Some students seem to breeze through the examination season, while others feel overwhelmed by the pressure and seemingly insurmountable quantity of work they have to complete. Below are some ideas for how parents can support their children through this important and challenging time.
- Ensure teenagers have a quiet place to work with a desk and space to keep their notes and books in an organised manner;
- Make sure they frequently drink water and regularly eat healthy meals;
- Encourage them to take a break from using the internet and mobile phones for at least 45 minutes at a time. They can reward themselves with 10-15 minutes of social time at the end of each successful revision session;
- Check that they have a revision timetable in place and that they have included breaks from revision;
- Ensure they take regular breaks. Breaks are important. Very few people can effectively work for hours on end without taking breaks. When your brain is forced to store many new (and often similar) ideas in a short space of time, it can get them jumbled up. The best example of this is when you get a new telephone number. Your old number is still so well-entrenched in your memory that remembering the new one is a nightmare. It's even worse if the new one has a few similarities to the old. Make sure your son or daughter plans their your revision so that they can take breaks and revise what they’ve just learned before moving on to anything new;
- Encourage them to go to bed at a reasonable time. It can be tempting to stay up working into the early hours, but a good night’s sleep is crucial for maintaining alertness and well-being. We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping and it's never as important as during revision time. Sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation - this is when the brain backs up short-term patterns and creates long-term memories. The process is believed to occur during deep sleep;
- Ask them to tell you about the topics they are revising. Many pieces of research indicate that the best way to learn something is to explain it to someone else;
- Although it can become boring, encourage students to keep repeating their revision. They should not just look at each topic once. Pathways between neurons can be strengthened over time and simple repetition - practising retrieving a memory over and over again - is the best form of memorising something. Memories become stronger the more you retrieve them. Students should read their notes, then try to write down what they read after a few minutes. Next time, they should try to write it down after a few hours, then after a day and so on. This technique is known as spaced repetition;
- Limit distractions. Attention is the key to memorising. By choosing to focus on something, you give it a personal meaning that makes it easier to remember. In fact, most of our problems when it comes to revision have very little to do with the brain's capacity for remembering things; we just struggle to devote our full attention to the task in hand;
- Encourage them to work without music. Playing music while revising will make your task harder, because any speech-like sounds, even at low volume, will automatically use up part of the brain's attention capacity.
For further information, read the article ‘How Your Brain Likes to Revise’