Thursday, 28 March 2013

Tips for surviving a teenager who is revising for GCSE or A Levels this Easter

Helping your youngster with proper planning and preparation is the key to successful revision at home. Here are a few tips for parents which will assist you in making sure that your teenager is making the most of the time available while studying for approaching examinations at home.

Create a revision programme
Plan the time you have available carefully by creating a timetable. Make sure you are giving equal time to subjects which you enjoy and dislike, perhaps intermingling the two by rewarding time spent on revising a subject you find difficult, with some follow-on time spent on a subject you enjoy. Remember it is human nature to focus on the things we can do well and enjoy, putting aside the things that we find to be a challenge. However, it is only by practice and time allocated to the things we find challenging, that we will improve and get to grips with things we find more difficult.

Allow time for breaks. Your brain needs food and drink to function, so stop for regular snacks and have some water to sip while you are at your desk. 

Move around if you have been sitting to improve your circulation and give your brain a rest by having some fun. Taking light exercise and getting some fresh air will also be of benefit and will relieve some of the stress and tension as the exams draw closer.

Take account of the order in which you will sit the examinations when organising the revision timetable. Allow time for both revision and reviewing the topic at least once before the examination arrives.

Concentration has been defined as "the ability to direct one's thinking in whatever direction one would intend".
Our ability to concentrate depends on:

  • Commitment. We need to make a personal commitment to put in the effort needed to do the task in the way which we realistically plan to do it. If we just play at it in a half-hearted manner then it is much more difficult to take the task and ourselves seriously.
  • Enthusiasm for the task. If we are interested in the task and enjoy doing it, then we find it easy to motivate ourselves to start. Once started, our feelings of involvement in the activity keep us going - we want to do it.
  • Skill at doing the task. Knowing how to do something gives confidence that our efforts will be successful, so we don't have to deal with anxiety about will this work or not. Anxiety tends to impair concentration.
  • Our emotional and physical state. When we are in good physical condition - i.e. feeling rested, relaxed and comfortable - and our emotions are calm and benevolent, then we tend to be positive about things. This in turn raises self-esteem, which makes us more able to concentrate, if only because we don't have to worry about how awful we are or life is.
  • Our psychological state. For example, if we are in an obsessional or distracted state our thoughts are pre-occupied, leaving little mental space to think about anything else.
  • Our environment. It is much more difficult to concentrate if our surroundings keep intruding on our awareness, perhaps because it is noisy, too hot or too cold, the furniture is uncomfortable or the people around us are stressing out.

We can all concentrate for varied lengths of time, usually dependent on how much we enjoy doing something. However as a general rule, slots of 45 minutes to an hour, with 10-15 minute breaks in-between will mean that you get far more done during a whole day session. 
Get plenty of sleep and take some time to relax, as this will facilitate better concentration during your timetabled study periods.

Learn to notice when your mind is starting to wander and STOP, take a break, returning with renewed focus on the task.

Save your texting, Facebook, instant messaging for during these breaks and turn off or hide your phone in-between.

Know the syllabus
Make sure that you have asked your teacher for a copy of the syllabus or curriculum content on which you will be examined. This will mean that you can order your timetabled study periods to make sure that you are focussing on the areas which will be tested and not wasting time with those which will not.

Know your Learning Style
Everyone has their own distinct learning style. Some learn by reading and then asking themselves questions, others learn by making condensed notes and memorising them, others learn by the associations they make to the material, and yet others retain a pictorial image of the material. Once you know your learning style, organise your revision material to suit it: if you don't, learning will be more of a struggle than it need be and your concentration will suffer. 

Having your own learning style involves having your own internal 'language': briefly, this means the words you use to translate and understand the material so that it has meaning for you. If you don't know how you learn best, try to analyse your experience either with someone who knows how you work, or with someone with expertise in this area. 

Review what you already know
Research suggests that reviewing what you have already revised goes a long way to reinforcing your knowledge of the information. The more often that you can do this, the more likely it is that the information will be retained.

Test your knowledge
Past papers are an excellent way not only to test your knowledge, but also to identify trends in types of question that arise on a regular basis. Public examinations in particular will follow trends in the format of questions to test each part of the syllabus, so learning to identify types of question and how to answer them from past papers will assist you to select the types of questions that suit your personal preference and hence optimise your performance in the examination. Passing examinations is a skill in itself and it is very important to be able to identify and answer the ‘right’ questions for you.

Time keeping is an important examination skill so make sure that you only allow yourself the same time as you will have in the exam to complete the test paper questions. It is no good patting yourself on the back for a perfect question answer if you took one hour to answer a question which is only allocated 20 minutes.

