Practice Matters

Athletes don’t just train the day before, actors don’t just rehearse the day before filming/a play. 1 hour a day for 8 days is better than 8 hours on one day. It allows forget time and time to re-learn, ingrains and cements understanding. No cramming!  “The more I practice, the luckier I get” Gary Player (golfer)

Motivation Through Less Interesting Tasks

When students have to learn topics they are not interested in, their recall and effort will increase if given a 30 second conversation about how it will help achieve their goals, e.g. “Learning Maths will be essential if you are going to study psychology at university.”  In an experiment teaching Chinese [1], this happened:

  • If no reason was given, the result was a recall of 4 (out of 7) and an effort of -0.2
  • When students were told they were learning it for a test, recall was 3.8 (less than above) but effort rose to 0.1
  • When they were told it was expected of them, recall was 3.7 and effort rose to 0.2
  • When given an explanation of how the learning would help achieve their goals, recall rose to 4.3 and effort to 0.3

Start with the Subjects/Topics which are the Most Challenging

Encourage your child to tackle the learning that is most challenging first when their brain is freshest. This also avoids putting off the least favourite bits which then never get done!

Useful Phrases – Offer, Don’t Nag!

  • “How can I help?”
  • “If you’d like me to test you, let me know”
  • “I’ve brought you a snack to keep you going”

Don’t Pass on Your Stress

Young people, are under more pressure today than ever before in history and put themselves under quite enough stress. Try not to show how worried you might be about exams. In fact, make it explicit that you love them whatever happens (sounds too obvious but it really matters to young people who can often feel they will let their parents down). Reassure them that all will work out in the end – if they don’t get the grades needed to get into York University, they will go to their second choice, be equally happy and have a great time.

Encourage Regular Breaks and Time Off

Breaks will help learning, giving the brain time to store and sort information. Keeping up with friends will help put the stress of exams into better perspective – they aren’t the whole world!

Create a Space for Learning

Most people work well in an undisturbed place with space to spread out. Make sure it is well lit and that there are no distractions e.g. encourage them to turn off their phone. Helping them get organised is a good way to support – buying record cards and boxes to store them in, a place to stick notes on the wall, pots or mugs to store pens, etc.

Local libraries can be an excellent place to work as they will be surrounded by other students working silently and they are less likely to be distracted than at home. Surprisingly, quite a lot of students like to work on the kitchen table – right in the way!

Well Before the Exam

  • Read through class notes
  • Use resources on websites
  • Use course textbooks
  • Mind Maps / Diagrams
  • Make / Remake class notes
  • Highlight / Colour code
  • Flashcards
  • Use a Revision Wall to display your learning
  • Work with other students in groups/pairs.

Leading Up to the Exam

  • Write exam answers under timed conditions
  • Read model answers
  • Compare model answers against your own
  • Use past exam questions & planning answers
  • Mark your own work to a mark scheme
  • Study mark schemes or Examiner’s Reports
  • Create your own exam questions
  • Hand in extra exam work for marking
  • One-to-one discussions with teachers.

Revision Strategies to Encourage Your Child

Encourage them to …

Highlight (or underline) key words as they read the information/notes.

Help your child to learn what and how much to highlight. There’s no point in highlighting everything – that’s colouring in!

highlighter pen on text

Why?

This will encourage them to interact with the text and pick out key parts, rather than just read through without thinking about the meaning. I’s far more likely to stick if they process the information in some way.

Encourage them to …

Record information onto a phone.

Why?

They can then listen to the work on the bus or walking to school and many people remember what they hear really well.

Lots of people find making a song or rap is useful.

Encourage them to …

Use record cards to condense a topic onto one card. Do this early on as creating the cards is a useful strategy but takes time.

They will have something to come back to and could condense it further later on but nearer the exam/test, they may not have time to make the cards.

Encourage them to …

Use mnemonics to remember sequences, lists or facts.

A great way to trigger memory and make sure each part is remembered. The sillier the better!

