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  • Writer's pictureThe Parents' Guide to

Countdown to exams

The summer term is fast approaching and that marks the countdown to exams. If your teen's in Year 11 or 13, they'll be sitting their finals from May, or for Years 10 and 12, mocks are on the horizon. Now is the time to make sure they wring out the value of the weeks ahead by creating a revision timetable and knuckling down to learn what they've learned!

Finals or mocks, the lead up to exams is important

For those taking finals, teaching new things will stop at the end of Spring term so they have the Easter holidays and the time before/around exams to use exclusively for revision. This will give them chance to check they haven't missed anything during lessons and learn as much as they can before the examinations. For those taking mocks, it's never too early to get into good habits and it will help enormously when preparing for finals next year.

Of course, in an ideal world they'd have done a little revision as they go along so they don't feel they're facing an insurmountable battle now exam deadlines are fast approaching. However, in most cases, they probably won't have done as much as they hoped (if anything!) but it's not too late to start now - tonnes can be achieved by using the weeks ahead wisely.

Here's our top recommendations to make the most of the weeks ahead as they countdown to exams - it'll help put them on the right track and keep them motivated too.

Make a revision timetable

It's all too easy for time to run away with us, so make sure they plan ahead by structuring how they'll spend their time. They don't need to plan minute by minute, but they should consider how much time they'd like to spend each day on revising - and how they'd like to spend the rest of the day.

Once they've established how much time they'll spend on revising, they should work out how many days they have ahead of the exams and then divide their time to work out how much time to dedicate to each subject. From here, they need to look at how long they'll spend on each section of the syllabus. Allowing shorting bursts and regular revisiting is better than trying to learn all the parts of a syllabus in one long session. Similarly, it's better to have shorter sessions covering two or three subjects each day rather than a long session covering just one subject. Variety keeps the mind fresh.

Revise least favourite subjects at the start of the day

We all prefer doing things we enjoy - and by default we tend to be better at them too! So your teen may be tempted to start revising subjects they're good at first. This means one of two things: either by the time they get to their least favourite subjects it's towards the end of the day (or week) and they're tired, or time has run out and they don't get to them at all.

Turn this on its head. Get them to start by doing their least favourite subjects first, when they're fresh. It means they're more likely to stick to the time allocated on their revision timetables and also ensures the worst will be over early on in the day (instead of being something they dread through until the end of the day, and are continually putting off and subconsciously worrying about).

Create revision notes or cheat sheets

Hopefully they will have created good notes from lessons throughout the year and this will form the basis of their content. If not, it's not too late for them to fill in the blanks by going over their text books and seeing if there's anything missing, or using CGP study books to help them. From here, they need to create their own revision notes or "cheat sheets" which summarize all the key information and are a quick way to remind they what they need to remember and prompt/steer them towards the longer explanations they might need to write up in exams.

Not all students study and remember in the same way. For some, notes pages may suit, others may choose flow charts, diagrams, quiz sheets, pictures, flash cards or even recorded messages.

Check specification from exam boards

All exam boards list the items that are included in the syllabus and therefore might be covered in exams. Your teen should go through this and make sure they can match each sub-section to their notes. If there's something missing, they'll have time to investigate what they've missed; in some cases, it could be as simple as not knowing the overall name for a certain part of the syllabus, even though they already have all the content.

Past papers galore

By far and away the best way to prepare for exams is to take past papers - as many as possible and under exam conditions. This has multiple benefits for students including:

  1. getting used to the way questions are presented; sometimes students fail because they have not understood the information the question is trying to elicit, rather than not knowing the content

  2. getting familiar with the type of questions that regularly appear

  3. learning how to answer questions within prescribed time limits (so they're less likely to run out of time during the exam itself)

  4. understanding how questions are weighted - some questions carry more marks than others, and it's worth learning where easy marks can be attained and how to distribute time wisely throughout the paper, spending more time on questions that are worth more marks.

Of course, practise makes perfect! So even if your teen has done the paper, doing them again to check knowledge and improve answers will reap rewards in the real exam.

Use time wisely

It's a good idea to revise in small chunks, so your teen's not always going to have enough time to complete an entire past paper. In this case, taking some short cuts such as only answering part of the paper, writing answers in bullets (because they know how they will expand in the real thing), and skipping parts they know they know is an effective way to use the time they have.

Something is better than nothing

It's important to approach revision positively, so even if your teen doesn't spend as long as they'd planned, it's better that they do some revision than none at all - don't negate something they've achieved by berating them for not doing enough. Every moment they spend revising is a step towards their goal of a bright and successful future. If they feel good about doing a small thing, they're more likely to do more of it.

Don't let them worry if they're not getting everything right

The point of revising is to learn - so it's absolutely fine if they don't get everything right, even when exams are approaching. With persistence and determination, they'll get there. Encourage them that it's progress, not perfection, that they're striving to achieve.

Specific to do lists

It's easier to get things done when you know what you're trying to achieve. Make sure they create to-do lists with specific goals. So, if they've allocated an hour to revising history, they should itemize how they plan to use that hour (spend 30 minutes of past exam papers, check knowledge of Norman England, create cheat sheet for opportunity and equality in America etc).

Remember what it's for!

It's a good idea for them to create some sort of prompt or dream board to remind them why they're doing all this! If they start getting bogged down, bored or dispirited with revision, they can be reminded that this is a step towards a goal/ambition that's really important to them: short term pain for long term gain! It could be a photo of somewhere they want to visit, a job they'd like to do, a university they hope to attend - even a car they'd like to own. Whatever inspires them and will rekindle their motivation.

Other ways to help:

There’s plenty more about what you can do at home to help your teen create lifelong healthy habits in: The Parents' Guide to Homelife and Study - GCSEs and The Parents' Guide to Homelife and Study - sixth form


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