Make sure that you ask your teachers to mark your past paper questions, so that you start to get to grips with what will be required in terms of the marking scheme for different types of question. If it is during the holidays, allocate your own marking scheme. Understanding how the examiners will award marks for each question will help you to optimise your grade potential. Learn to plan your answers carefully so you know where the marks will be allocated. If a question has 3 marks for example, there is no point wasting time giving a 10 point answer. Ask yourself what are the 3 key points they are looking for?

Study environment
Just because they spend hours on end in their bedroom with the door shut, surfacing occasionally for food and drink, does not necessarily mean that they are using their time effectively or remaining focussed on their studies! Finding ‘an excuse’ to pop in occasionally will give you an opportunity to evaluate if they are using their time wisely and to offer advice as to how they might focus better if this is a concern.

Parents need to take an interest at the end of each study day by asking how the day has gone and what they feel they have achieved. Ask if they are managing to stick to the timetable.
Study space should be quiet, well-organised and not infront of the TV. Loud music and conversation can be distracting, but soft music in moderation can work for some. Working at a desk or a table is better, as it is important to define work and relaxation space.
Make sure, before you start, that you are well-organised and have all your books and revision materials to hand. 

Incentives are a good way to keep motivation. Allow yourself small rewards for reaching goals that you have set. There will be times when it gets hard to motivate yourself. Learn to recognise when you are feeling tense and allow yourself a break to take some exercise or have some fun.
When you start to find revision tedious, working with a friend to test your knowledge can alleviate some of this. Discussing answers to questions can make revision more interesting. 

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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Which secondary school is for me and why invest in private school?

Early March saw state school offer letters falling on the doormats of Bucks homes. As a result, many parents are weighing up independent and state school options for September. Bucks parents have access to some of the best state secondary schools in the country, as well as some exciting new Free Schools set to open this Autumn, so parents are more than ever asking themselves the question, which school is the right one and do I need to pay private school fees?

There is no one answer fits all. Considering your child’s personality, interests, strengths and weaknesses is key to this decision.

Parents usually opt for independent schools if they feel additional support for a particular talent such as maths, sport, music or art is required, or if they need smaller class sizes and access to specialist one-to-one support for dyslexia or other learning difficulty. If both parents work full-time, more common-place in the current financial climate, they may struggle to cope with a shorter teaching day and fewer after school extra-curricular opportunities. Some parents feel their local state school offers the wrong type of environment for their child to have the confidence to make friends and thrive, perhaps due to size, culture, or competition for opportunities to shine.

Whatever school parents choose, it should be the one which will nurture and challenge their child’s areas of strength, support and build confidence in weaker areas, present opportunities to build life and employability skills and provides an environment and culture where they will feel comfortable as part of the community and hence attain their true academic potential.

For more information on our services to help you with choosing a school, please visit our websites

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Should children be away on holiday during school term time?

While lucky enough to be sitting on a sun lounger in the Caribbean enjoying a bit of sun, to cheat the end of the British winter, it seems sadly the teacher in me just won't switch off. I find my self wondering why the children currently playing in the pool infront of me are not at school? British, German, French, American, Canadian - whatever their nationality, surely the school holidays have yet to arrive?

Is it, as often quoted, the fault of the holiday companies who inflate prices in the school holidays? Seems doubtful in this case when they are in St Lucia in peak season and the UK school summer holidays are indeed a cheaper time to visit.

Seems more likely that there is a culture of parents seeing school term dates as flexible, according to individual work and family comitments, with litle thought for the extra work created for teachers in supporting the child with 'catching up' upon their return. Un-authorised absence creates a black mark for the school and in times of league tables and inspection reports, such factors are important. What sort of message are we giving our children - that it is ok to take time off when you please without consideration for work comitments?

Would parents have the same view if they were all paying for their children's education? In my experience of working in independent schools, probably no, since these parents, on the whole, tend to take term dates seriously.

What I find even more irritating is that I don't see any of the children reading a book or doing anything that could remotely be deemed as school work to compensate. I do believe that education stretches beyond the classroom and parents have a responsibility to supplement the curriculum studied at school with additional experiences to boost confidence, knowledge and life-skills. Family holidays of course have benefit through spending quality time together. However, if parents must do this in the term-time, how about expecting children to do some work while they are away?

Set them a 'holiday project' to research the country they are visiting and learn about its culture, history and geography, adding pictures of places visited. They could write a blog about their holiday or make a presentation to family when they return. Set a holiday reading target and encourage them to write book reviews or discuss the story with you over dinner. Use foreign currencies to practice maths and encourage them to use other than their native language to communicate with hotel staff or in restaurants etc.

Whatever creative ideas you can come up with, encourage them to understand that though on holiday, they also need to spend time learning new skills and strengthening their curriculum knowledge, not just listening to their iPod or playing computer games.

Seeing it more as a sabbatical from work, rather than a holiday makes it mildly more justifiable. Though in my opinion, parents should think twice before doing it at all!