As parents, we tend to either over- or under-compensate when it comes to providing exam support for our children. Ciska Thurman chats to an expert about how to get it just right for your kids
The school system is designed to slowly introduce and ready our children for the important exams they’ll face down the line. But like most rites of passage, there will come a time when every kid needs to identify and fine-tune their own methods to confidently prepare for exams.
No two students are the same when it comes to hitting the books. Some learners are visual, others are more auditory or tactile; some find it better to study in the morning, others in the afternoon. However, there are a few general guidelines for those preparing for exams.
When children are studying for exams, a parent’s responsibility is twofold: to provide the correct environment and to guide them with positive support.
Dr Sally Norton, a deputy principal at a top independent school in Joburg, describes some useful parameters all parents should aim to provide:
• A structured, consistent home environment: This includes an effort to keep noise levels and screen time to a minimum, and ensuring a conducive study area and lighting conditions.
• A workable study schedule: Take all extramurals into account and work around them. Ensure regular breaks include physical activity – this can be as simple as a 20-minute walk.
• Sufficient sleep and adequate nutrition: This is essential, especially during exam-writing time. Excessive sugar, energy drinks and stimulants should be avoided; restful sleep along natural patterns is also important.
‘From around the time their children are 15 years old, parents should slowly be retreating when it comes to their involvement in schoolwork and the study process,’ suggests Dr Norton. What should be taking shape by this stage is what works for your youngster.
Here are some variables to consider when guiding your children towards methods and habits that will serve them best.
Time of day
High-school students should not be studying late into the night. A bit of pre-exam revision after supper is fine, but most will need to schedule study time before school, after school and on weekends. Studying works best in 45-minute ‘bites’, so encourage your teen to do extra work once or twice a weekday and more often on the weekend. Help them to decide if swotting in the morning or afternoon is more productive for them. This way, they can avoid wasting time.
These are meant as an aid, and not a chore in itself. Many learners get hung up on producing handsome study notes, instead of allowing the whole process of making them to do the work – not simply by reproducing everything, but by using diagrams, sketches, acronyms, mind maps and rhymes to recall facts and concepts at a glance.
It is important to assist children in identifying themselves as visual, tactile or auditory learners (or a combination of these). How they access information is key to representing it in their own way and words. ‘These notes should also reflect extra reading and extension work,’ advises Dr Norton. ‘This will be particularly important for senior pupils in Grades 10–12.’
This is crucial, given that your child will sit the exam alone, without you or any study notes. Dr Norton emphasises the value of working through various past exam papers to:
• Encounter the kinds of questions that can be expected (dramatically improving their confidence)
• Encourage careful reading of the questions, allowing mark allocation to be a guide regarding answer length and answering concisely
• Perfect the basics, such as writing neatly and setting work out clearly, which includes correct numbering of questions and leaving a line between answers, among other things. Basically, they should make their answers easy to mark.
Healthy study snacks
• Avocado on wholewheat toast
• Frozen yoghurt-covered strawberries or blueberries (use a toothpick and simply dip and freeze)
• Banana and peanut butter-filled wraps (roll a peeled banana in a wheat wrap spread with peanut butter, and cut into slices)
• And don’t forget a protein-rich breakfast on exam day!