(Order of the Planets) My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies

Solar System illustration with plants laid out in order from the sun

Encourage them to …

Make a mind map. Use colour, diagrams, illustrations https://potentialplusuk.org/index.php/2018/06/03/mind-mapping/

After they have completed the above, suggest that they cover the answers/notes and see if they can say them out loud or write them down from memory. Testing yourself really helps your brain to remember information.

Why?

The brain will remember the shape and position of facts, helping to check if they have missed any part.

Be aware that some students hate mind maps – often High Learning Potential students as it is too open-ended or they will spend ages on the way it looks rather than on the content. If this is the case, try a Mandala.

Encourage them to …

Make flashcards. These are even more condensed versions of the record cards.

Why?

Flashcards are useful for testing themselves or for you to test them on key facts. They are easy to carry around and the process of creating them helps memory as well as identifying the priorities.

Encourage them to …

Turn the notes into a flowchart.

Living with Teenagers Top Tips Graphic

Why?

Again, condensing the information helps to process it and the visual representation makes it easy for students to remember each step in a test/exam.

Encourage them to …

Create a mandala

mandala

Why?

A good alternative to mind maps. Instead of being open-ended, a mandala reduces the information onto one page. The main theme/topic goes into the centre, then the 3 sub-headings/areas to learn on the next ring out, then 3 sections beyond that and so on.

A mandala can also be used as a planning tool but, as a revision aid, it is a good way to help students decide what are the key factors, e.g. in History, what 3 things were most influential in Hitler’s rise to power and, of each of these, what 3 things played the biggest part, etc.

Encourage them to …

Create a story board. This is really useful for sequencing events. Discourage perfectionism – it’s the content not the appearance that will get the marks.

This won’t work for everyone but for people who learn visually or struggle with sequencing, it’s a great method.

Encourage them …

Offer to test them. If they go wrong, ask the same question again and again, interspersing the ones they didn’t know with new questions!
It’s a good way to offer support without taking over. You may not know the answers yourself but can use the record cards, mind maps, etc to work out questions to ask.

Woman pointing to work on a sheet

Why?

Revising with someone else makes it more enjoyable and you can help them check that they remember everything.


How to Help Your Child to Plan Their Revision Time

 Which student do you think will do better in an exam?

  • Student A does fifteen hours revision – all of it reading through class notes.
  • Student B only does ten hours revision – two hours making mind maps, two hours creating flashcards of key terms, three hours writing timed essays, two hours collecting together all the past papers and looking for patterns in the questions asked, and half an hour doing the hardest question they could find, followed by half an hour with their teacher talking it through. Then they spend five hours relaxing; spending time with their friends, going online and watching TV.

In our example, student B does all three stages of revision, then takes some time off. In our experience, student B will pretty much always get a better grade than student A, and puts fewer hours in.

 It is important that revision covers a range of activities. Looking at the table below you will notice some activities have a ‘C’ next to them. These are the CONTENT techniques.  Some activities have an ‘S’ next to them. These are the SKILLS techniques. Others have an ‘F’ next to them. These are the FEEDBACK techniques.

Notice in our example, student A just does CONTENT revision.

You need to make sure that your child is going over content, practising the subject specific skills and gaining feedback on their practice. This is what will have the most impact. Most students tend to stick to the content type of activities.

Revision Time Plan Checklist

Download this checklist as a Plan Revision Time PDF checklist.

Reference

[1] Reeve, J., Jang, H., Hardre, P., Omura, M. (2002) Providing a rationale in an autonomy-supportive way as a strategy to motivate others during an uninteresting activity. Motivation and Emotion 26, 183–207. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1021711629417


Joy Morgan is the Assistant Headteacher and Specialist Leader of Education at Parliament Hill School, London.  Parliament Hill School received the Above and Beyond Awards Effective Provision in School Award in 2019 and holds the Gold Level (see Recognising Excellent Practice for High Potential Learners) of Potential Plus UK’s High Learning Potential Best Practice Award