As school starts up again it’s important to mention the key study skills which will put your child in the best position to succeed this academic year. For the past 5 years, I’ve worked with students in all types of schools helping them to improve their study techniques and smartphone management in order to achieve exam success. Here are three study skills I’ve learned often pay off the most when it comes to exam day.
1. Deliberate Goal Setting
The best students I’ve worked with are goal setters. Though they may not say so themselves. To them, it might just be simple list making or consciously directing oneself what to do on a day to day basis. Either way, they are thinking through deliberate choices and taking action on them. It starts with deciding what grades they want to achieve at the very beginning of the year and writing them down in places they will see them often. For example, the inside covers of textbooks, in their smartphone notes and on post-it notes which are then stuck on places such as the bedroom door and bathroom mirror.
Encourage your child to set these long term goals. Maybe on the car journey to school you could ask them what results they’d like to achieve this year. Don’t settle for the response ‘good grades’. Gently push them a bit further. Perhaps suggest writing the grades they mentioned down might be a good idea. One this larger goal is set up and seen regularly, the day to day deliberate action towards it becomes a little easier to manage.
2. Active Recall
This study skill is proven to be the most widely effective way of retaining information for exams. Active recall is the fancy scientific name but, to put it simply, just think of it as testing yourself. If you want to take a look at the research which backs this up see the work of Professor John Dunlosky. In doing so, you’ll probably come across almost all the other work of every other psychologist or education expert – he cited all of the major experiments in his paper which concluded active recall is the most effective technique across all ‘learning styles’.
When we take time to think about it, this does make perfect sense. By actively testing ourselves on the information we are studying through reading it just once, or jotting some quick notes down and then trying to recall what we just read or wrote without assistance, we are practising the exact same skill which will be required in an exam.
Yet, many students (including me when I was at school) opt to highlight, reread or take reams and reams of notes. Why? Well…It feels like progress. Active recall is challenging and a little frustrating. You won’t remember things, you’ll fail often and you will be forced to put your brain through a bit of a ‘mental workout’.
Encourage your son or daughter to take the path less travelled and commit to a training programme which will reward them on results day. Furthermore, it will come in handy when they might need to remember and present information in a job interview and their future career!
3. Smartphone Management
Ever since I started Exam Coaching I have finished every workshop with something students have always wanted – the shortcut to exam success (if there is one). I call it smartphone management and this is, in my view, the number one thing students need to do in order to do well in exams.
The smartphone is an incredible device and I’m not of the school of thought that we should be stopping students from using it. In fact, I truly believe becoming a ’smart’ smartphone user will be one of the key career skills in years to come (as ridiculous as it sounds). The personal upside of intelligent device usage is huge, the downside deep and endless. The conscious management of our time and attention resulting in wise investment into more productive, healthy and meaningful usage habits is key. This is especially so when it comes to an exam year. We all know the knee-jerk reaction phone checks and zombie-mode scrolling or tapping sessions all add up.
I’d encourage you to have the conversation with your child about the attention economy. An actionable step would then be to start encouraging them to personalise their smartphone. Specifically, encourage them to alter the default factory settings. People rarely do this. By altering the default settings we take away the phone’s slot machine like properties which are intended to keep us hooked. For example, the way a smartphone can keep us guessing when it makes a ‘ping’ sound or vibrates…We don’t know what exactly the notification is, but we know there’s a chance it might be urgent and so we break focus, become distracted, and give the phone a chance to take us down another rabbit hole of content. Simple changes such as selective use of do not disturb mode, changing notification sounds, not having them appear on your home screen or as those pesky red dots on the corner of every single one of your apps can work wonders.
If you manage to touch on these three study skills with your child and give them a gentle nudge in the right direction they should be well on their way to a strong start to the year. If in doubt, you can always check out the programme I’ve developed to not just get the message across but help students make little improvements day after day. It’s unique because it’s delivered through a platform many students are already spending a lot of their time on – WhatsApp. Have a great term ahead!
James Davey is Founder of The Exam Coach, an exam study skills and smartphone management support service. James Davey spends his time delivering workshops and 1-to-1 sessions for students and then providing year-round support on social media and WhatsApp.
Found this useful? You might also like to read How to support teens and tweens to become better students or Supporting children through exams. Plus, get lots of tips and advice for real world parenting in our monthly newsletters.