You revised, you went to revision classes at school, you paid attention in class, you did your homework, yet you still didn’t get the grades you hoped you would. What did you do wrong? If you are wondering this, then read on.
This week I have had numerous calls from worried parents who have said the same thing to me. Their child works so hard, yet it doesn’t show, what could be the reason? They saw their child sitting at their desk with their books open, sometimes even staying up late to get the work done.
Experience tells me that any child can learn, if given the right tools. It’s all about focus, technique and time. If one of these three elements is missing from revision, then it won’t work.
The obvious meaning is to avoid distractions, and really really concentrate. Don’t procrastinate. One of my students can take up to 10 minutes just getting her books out, another will leave out the tricky topics hoping that they won’t come up. One student had a super organised study area, where she had a collection of text books, notes, past papers and worksheets, but no real revision had actually taken place.
The other meaning is to cast aside all the stuff you don’t need. Only revise what is going to come up in the exam. If you don’t know what will come up, then you need to ask your teacher to print off a syllabus. Then tick off each topic as you revise it. It will show your progress and will ensure that you don’t miss anything out. If you missed out questions or revised the wrong topics, then you didn’t FOCUS on the right things.
1. What’s your learning style?
We all learn in different ways. I am an auditory learner, so I prefer to watch videos or listen to talks and lectures. Sometimes I like to make notes, and use highlighters to help me remember things. Find a learning style that suits you and one that comes to you naturally. If you don’t have a preferred way of learning, then use what works. This infographic will help you find out your learning style and how you can use it to study better.
2. Test yourself.
There’s lots to revise so break down each topic into smaller chunks. Revise that chunk, and then test yourself. So many students will revise without doing past papers and tests. Worse still, they do the past papers and wait for their teachers to mark them. How will you know if you got the questions right? It’s like cooking something to eat and not eating it! Mark the papers yourself, look at the wrong answers, and then figure out how to get the right answer. Then do another paper and repeat.
I was watching a TED talk on YouTube called “The First 20 Hours — How To Learn Anything“. The speaker claims that all you need is 20 hours to learn something and is worth watching. Did you devote this much time to your revision? If you did fail your mock exams, then now is the time to get organised. Watch the video and then act on it.
I get a lot of comments from frustrated GCSE students who just don’t know how to revise effectively and get the grades. Despite trying their best to study and swatting up for exams, they keep failing. Some do well in class, know all the answers but flop in exams. Others will spend hours making colourful notes, drawing mind maps, reading books, and trying all sorts of revision strategies and still end with a fail. So what’s going wrong? Are they just not cut out to be A* students?
I don’t have a magic formula to help students pass their exams but I can draw on my past experiences when helping students revise to come up with some winning strategies. There are 4 types of problems:
1. When You Get Good Marks in Class Tests But Not in Real Exams
A class test is usually taken in the classroom and it is usually with the class teacher present. This makes it easier for students to relax because they are not faced with something unfamiliar. The class test is often not taken as seriously because “it doesn’t count” and so again helps the student to be more relaxed.
Another reason is that class tests are taken straight after a topic is finished whereas exams are on topics which might have been done months ago. For example, if your child is taking AS exams, then they might have to revise all the work they’ve done since January or even September. For GCSE students, they will be tested on topics they’ve covered since the beginning of year 10. For KS2 SATs students, they will be expected to know everything they’ve done in year 6.
To get over exam nerves , students need to get used to working under timed conditions and under pressure. Practicing past papers at home with a stop clock ticking away can help a child get accustomed to it. Getting used to the idea that it is normal to be nervous for exams, and learning strategies to cope with such feelings can also be beneficial. I have taught students who have well-used revision guides and text books, but haven’t seen a single exam paper. They haven’t had mock tests, and they haven’t timed themselves to see if they finish on time. So you must:
get used to working under pressure
practice tests at home under timed and un-timed conditions
compare your test results to see if you really are performing as well as you can in exam conditions
2. You Don’t have Enough Time To Learn It All
There’s no point in revising topics you know already. Find out what your weaknesses are and which skills you need to brush up on. You can ask your teacher if you don’t know. Then choose one topic you need to improve on and find exam questions on that topic. For example if you need to improve your vocabulary, then you need to read more and work out the meaning of unfamiliar words in the context of a passage of text. If you are a level 3 because you don’t know how to read tables and graphs, then find questions on data handling.
