Helping your teen study for an exam

Father helping his son with schoolwork.

At a glance

  • When your teen is studying they need to stop every 40 minutes and have a five-minute break.
  • Encourage your teen not to leave exam preparation until the night before because it will be harder for them to remember the information.
  • Encourage your teen to understand that exam questions vary and so should the answers.
  • Remind your teen that tests measure what they have learnt and not their worth as a person.
  • If your child studies and assesses themselves positively before an exam, it should boost their self-confidence

Lots of chocolate, last-minute cramming, avoiding the hard questions ... there is a better way for kids to study for their exams.

A good diet for studying

Watch your teen doesn't indulge in too much sugar or binge eat while they are studying. A ‘sugar-hit' will give them a burst of energy, but will then result in a severe lull. Natural sugars found in fruit, vegetables, fruit juices and dairy products will be more sustaining.

Regular breaks bring peace of mind

When your teen is studying they need to stop every 40 minutes and have a five-minute break. Suggest to your teen to do something totally different during the break such as playing with the dog, phoning a friend, having a healthy snack or going for a walk. A blend of exercise, relaxation and refreshment is most important.

Get organised well in advance

Encourage your teen not to leave exam preparation until the night before because it will be harder for them to remember the information. Some kids think cramming is the way to go, but in reality they only have limited recall. Instead, help your child get organised well in advance. Suggest they put their study notes into separate coloured folders. Using colours helps jog most people's memory because they can associate the information more quickly. Your teen may even like to use different coloured pens and paper for each topic, but just check they can be seen clearly at night under the lights.

Figure out what exams need the most attention

Ask your teen to write out a list of the exams in the order they will happen. This will show them which subject to begin with and which topics they need to concentrate on the most.

Simple strategies to approach hard topics

When kids are concerned about a subject, they tend to avoid it. However, there are simple ways to help your teen get into studying topics they find hard.

  • Review the lesson notes.
  • Select any key concepts and make a list of important terms.
  • Write key concepts onto flash cards (which are easy to refer to and organise) and on the back, writing general ideas and details.
  • Organise the cards into groups by numbers or colours (to match topics) so they are easy to find and reorganise.
  • Lay the cards out on a table so your teen can see them in their mind and remember how to use the information in an organised and logical way.
  • Complete some practice questions in a time limit by referring to the flash cards and notes, and referring to the text for examples and details (if your teen only does this verbally, they can fall into the trap of saying, "I knew that!").
  • For the School Certificate reference test, it's helpful to complete practice papers.

Start a study group

If your teen is a strong verbal learner, suggest to them to form a small study group with some of their friends. They can ask one another questions or provide feedback about their material.

Understand the styles of exam questions

Encourage your teen to understand that exam questions vary and so should the answers. In multiple choice questions, for example, they can be assessing how well your teen reads a question and then solves the problem that it refers to. Remind your teen of the need to support a comment with examples and evidence, especially in a literature question.

Learn to manage exam anxiety

Remind your teen that tests measure what they have learnt and not their worth as a person. Most anxiety stems from fear of poor performance. If your child studies and assesses themselves positively before an exam, it should boost their self-confidence. Symptoms of stress and anxiety can be made worse by significant changes in sleep and eating routines. These symptoms can also be reduced by physical activity such as walking, swimming or relaxation exercises.


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