Exam season is here again which means only one thing - revision and lots of it. Seven hours a day was the recommendation of one leading school head for all those facing GCSE's and A'levels this year.
Opinion is divided on whether this is necessary but hard work is generally rewarded by success. My experience is that five to six hours is the norm and that requires incredible discipline on the part of the teenagers and patience and support from the parents.
Here are some tried and tested ways on how you can help your teens survive those long days of revision and ensure they approach their exams not only well-prepared but with confidence.
- Revision Timetable
A thorough revision timetable gives teens a structure for their exam preparation and means they won't waste precious revision time, flicking through text books deciding what to do on an ad hoc basis and most importantly that they won't miss anything out.
Research shows that short periods of learning interspersed with regular breaks is the most effective approach to revision. Ensure your teen writes down all the topics within each subject that they need to revise before preparing the timetable. The general advice is to allocate 30-40 minute revision sessions to each topic with a 10 minute break between each and to vary the subjects, rather than sticking to topics all from one subject.
Incorporating breaks within the timetable is essential. A 5-10 minute break between each revision session is sufficient with an hour for lunch. The important thing is that they take advantage of the breaks and are not tempted to just carry on through. The brain can only absorb so much information at once.
Writing notes and learning them is one thing, but it is a good idea for teens to test their knowledge before exam day and practice papers are a good way to do that. Be prepared and stock up on lots of paper and printer ink cartridges in advance, as well as post it notes and blank post cards - you can never have too much of any of these during the exam period.
- Brain Food
Revising uses up a lot of energy, so their body and brain needs good nourishment. A nutritious breakfast to kick start the day is important, as is a well stocked fridge of healthy snacks and food they can prepare themselves for lunch if you are out, to ensure they are not just grazing on rubbish all day. This is also true of sugary drinks, which while tempting when they are feeling tired will only cause a crash in their energy levels. Drinking plenty of water will keep their brain well hydrated and make sure your teen is performing at their best.
- Regular Exercise
With such an intensive revision timetable it can be difficult to find time for much else during the day, but sitting at a desk all day is not healthy. It is absolutely vital they get out and take regular exercise, even if it is just a quick walk around the block to clear their head; it will enable them to put a fresh perspective on what they have learnt that day.
The importance of sleep during exams cannot be emphasised enough. It is restorative and will enhance their exam performance. Encourage your teen to stick to a firm bedtime and not to be tempted to stay up late in the lead up to exams and particularly the night before an exam. Cramming all night is futile as there is only so much their brain can absorb in one day.
- Digital Detox
Effective revision and quality sleep can only be achieved without distraction. Encourage your teenager to turn off their phone or any other electronic device while revising so that their concentration is not broken by text or facebook messages from friends. Similarly when they go to bed persuade them to turn their phones and tablets off or put them away as the blue light they emit is particularly disruptive to a good night's sleep.
- Revision Help
Apart from ensuring your teen has a quiet area to do their work and revise, be prepared to test them on what they have learnt or to sit and listen as they talk you through a topic - even if you have heard it a hundred times before - you never know you might learn something new! Challenge them on what they have learnt and get them to think outside the box. Encouraging them to develop an inquiring mind will ensure they are prepared for the unexpected.
Normal routines maybe disturbed during the exam time, try not to stress about it and keep home life as calm as possible for them. Teenagers taking exams are stressed enough so any additional nagging about the state of their room is unnecessary. The long term gain of their hard work will alleviate the short term inconvenience. Remember to just keep calm.
- Positive Support
Relentless revision is physically and emotionally draining and your teenager will at some point during their revision feel the pressure and question their ability. Don't dismiss their concerns out of turn. Listen to what they have to say and try to alleviate their fears with gentle words of reassurance, congratulate them on the work they have put in, tell them you are proud of what they are doing and no matter how old or cool they are a hug works every time.
Do you have any revising teens in your house? How do you help them through the exam period?
Editor's Note: This post was first published in 2017 and has since been revised and updated.