Exam papers are written so that the easy questions come first. For a higher GCSE maths paper, the C grade questions come first, for KS2 SATs, the level 3 questions come first and for English reading papers, the easy comprehension questions come first. Save time by finding out what level/grade you are working at. If you are already a C grade and need to get a B, then just skip the C grade questions. If you want to get a level 5 in your SATs then start at the back of the level 3-5 paper to practice harder questions.
3. You Spend Too Much Time making Notes/Mind Maps/Revision Cards
I encourage all of my students to have a good bank of resources to help them revise. For some students, this could be a set of colourful index linked revision cards, for others it might be mind maps and for some may even be their school text-book with highlighted text. In fact it’s essential when it comes to revision.
But some students take this as the “be all and end all” to revision, just because they’ve spent hours writing these beautiful colourful notes. Revision resources have to be used once they have been created. Aim to have all resources ready at least 4 weeks before the exams. There are many ways to use revision resources. You can:
add questions to them
pin them up in your bedroom
use them when revising with a friend
4. You Don’t Know How To Revise
Read my other blogs on revision techniques:
Exam results are out this week, and I’m hoping the 40 or so students I helped this year have achieved the grades they aimed for. I get a lot of calls from panicking parents and students who don’t know what to do when they fail their GCSE English and Maths exams. It’s not the end of the world. Here’s a guide to what you should do next if you get a “D” grade or below.
Most people think of a fail as NOT getting a grade “C” because this is the minimum grade expected of students if they want to go into further education. In fact, getting that all important “C” in English and Maths is so important that universities can refuse to give you a place even if you’ve got A* s in all your other subjects.
So a lot of students have to re-take their GCSEs. I have taught students taking their GCSE’s for the first time and those who are re-taking. Students re-taking their exams face the following problems:
Students often have fewer lessons when retaking because they are at college and often have a busy timetable dedicating more time to the new subjects.
They are either over-confident and get complacent. They think they will pass because they’ve done it all before. They have all their other subjects’ work to do as well and tend concentrate on those.
They can get too negative and start thinking that they will never pass. Some get a mental block and continue to fail….
Students are very rusty – the last time they did maths or English was at least 3 months ago.
Students quite often GET THE SAME GRADE again!
To avoid all of the above, retake the exams as soon as possible and be prepared to do more work!
GCSE ENGLISH RE-SIT
If you do not achieve a “C” grade pass in English language, then you can re-sit the exam in January 2013. The exam is on 10th January 2013.
As a general guideline, if you got a “D” overall then you can re-sit in January. Anything lower than that means that you have to repeat the whole year and retake the exam in June next year. You can re-submit your controlled assessments and speaking and listening assignments from year 11 if they are good.
If you want to re-sit in January then you’d better get your skates on! I’ve calculated that there are only 18 teaching weeks left. First you will have re-learn all of the course, then make sure that you know what you need to do to get a “C” grade and finally get in plenty of exam practice. If you do mock tests and past papers, then these should be marked and graded so that you know where you are going wrong. You can either mark them yourself or get them marked by a teacher. If you are re-sitting in June next year then you have more time, but you also have more work to do.
GCSE MATHS RE-SIT
The GCSE Maths re-sits are in November. There are 2 papers, paper 1 is on 6th November 2012, and paper 2 is on 8th November 2012. The results will be published in January 2013. There are only 11 teaching weeks left, so don’t waste any time.
It is important that all the main exam topics are covered several times before the exam, but if you are short of time, then prioritise the topics you need to know to pass the exam. A good way of doing this is by doing a mock test and looking at the results to see what you know and don’t know. Then work on what you can’t do.
