Spring is upon us and with it comes the exam season and in many cases, stress for a lot of pupils as well as their parents. Stressful exam seasons need not be the norm, particularly if you know how to help your child develop effective study skills. In the paragraphs below you will find five vital tips to help your primary or secondary school child stay on top of their studies - not just during the exam season but throughout the academic year.
1. Understand Your Child’s Learning Style
Each child is different which means they don’t all learn the same way. If you have a good understanding of what your child's learning style is then you will be able to help them cultivate effective study skills and improve their academic attainment.
There are a number of learning style models; one of them: Neil Fleming’s VARK model is summarised below. Note that your child will have more than one learning style however one of them is likely to be more dominant than the others.
Use this questionnaire to help you find out your child’s predominant learning style. Bear in mind that preferences can change over time, however once you know their learning style, you can use the information to help them develop better study skills. Continue to remain observant and open though as this will help you understand and adequately support your child as they progress through their learning journey.
2. Teach Your Child to Gather Correct Information and Use it Correctly
We are in the information age, however although there is an abundance of data everywhere, erroneous information aka fake news is rife.
Even when the data is accurate, sifting through the volumes of what is available could be overwhelming. This can pose a challenge to any student but the student who has mastered how to study effectively will know how to:
- Find information in a physical library as well as online.
- Locate the right information such as knowing how to track down the original source of the information; knowing the websites that are authentic etc.
- Distinguish between genuine and fake information – including how to check if data is current, its quality and if there is any reason not to believe what is presented.
- Tell the difference between facts and opinion – they will regularly read from different sources and can tell if something is biased and therefore an opinion or an actual unadulterated account of what happened.
- Stay focussed when researching online without being distracted by social media, see our previous blog on this topic to know how to achieve this.
- Effectively get straight to the heart of what a book has to offer by making good use of the contents page and the glossary.
If your child is to develop effective study skills, they will need to decipher between the different types of information they come across. This means cultivating a questioning mind and not taking everything at face value. Encourage them to ask questions such as what, how and why the information presented to them should be believed. This attitude should stem from your day to day interactions. Do not provide all the answers all the time but encourage your child to find out/work things out, with you supporting them through the discovery process.
3. Encourage Active Learning
In addition to knowing how to get correct and accurate information, to develop effective study skills further, your child will need to apply active learning techniques that will help them assimilate the information as well as develop their memory and thinking skills. Encourage your child to apply these techniques not just when studying for their exams but throughout the term as they submit their assignments, essays and so on. Active learning practices include:
- As a short summary in their own words
- In a question and answer format
- On index cards - where possible using different coloured cards
- By using highlighters, index tabs, category headings; effectively grouping the information to make things clearer
Creating links and connections; this will engage your child’s brain with what they are studying and help them develop a range of thinking skills. Encourage them to:
- Make connections by using mind maps, flow charts etc.
- Link different aspects of the material that is being read.
- Compare what is being read with regular day-to-day scenarios.
- Create an opposing case to the text that is being read; this will help your child to further explore the topic.
Make the most of the insight that you’ve gained into your child’s learning style to identify the active learning techniques that suit them best.
4. Show Your Child How to Plan and Prioritise
As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Therefore your attempts to help your child cultivate effective study skills by implementing the steps outlined in the paragraphs above may fall flat if your child does not know how to prioritise and plan.
The long term goals for your child will focus on the bigger picture such as what they intend to achieve by the end of the term or academic year.
Set the short term goals with the long term goals win mind.
Typical short term goals are:
- the minimum daily study time;
- the proportion of time spent developing active learning techniques over the course of a week;
- how well the revision timetable is followed each week etc.
The goals, set in the positive and agreed with your child should be:
- Realistic - it doesn’t make sense for example to set a goal of reading continuously for 24 hours.
- Precise & Clear - there should be no ambiguity about what is to be achieved. A good goal could be to create a revision timetable using an agreed template.
- Quantifiable – such as agreeing how many books/chapters of a book your child will read each day/week.
- Time-boxed – it should be clear when the goal is expected to be achieved.
- Attainable – understanding your child’s strengths and weaknesses will help ensure the goals are challenging yet doable.
It is important that your child makes plans to achieve the goals and follows through on the plans. A clear reward system will encourage your child to achieve this. See the back to school blog for tips on how to make the reward system effective and appropriate.
5. Make the Learning Environment Conducive
For your child to develop effective study skills as well as set and achieve study and attainment goals, they will need the right environment.
- Have clutter-free and noise-free zones in your home - it is difficult to study effectively in the midst of chaos.
- It is not unusual for you to feel anxious about their exams however it is counter-productive to transfer the negative energy. Rather than panic, focus on helping your child cultivate the right study skills from the start of the academic year.
- Respect your child's study times - do not get in the way through unnecessary interruptions like asking them to run errands.
- Avoid last minute crash programmes - your child needs to keep developing effective study skills on a consistent and continuous basis.
- Help your child avoid distractions such as excessive non-educational screen time and/or social media. You can do this by implementing the tools designed specifically for this. See the screen time blog for details of the tools you can use.
- Finally, be your child’s cheerleader. Be the one who boosts their confidence by encouraging them to soldier on when the going gets tough.
In closing, remember it is important that your child makes consistent and effective studying a habit, not a random exercise. Being effective is not just about how long your child studied but what was done during the time. Was the learning active or passive? Was the time spent very long but unfocused or was the study time made up of focused sessions of study with adequate short breaks? Start helping your child make a marked difference from today by using the tips in the paragraphs above.