Many students will be facing end of year exams soon. Parents are often left wondering how to provide useful advice to their children in this situation. It’s often a while since we have faced exams ourselves and not all of us have the best strategies to share. This can cause stress and conflict between parents and children.
There are some basic ideas which schools often share such as, ensuring your child has a good night’s sleep prior to the exam, has eaten well and is well hydrated, has a quiet and well set up space for study all of which is very useful. I have been delving into some research about effective studying and have some tips to share with you. Armed with some solid information to share with your child, hopefully, you can make this a less stressful time for you and them. References are at the bottom of the blog.
Ensure that the obvious things are covered. Pay attention in class, go to class, do the reading, don’t put off studying, study in a quiet place, avoid distractions during class (including digital distractions) ask questions if you are confused. Doing these things will ensure you are set up well to go into exam prep time.
Let’s deal with one of the biggest myths out there, Learning Styles. There is no such thing as a preferred learning style so no need to stress about trying to figure out which learning style your child has and how to ensure they are learning this way. Research has demonstrated that learning style doesn’t impact outcomes in the least. Playing music to help with study is another common myth, thanks to John Hattie and Gregory Yates for providing information on busting this myth in Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. Research has demonstrated that music does not improve learning outcomes and in fact when attempting to focus on learning, music serves as a distraction.
Learning is hard work, if it seems too easy then it’s very likely that either this isn’t new information, or you aren’t learning anything. One of the best ways to figure out whether you are learning something new is if you are mentally sweating. If you are finding your study easy (too easy) think about what crutches you might have in place. Are you only studying the easy parts? Are you keeping your notes in front or you? Are you Googling when you aren’t confident of an answer? Take all these crutches away and then see how you go. If it’s still easy and you can honestly say you don't have any crutches, then it’s likely you know the information but otherwise read on for ways to ensure you do know the material and can produce it under exam conditions.
Spacing is a key tool when understanding how to make exam prep useful. This means that you should study information, take a break of at least a day, and then go over the information again. Forgetting is good for learning. When you space your learning sessions you have a chance to forget and then learning it again or retrieving it from memory helps us to remember in the long term.
Test yourself as you are studying. There are two purposes here, 1, this technique will help with retrieving information from your memory and 2, this strategy will help you to understand your strengths and weaknesses or what you do and don’t know. Apply the spacing rule here too. Review the information in study session one and then test yourself on the second study session. Use questions from old exam papers or from the back of textbooks to help with this process.
Summarise information after a class or completing a reading or reviewing notes. This helps to organise the information in your mind and helps to develop your memory of the information. A great way of doing this is by teaching the material to someone else (mum and dad or siblings could be great students). The key to this being an effective strategy is that you retrieve the information you are teaching from memory rather than reading from notes or a textbook while you are teaching the information.
Armed with information about proven strategies you can head into the exam season confident that you know how to support your child. I wish everyone all the best of luck with their end of year exams.
John Hattie and Gregory Yates, (2014), Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn
Rorer, D. & Pashler, H. (2007). Increasing retention time without increasing study time. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 183-186.
Aloysius Wei Lun Koh, Sze, Chi Lee, Stephen Wee Hun Lim. (2018) The learning benefits of teaching: A retrieval practice hypothesis, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Volume 32, Issue 3, 401-410
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.