Don’t just revise ‘favourite’ topics – this won’t be enough, something must be changed this time around.
As with GCSE English, get in plenty of exam practice and get used to working under timed conditions. Always mark the papers or get them marked and monitor how you are improving.
My blog article on understanding your examination results slip will help you to work out how close you were to a C grade.
Nobody wants to retake exams, but if you do find yourself in this situation, let us help you pass. Book a free assessment and we will show you the way.
We are all familiar with the feeling of satisfaction that we get after spring cleaning our houses. So how about doing that with our brains? Research on learning has shown that “clearing out the junk” that is filling our brains can help us to be better learners and this is more important for children.
As a parent, one of the hardest things to decide is where to start, especially if you only vaguely know that your child can’t do maths or can’t write good stories in english. There will be some gaps in your child’s learning; they will naturally have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. It is these areas of weakness that can give children the feeling of their brain being “full”, so that they don’t have the mental processing powers to learn more. So what should we do to help our children de-clutter their brains?
1. Ensure that your child gets plenty of sleep.
Children need a full night’s sleep to stay mentally alert throughout the school day. All too often, kids are too wired to sleep – they’ve been consuming E numbers, watching TV, playing video games right up to bedtime. There’s so much excitement in the house, that they want to be part of it. So it’s important to establish a pattern or ritual in the evening that will help them quiet down and go to sleep. Have an established bedtime and stick to it, including during weekends.” I love this infographic showing the importance of a good nights sleep in children.
2. Review your child’s learning.
Testing your child’s learning will help you to identify problem areas and most importantly – where to start. It is better to concentrate on specific topics rather than teach everything with the hope that it will make some difference. If there was a hole in a wall, would you rebuild the whole wall or just patch up the hole? Just patching up the hole saves time, money and energy if done properly, so apply the same principle to your child’s learning.
You can buy books with test papers in them specific to your child’s age or download resources off the internet. Discuss the results with your child so that your child knows exactly what they can and cannot do. Next write out some tragets for your child to aim for. Once you’ve identified weaknesses, focus on those but only covering up to 3 topics at a time. This repetition and re-inforcement will give your child confidence.
3. Break down and classify the information your child needs to learn.
When we de-clutter our houses, we have to break down the task into smaller manageable chunks. Like tackling one room at a time or sorting out the toys first. The same goes for de-cluttering information in children’s brains.
tackle one subject at a time
if the subject is too big, then one topic at a time, for example just “writing” in english or just “arithmetic” in maths.
break down what your child needs to know into either “know really well”, “confused” and “don’t know”.
The topics that fall into the “don’t know” category are the ones that will need the most attention. The aim is to review the list periodically so that topics move from this category into one of the others.
We use this strategy at work and focus on those weaknesses, we fill in those gaps and help the children to build firm foundations for their learning.
Before studying any topic you must have a copy of the course content or exam syllabus. This will tell you exactly what you need to know and often it is put simply in bullet points called learning objectives. However, do you know the difference between “recall” and “know”? These words are used often in exam syllabi, and you must be able to tell the difference so that you know how to learn the topic.
So here are the top 10 words used in exam syllabi that you must know the meaning of:
1. Comprehend – Describe in your own words, tell how you feel (interpreting and understanding) about it, what it means, explain, compare, relate.
2. Apply – How can you use it, where does it lead, apply (applying, making use of) what you know, use it to solve problems, demonstrate.
3. Analyse – What are the parts, the order, the reasons why, (taking apart, being critical) the causes/problems/solutions/consequences.
4. Evaluate – How would you judge it, does it succeed, will it (judging and assessing) work, what would you prefer, why you think so.
5. Recall – to remember, learn off by heart.
6. Know – Say what you know, or remember, describe, (knowing and remembering) repeat, define, identify, tell who, when, which, where, what.
7. Compare – to show the differences and similarities.
8. Define – can you give the formal meaning, learn the definition word for word.
9. Predict – How might it be different, how else, what if, (connecting, being creative) suppose, put together, develop, improve, create your own.
