Many parents and carers find it hard when their child reaches the “exam years” of their education.  It’s a part of the growing up process for children that seems to arrive so very quickly.  No sooner have they left primary school to move up to high school, and then all of a sudden, you are suddenly asking how can I help my child with exams?

For most learners in the UK this happens around the age of 15 or 16.  So whether it’s the Scottish National 5s or the GCSEs, the team at Saturday School Ltd has put together some key actions you can take to support your child throughout this rather important process!

Invest in past papers

Using past exam papers to study is our top revision recommendation. Thanks to the digital age, previous exam papers are available online, allowing students to practice exam questions and become familiar with the exam structure and assessment standard. 

Students may begin to notice patterns in questions, such as similar styles of questions that are worded differently. Practising them will also give students an idea of how long it takes to complete a paper. 

A common rule of thumb is that if your child completes the past decade worth of past papers in a subject – a big task we know – they will have seen it all!  This means, based on the cyclical nature of exam content, that nothing should be too leftfield on the big day!

Moreover, and just as importantly, marking schemes are also available with past papers. Students can, and should, use these to work out where they went wrong and understand what sort of answers are expected.  Also spend time on the SQA understanding standards website (Scotland) or find exemplar/model answers for GCSE, as these invaluable resources give marker commentary on all externally assessed items in your courses.

student studying forStudy out loud and teach others

Did you know that saying something out loud is an effective way to remember key information?

A study by the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review found that speaking something aloud leads to better encoding of the information in your memory. This was discovered upon comparing the effects of silently reading, hearing somebody else read aloud, hearing a recording of oneself reading aloud, and actual reading aloud in real-time as one learns. It’s known as the ‘Production Effect’.

Butter better than that, a common saying is that you only truly understand something when you can effectively teach it to others.  Think about it, why are teachers so expert in their subject?  Because they spend every waking hour sharing their knowledge and skills with others. 

Search online for the “learning pyramid” and you’ll see that if your child can sit you down and teach a concept to you, then their subsequent knowledge retention of that concept will peak at around 90%, that’s compared to 10% from just reading.  And while we are on that point, reading notes is NOT studying, that’s called reading!

Use infographics and colour

Many young people don’t benefit from the old fashioned wrote learning approach to study and get far more benefit from producing chart, mind maps and infographics.  Think of the best diagram or infographic you’ve seen lately and imagine if your child produced a similar item to list the steps in solving an equation.  This method offers deep and lasting knowledge – bringing confidence with it!

Using colour to study is one of the easiest, yet most effective revision techniques.

Why? It’s been proven that colours impact our mood in different ways. So, using certain colours to study might actually improve productivity.

In addition, the University of British Columbia found that certain colours can help with concentration, attention span and hence facilitate memory retention and learning. The study highlights that red and blue colours are the best for enhancing cognitive skills and improving brain function.

Colours can easily be incorporated into mind maps and diagrams, making them more engaging to look at too.  And, perhaps more simply, red, amber, green being applied to a list of learning outcomes or course topics allows your child to identify strengths and weaknesses in a subject, making it clear which areas need more study or support.

a student confident of exam successBe organized

Organisation is key to a productive study session, which is essential for exam success. Study notes can be kept organised by:

Rewriting: Note-taking in class can become messy and unclear, so it’s a good idea to neatly rewrite and organise notes into a different notebook.

Folders: Having a folder for studying is a no brainer. It’s really the only thing that is going to keep your notes together and in chronological order.

Keeping what’s necessary: Clutter and unnecessary sheets of paper build up quickly in folders, so be sure to keep only what’s needed.

Use labels: Keeping labels at the top or side of pages allows you to be able to index and find pages quickly.

They should also prepare a study plan and stick to it.  This allows them to identify when and what they are studying – and they can adapt each week to re-prioritise time towards different subjects. 

Test yourself

Reading and notetaking is a big part of studying and learning, but you’ll need to know if you’re truly learning what you are reading. One way to find out is by testing yourself.

Follow the ‘read, cover, remember and tell’ steps to test yourself.

Read only as much as your hand can cover

Cover what you just read with your hand

Remember What you’ve just read

Retell what you read in your head or to a partner

Other ways to test yourself can be through flashcards or writing down questions you keep forgetting and answer them until you fully remember.

The proper test though is to do unseen exam standard questions from past papers or textbooks.  Treat these like little micro-exams, doing them under strict exam conditions. 

For example, do ten marks worth of questions in the space of 12 minutes then stop.  Crucially, they should mark their work and grade it in line with the grade boundaries – this is perhaps a very strict approach but by far the most indicative of where they really are in their learning.  

Talk to the teachers

Perhaps the most obvious but maybe also the one learners are least likely to do!

Outside of the parents and family, there is another person who knows your child pretty well, that’s their teacher!

Approach each teacher individually and ask questions such as:

  • What areas do I need to work on?
  • Can you give me some work to challenge myself?
  • What tips do you have for me?
  • What areas am I strong in?
  • What type of study will benefit me most?

And if they don’t want to ask their teacher, send an email or make the call yourself!

coping with exam pressureDevelop a disciplined routine to ensure exam success

The only way to really immerse yourself in revision is by developing a routine.

Research suggests that the key to success is having a daily routine, this helps students build good habits, provides structure and increases efficiency.

Stick to a routine for at least a week and it will come naturally in no time.

Finally, and one of the most difficult issues to deal with teenagers on, making sure they stay disciplined and avoid distractions. A recent case study of young people in UK Schools identified one major item that causes major damage to effective study time.

Can you think what this item is? That’s right, your mobile phone. Keep it in another room and if you desperately need to check it allow yourself five minutes each hour then get back to work! 

The mobile phone, along with the X-boxes and PlayStation are absolute grade killers.  Your child won’t thank you for it, but they absolutely need to be removed or rationed if effective study is to take place.

Good luck!

How can I help my child with exams?
Most children need support on discipline, routine and focus. Here are some things you can do:
  1. Make sure your child eats, sleeps and exercises
  2. Ensure they have peace and quiet to study with no distractions, including noise, TV, devices, and siblings
  3. Talk about stress and how to manage it, and do not add extra pressure
  4. Check-in with them daily
Who are Saturday School LTD?
Saturday School is a tutoring school and SQA Approved Centre that support high school students and adults in tutoring, revision classes in National 5 and Higher Maths, English, Biology, Chemistry and Physics.