How to help your child revise - and why NOW is the time to start
By Murray Morrison, founder of Tassomai
There’s an old joke in the world of gardening, “If you want to grow asparagus, dig a trench two years ago”. When it comes to helping your child prepare for their exams, it’s tempting to have that same feeling: too little, too late. Don’t fall for it - it’s never too late… but if you want to help your child maximise their chances of success, now is a great time to start.
The normal feeling for a parent of a GCSE student at this stage is a rising sense of dread, dogged by conflicting questions like “How can I help? How can I stay out of their way?” or “How can I make them start to take this seriously? How can I avoid making them stressed?”.
The answer is to prepare for the stress ahead and to take the steps you can to mitigate for that. It takes time to build habits, good or bad, so setting out routines and making those routines as easy as possible to maintain is a great start.
Communication is essential - to help your child feel that they are in charge, responsible for the work (and responsible for the successes they will achieve), but that you are going to help them by nudging them, reminding them, and making their plans specific and explicit so that everyone around them can support where necessary.
Knowledge is Power
One of our Star Schools, Torquay Academy, has just brought out its own revision guides for their students with ‘Knowledge is Power’ in big letters on the front. If knowledge is power, then self-knowledge is what powers your success. If you wait until Easter to make a start on revision, and go in without a plan, then your child will not make the most of their time; if you can help your child now to work out exactly their strengths and weaknesses, then revision will go with a swing.
When it comes to revision, the Easter holidays is all about volume - the more you can do, the better. But between now and the end of the Spring term, it’s all about strategy - the better you can prepare, the more effective your child’s revision will be.
If the February half-term and those long evenings of the rest of term can be spent on identifying the areas that need most work, then those areas can get sorted and the revision period can be all about practising to perfection.
Identifying the problem areas
It can be difficult knowing where to start, but there are some practical ways you can help your child to identify their weaker areas. Past papers and specification documents from the relevant exam boards are a great resource, and if your child’s using Tassomai there are tools within the program to help. Make a list of all those topics and questions that your child needs to improve upon, and right away, you have the beginnings of a revision plan. That could be a notebook, or you could use a tool like Trello to make a list that’s easy to colour-code and update.
(i.) Use past papers
Get as many practice questions and papers as possible, but don’t worry about doing them yet. Your child should look through them and highlight them to say “I can do this”, “I’m not confident” or “I have no idea about how to do this”.
(ii.) Use specification documents
To really dig deep, use the specification documents in the same way. Your child can go through the document with coloured highlighters and put a mark by each statement to indicate their confidence in their ability or knowledge on each. This is a very thorough but fairly simple way to identify where they need to focus.
These are lengthy publications that specify everything the GCSE course covers and how a student is expected to demonstrate their knowledge in the exam. Make sure you find the right spec doc for your child’s exam board and syllabus! They should have a course code which you can Google along with the name of the board. If you print the specs, please think of the trees and only print the relevant sections, they are big documents! You could even use an online PDF highlighter.
(iii.) Take a look at Tassomai’s “Understanding Grid”
When a student answers questions on Tassomai, their responses are fed back into the “Understanding Grid”. When Tassomai is used in schools, teachers use this powerful tool to see how well their classes and individual students have understood particular topics. But all parents (private subscribers and parents of school users) have access to this information on their own child via the parent dashboard. This is a really easy way to identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses!
Read this article and watch the short video to find out more about the Understanding Grid.
Make the most of teachers while there’s still time
If you’re reading this in mid February, there’s still half a term of school time left where your child will see their teachers every day. Yes they’re busy, but they also care about results more than anything else right now. I always advise students to go to a teacher with a specific request. Teachers will find it much easier to help if someone says “Miss, I’m struggling with these three topics/questions”, instead of just saying “Miss, can you help me revise”!
This is also a good time to use textbooks and learning resources. Rather than just reading through your books without a plan (practically useless), if a student is forearmed with the knowledge of what to be looking at and using the textbook as a troubleshooting reference, they suddenly become considerably more powerful. With each bit of learning a student does, they can check how they’re feeling about a topic and update their list… and anything that isn’t making sense can become something they go to a teacher for help on.
Make a space for revision
If you have a room or a corner of a room that can be made comfortable, free from distractions, and dedicated solely to revision for the next couple of months, the consistency really helps. Obviously not everyone has this space at home - but often schools will let students stay behind a bit later to study, or you might be able to find space in the local library with fewer distractions. Huge amounts of revision time are spent ‘getting set up’ and ‘settling down’ several times per day. Get the work-space set up and make it special. Think about superstitious athletes - they train in the same space, same kit, same order every day. That’s not really superstition, it’s efficiency. By having a routine, they remove the need to make decisions.
Hopefully this article has given you some practical tips on how to start preparing for the upcoming exams. Whether it’s GCSEs, A-Levels or something else, exam period can be a testing time. Next time we’ll consider in more detail how to revise and the best way to tackle a practice paper. We’ll also suggest some ways to help your child manage stress levels during the exam period.
If you’re a Tassomai user we’ll let you know when the next post is published via your weekly parent report, if you’re not a Tassomai parent but would like us to keep you updated, send us an email and we’ll add you to our mailing list.
About the author:
Murray Morrison is the founder of Tassomai, the Learning Program. Murray originally created Tassomai to help his own students learn and revise. Tassomai is now used by more than 400 schools across England and Wales as well as a growing base of private subscribers. Over 150,000 students in the UK have used Tassomai to prepare for their GCSEs and last year about 250 million questions were answered on Tassomai!