The spring term seems to have flown by. As things wind down parents are asking me, “What should our son/daughter be doing during the Easter holidays?”
Students who are set to sit summer A-levels, GCSEs and 13+ exams will have had an intensive last three months. Many will have started the year after a study-heavy Christmas holiday preparing for January or February mock exams. Subsequently, they will have had a tense time sitting papers, waiting for the results and facing up to the reality of ‘where they are now’ and what they still need to do over the next months before the real event. [I wrote about the significance and potential impact of the mocks in an earlier blog post.]
It has been a big term and students need to ‘down tools’. They need to take some days to relax and then return to their exam preparation with a fresh mind, renewed enthusiasm and focus.
These holidays are crucial in the run-up to exams. They’re hazardous too. Students will be studying at home – there will be no timetables to give their days structure, and no teachers to motivate, guide and make sure they’re on track. Students will have to take responsibility for their own revision planning, for sticking to it and for assessing progress.
Some students will be tempted to relax and take their foot off the pedal, developing a false sense of security: “Revision? Oh, I’m going to start later, there’s loads of time before the exam”. Others will feel overwhelmed and stressed: “There’s so much to do. Where do I begin?”
Some students will lose themselves in the planning, spending days creating complex timetables, spreadsheets and charts that are as difficult to follow and stick to as they are visually impressive. Meanwhile, others will rush in without much thought about overarching holiday revision objectives and how they might achieve them.
Whether through over-planning or lack of planning, students can end up quite lost in this holiday. At a time when they can ill afford to be.
Outcome those highlighter pens and soon textbooks and revision notes are covered in fluorescent yellow, blue, pink and orange. Illegible comments scrawled in margins and all the pages tabbed chaotically with Post-It notes.
These students may appear at first to be productive. Ask how it’s going and the response will be, “Really well. I’m motoring through my revision”. But soon uncertainty shows, and after a week or two, they admit (at least to themselves) that they’re having full days at their desks but retaining little.
Parents can help their sons and daughters greatly at this time by providing support and encouragement. Some students, particularly young adults, may shy away from direct questions about their revision and may interpret recommendations as criticism. But I have yet to meet a student who didn’t greatly appreciate their parents’ interest, understanding and practical advice in the run-up to exams. Questions that provide an opportunity for demonstrating knowledge and progress can also really help boost confidence.
It’s important for parents to encourage their children to maintain momentum while also being mindful that they aren’t entering the final stage of a sprint race. Students revising for 12 hours each day will quickly find themselves unmotivated and exhausted.
So what should my son/daughter be focusing on now? Well, it goes without saying that by the end of the holidays’ students really will need to have a very clear understanding of the syllabus. When the new term starts, it will be tough to start grappling with material that is unfamiliar or muddled. Students should also now be looking closely at past papers if they haven’t done so already.
Your child’s school may offer revision classes in the Easter holidays. Do definitely take advantage of these if so. Some parents may choose to enrol their children in intensive Easter revision courses run by private companies and ‘cram’ colleges. Sitting in a classroom with a group and having a teacher run through a topic or set of topics again may be helpful for some students. Ultimately, however, these (often whistle-stop) courses are able only to cater to a class as a whole, and there are limited opportunities for an individual student to obtain the specific assistance he/she really needs.
Many parents find private one-to-one tuition very beneficial at this time. A good private tutor will tailor each session completely to the individual student’s particular needs, working through a wide range of past papers and exam questions, building confidence and honing the necessary analytical, discursive writing and time-management skills. Ultimately, working one-to-one the tutor will provide that reinforcement and ‘stretch’ so the student is ‘exam ready’ and able to demonstrate his/her true capabilities.
Learn more about the benefits of private tuition in the run-up to exams.