a ‘Silver standard’ of revision (perhaps 5 sessions of 30 minutes), and then a ‘Bronze standard’ evening (perhaps 3 sessions of 30 minutes). Next I would ask the student to think about the important commitments or activities they have in their week, to ensure that these continue (it’s important to keep doing the things they love for many different reasons – not least to keep motivated and positive!)
Bronze evenings would happen when your child has something else to fit in (e.g. sport/hobby/friends/job/responsibility).
Once you have these things in place, you’re ready to agree how many Gold, Silver and Bronze evenings you have each week.
Whilst your child is still getting homework, their Gold standard might be 3 sessions, Silver 2 sessions and Bronze 1 session. They might not do any gold nights whilst they have homework, but do a silver night on lighter homework nights, with a bronze on heavier homework nights. If your child stays behind at the end of the school day for revision sessions at school, these would of course count as part of the plan!
Once homework has been replaced with study/revision time, they can increase the number of study sessions.
The following example is a student whose Gold standard is 5 sessions, Silver is 4 and Bronze is 2. They decide to do 2 Gold each week, 2 Silver and 1 Bronze. This allows for a lighter night in the week for less work, or for a hobby/responsibility/interest.
I suggest this strategy because it builds in flexibility, and means that revision can sit alongside other things without making the student feel like they don’t get to do anything that’s fun!
Getting started can be a hurdle, so you may decide to agree smaller numbers when setting Gold, Silver and Bronze levels, and just get started with the agreement that you’ll review these numbers together when revision is underway. Once your child realises that they are being successful, they are more likely to commit more time.
If your child is completely reluctant, agree a Bronze standard and help them to do it every day!
You’ll notice that we haven’t included any work at the weekend. You may agree with your child that it’s important to have a work free day, and that the other weekend day will be another Gold/Silver day, or do a little on each day – again the plan allows you to be flexible.
It can be a good idea to allocate weekend sessions to catch up on any revision you should have done during the week but didn’t, or to have time to revisit something that didn’t go so well and needs more time. Working like this means that your child doesn’t fall behind on their schedule (a common reason for giving up on a revision plan), and means that they start a new week ‘on track’.
I’m always really encouraged when I suggest this to students. Here are examples of what students said in my work with them this week:
“I’ve never stuck to a plan before, but I could do that”
“I thought you were going to say we had to do loads but it’s never more than half my time”
“I won’t have to give up my sport! It’s way better than I expected”
You can apply the same approach when your child is not at school (e.g. The Easter holiday). You may keep your number of sessions that make up Gold, Silver and Bronze the same as they were during term time, but your child may be ready to increase these.
I have two children preparing for exams at the moment, and both use the Gold, Silver, Bronze idea. This week, one of them came home really fed up and said “I can’t face working tonight”. She was able to have a night off, knowing that it was a silver night and she could catch up at the weekend – meltdown averted, no arguments (phew!), but only because there’s flexibility in the plan!
So I think this is a helpful approach! Parents tell me they like it and students do too, so I hope it gives you a starting point with your joint revision planning.
- An effective length of time to revise is approximately 30 minutes
- Encourage your child to switch subjects every 30 minutes (e.g. 1 session of maths followed by 1 session of Geography)
- Build in breaks (10 minutes between 2 sessions, and then at least 30 minutes break before the next session)
- Agree a Gold, Silver and Bronze plan to ensure your child is working, but still able to enjoy the activities that they like
- If you have a ‘bad day’ start again with the plan tomorrow
- Revision sessions at school ‘count’ as revision (it helps get your child’s ‘buy in’ at the beginning)
Next time, we’ll cover how to prioritise topics for revision.