As all good school children – and their parents – know, cometh the summer, cometh the exams. (And the hayfever, scaly white legs and prom dress panic. But that’s another story…) Are your kids really revising as much as they say they are? asks Liz Fraser
All over the country, from primary age right up to the university exam stage, children are shut away in their bedrooms, backs turned to what little sunshine is on offer this year, heads bowed like wilting flowers over text books, revision timetables, calculators and flash cards, cramming for their forthcoming exams.
Or so we think. Because you see, dear parents, I have some shocking news for you: children who say they are in their rooms ‘revising’ are not always telling the whole truth. Indeed, some are telling nothing even close to the truth. Unfortunately, an even greater shock comes in about five weeks’ time, when the exam results come in and it turns out that Little Johnny has flunked everything from Latin to physics, and is cruising for a Big Fat Fail.
‘But how can this happen?’ you will ask, eyes red with a mixture of sadness, anger, fear for his survival, and too much pinot grigio. ‘How can my Little Johnny have failed everything? He was in his room for hours, working SO HARD!’ Or was he?
Both of my teenage daughters have had end-of-year exams recently. In the weeks preceding the exams I would go into their bedrooms from time to time, to find out how the ‘revision’ was going. At least four times out of five I walked in to find one or both of them on Instagram or YouTube, or posting a comment on Facebook, instead of learning their French verbs or solving simultaneous equations. I even caught one of them watching an entire episode of Merlin, on iPlayer.
There followed some muffled mumblings about it being relevant for chemistry revision, what with all the alchemy and potions, but one look from me was enough to silence this desperate attempt at an excuse.
The thing is, though, I find it very hard to be angry with them for being so distracted. They are pretty conscientious girls, and they do work hard. But most of their revision material, teacher notes, practice papers and information is online. And the second you get online there are so many distractions it’s almost impossible to stay…
Sorry, where was I? Throw in mobile phones (which, let’s face it, most children have nowadays) that never stop bleeping and buzzing, and maybe an iPad and a Twitter account, too, and you have a recipe for concentration melt-down.
I feel enormously sorry for children trying to revise today. I really do. And I honestly have no idea how they do it. I was chatting with some students at Cambridge University recently who told me that a glance around the college library at any moment reveals about 90 per cent of the people in there are not studying anything other than Facebook profiles. When I was studying for my school exams and university finals, there were no such problems. Distractions came in the following forms:
• I could pick my nose, and make animal shapes out of anything I found up there.
• I could practise my ‘I look cool’ faces in front of the mirror, in case anyone happened to have a camera with them one day, which was about as likely as Rob Lowe turning up at the school disco.
• I could stare at pictures of Christy Turlington in a copy of Elle magazine and decide my bum was massive.
• I could do some bum-firming exercises.
• I could carve ‘Liz Fraser ’92!’ into the library table, using a compass point (for example…)
And that. Was. It. There was no email. There were no mobile phones. No iPads, apps and Instagram. No texting, FaceTiming or YouTube. Facebook wasn’t even a twinkle in Mr Zuckerberg’s eye; indeed Mr Zuckerberg himself probably wasn’t a twinkle in his parents’ eyes yet. Using ‘social media’ meant asking my dad if I could please use the telephone that was attached to the wall in the hall – which was far too ‘social’ for my liking, seeing as the entire family could overhear every word. The result was that when I said I was in my room or in the library revising, I was. And I’m very glad about that.
So what can we worried parents do? We can’t turn back time. We can’t un-invent the internet. Nor would we want to, as there are some fantastic resources on there that can actually help our children to revise. What we can do is to realise that it’s just not OK to assume our children are studying when they say they are. And we can find ways to help them to stay as un-distracted as possible.
1. Take away any electronic gadgets that they don’t need. Away away. In another room, and switched off.
2. Switch music off. It doesn’t help. Even though they will insist it does, is does not.
3. Leave their room doors open and drop in, unannounced, from time to time, to see how they are getting on.
4. Have a positive, open system in place where they can come and talk to you if they are having trouble concentrating, rather than pretending everything’s hunky-dory; make it something you can help with, rather than criticise.
5. If they have to go online to revise, block or uninstall any programs on their machines that allow them to ‘play’ when they’re on there, eg Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, FaceTime, etc. Then they can go on a different machine to have a play/surf when their revision is done.
6. Don’t assume they are sticking to their revision timetable. Check. Then check again. We learned this the hard way…
7. Pretend you are a policeman-cum-detective: ask regularly for updates on revision progress, and make sure you see the evidence that work is indeed being done.
8. Find websites and apps that can help with revision. Excellent ones include the BBC’s Bitesize website, which has fantastic revision resources for KS1 and onwards, and Memrise.com, which can really help children learn everything from maths to history to arts and literature… and it’s fun.
9. Enforce a little-and-often revision method. Cramming for six hours means four hours are wasted. Regular breaks are essential.
10. Make sure every weekend includes time off, and preferably outside doing some sport, or a family day out. All work and no rest makes Jack’s Brain Totally Exhausted And Confused (as the well-known saying goes).
Good luck. To you and to them! It’s a very stressful, emotional time of the year, and it’s a lot more difficult now than it ever was. We just need to know how to deal with it all, and how we can help.