Getting ready for exams can be a stressful business. As a parenting expert, I’ve seen many children realise that they have quite a bit of work to get through in preparation for exam season and it can lead to feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. For some, this pressure is enough to galvanise them in to action; for others it becomes a case of analysis paralysis and they don’t know where to start. Study skills are important. Here are some tips to help your children to study better:
Keep your routine
One of the keys to keeping calm is to stick to routine. Wake up, go to bed and eat meals at the same time.
I have found that with children who are very physically active every day, stopping exercise because it’s study season can cause an immediate drop in their endorphin levels (their happiness hormones that also destress them). For those children for whom exercise is an important factor in keeping their brain aroused or awake, they can become sleepy quicker without regular exercise and this has a serious impact on their ability to sit for long periods of time studying. If formal sports stop around exam time, replace them with some form of regular exercise. It’s good for the brain and for your child’s stress. Use exercise sessions as study breaks to help them to get out of their heads. It’s far better than flopping down in front of the television which is liable to make them brain dead.
Break up study time into chunks
Studying can be an arduous task for some. Help your children to break up what they need to learn into chunks and put time limits on what they have to get through. Pitting themselves against the clock when studying is good practise for working against the clock in exam situations. Time management is a major learning curve for children and it is a skill they need to hone in order to finish their exams on time. Much like adults work off ‘to do lists’ so children need to learn how to map out everything they need to cover and allocate time in which to do it.
Make sure that your child is using a study method that works for them. How does your child learn best? Are they a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic (movement and touch) learner?
We are actually all three but usually have a greater preference for one of the modalities. It is important that your child knows their own study preferences to maximise their performance. For example, an auditory child may need to read their notes out aloud to themselves, have you test them or teach you their syllabus, and vice versa. This can be time consuming on your part, but it’s worth it. A visual learner may need to use a lot of colour and mind maps for their studying to be effective. A kinaesthetic learner may need to walk/pace while they study. Even the act of writing is a form of movement. So, your child may be a visual kinaesthetic learner which means that reading notes alone will never suffice as a study method – they need to make their own notes and possibly in technicolour, and with squiggly illustrations.
Matching study skills and methods to your child’s brain profile is worth further investigation.
Make sure your child has everything they need for their studies and exam preparation. Enough exam pads, blank paper, coloured paper, pens, coloured markers if they are visual learners, Post-it notes, a flip chart and more.
Change the medium
Sometimes kids get bored of using paper and pen when studying. Changing the medium to a large flip chart, a white board or even just using whiteboard markers on a window, mirror or on sealed ceramic bathroom or kitchen tiles, can be both novel and memorable. Don’t forget bath crayons too. Children remain multi-sensory human beings whether they are in primary school, high school or at university or college. Changing the medium feeds into this and can add some light relief to what can become a very serious and tedious business.
Water and good nutrition
Water makes up 80% of the brain so make sure your child keeps drinking enough water when they are studying. A nutritious diet is important when studying and writing exams because the brain uses up 20% of all our energy on a normal day. Have a stash of healthy and tasty nutritious snacks for brain fuel and help your child to plan their study breaks to power up nutritionally.
Switch off devices
Switch off devices completely as social media and email alerts distract the brain and interrupt train of thought, slowing down whatever your child may be doing enormously. If your child is addicted to their devices, they should hand them over to you during study sessions and they can be used as a reward for completing a task, but only for short periods of time.
During study breaks encourage exercise, snacking, hydrating the brain and socialising. Limit the amount of screen time as it can be distracting. It is well- documented that social media and instant messaging are attention snatchers. A good conversation either on the phone or face-to-face would be a good reward for studying. Watching TV or a movie is not something to do in the middle of a study day, such as over a lunch break, as it can change the brain frequency ratios from high performance to deep relaxation in a matter of minutes. Teach your child how to optimise the dynamic tension they create, making them conscious of when to break it and when to keep running with it.
If your child gets stuck or feels blocked
They may need an extra lesson on a particular aspect of a subject. Try and facilitate this where necessary. Don’t forget the power of Google. There is so much online that can be helpful. They may also just need a few minutes with a friend who is better at a section of a subject than they are for a quick explanation. With technology such as Skype, they could quickly connect with that person for a quick lesson, dispelling their stress and anxiety at the same time.
The brain thrives on repetition to wire it effectively and to create strong memory cells. This means that the more your child practices something, the better they will get. Test papers and practical examples are imperative in the study process. Don’t let your child skip out on this.
Switch off and unwind
At the end of a busy day of studying, repetition and overloading the brain with information, it is essential that children find ways to switch off and calm down so that they can enjoy the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Enough sleep is important for helping the brain to file and make sense of all the information it has received during the day. Having a hot bath, and a hot drink before bed is a good idea it creates a sense of emotional warmth. Hot water is akin to a liquid hug. Breathing and meditation techniques can be really helpful. Lie down, tense and relax all muscles from head to toe.
Laugh and connect
Connecting with other people – friends or family – face to face, can make you feel happier and more relaxed. Limit social media over the study and exam period and encourage more real connection time for your child even though it will be for limited time periods. And, try and limit family stress over this time as it can leach their energy.
Of course, there is a lot more to be said around the issue of study skills and tips to help your child study better, but the above provides a common sense approach as a launchpad for exam season. And, when one person is in study/exam mode, the whole family needs to be supportive of this.
Get more parenting tips and advice from Nikki Bush.
Download her Parenting Matters ebook here.