10. Understand – Comprehending the meaning, translation, interpolation, and interpretation of instructions and problems. State a problem in one’s own words.
Make sure that children know these words so that they know why they are studying a topic.
Do you read without thinking? And then don’t remember much about what you have read? This blog post will teach you how to read effectively so that what you read, you remember.
All revision and study involves reading, but if the reading is just superficial, then it’s pointless. Here are some tips on how you can read actively so that you understand thoroughly what every word, sentence and paragraph means.
Why are you reading?
When revising, there is always an aim or a purpose. Identify that purpose and as you read have that purpose in the back of your mind.
If you are going through Romeo and Juliet then you might need to memorize quotes or highlight the important/most exciting parts of the play. This blog post gives some excellent advice on how to do it.
If you are revising maths, then make sure that you know which formulas you have to memorize and which ones will be given to you. You will also need to remember the steps involved in specific calculations. For example, you need to know how to work out the surface area of a rectangular prism. This blog posting gives you 21 ways of revising maths.
If you are revising history, then learn important dates, events and try to imagine what life would be like in those past times. As you read, make notes and create timelines. Actively highlight key points in the text. This article gives some great revision tips on revising history.
Younger children often read mechanically, and look at the text word by word. They are so absorbed in working out what each word says that they don’t think about what they are reading. When helping a younger child with reading, help by decoding words, going over particular sounds and working out the meaning of new words. Also, stop at certain points and ask question on the text. These blog posts has some great advice on helping young children to read with more comprehension.
When revising science, make sure you know which topics you have to “recall” which means to memorise and which topics you must “understand and apply”. There is a lot to learn in science, so it is best to learn how to skim read and zoom in on the key words in the text.
Don’t Lose Concentration
To avoid getting bored and to staying focussed:
use highlighter pens – the colours add variety to our work
write questions in the margins to jog your memory
make up mnemonics to help you remember
use “sticky notes” to add points to think about
try to find patterns when you read
look for links between cause and effect or to other topics
You should be able to learn the work in such a way that you can teach someone else without getting muddled up. You don’t have to memorize every single word of your notes, but aim to memorize the main points at least, so that you can then write down these main points in a summary or on revision cards.
How Do I Know It’s Sinking In?
Re-read many times, even if you think you know it all. Test your knowledge by covering the page you are reading and then seeing how much you can remember. Then read the parts you forgot again. Read and understand one sentence at a time.
This is called active learning and it ensures that you are concentrating on what you are reading and will help you to remember more.
The important thing is to try a variety of techniques and to do it properly. I’ve seen students work, where they have revised using a highlighter, and they have highlighted nearly every word on the page. Another student, said he had revised using the “questions in the margin” technique. There were not enough questions to test that he had understood everything on the page.
Try them out and see what works for you.
There are many aspects to creating good study habits, and the first of these I have already mentioned in a previous post which is to get organised. Creating a timetable can save many precious hours as we come to exams.
Another component of revision is going through past papers. In fact this should be included in your revision plan. Giving yourself mock tests can highlight how you work under pressure and it will show you the gaps in your learning. Going over your revision notes many times is a pointless exercise if you haven’t tested your knowledge .
When you are ready to do a mock exam (at least three weeks before the exam), make sure that you do it under exam conditions and that you keep to the time limit. You may have gone through exam papers in class already, so choose an exam that you know you have not seen before. Make sure it has a mark scheme so that you can give yourself a grade when you mark it. Mark yourself strictly, and as you go through the paper analyse what went wrong. the table below summarises the most common types of mistakes students make and how to fix them.
What went wrong
How to fix it
|I couldn’t do the question on a specific topic||Go over the mark scheme and make sure you understand the answers. Go back over your notes and revise this topic again. Then redo that question.|
|I didn’t finish on time||Why was this? Was it because you spent a lot of time trying to remember your work to answer the questions? If so, then you need to revise more so that the information is at your fingertips. You shouldn’t have to rack your brains to remember things.|
|I made silly mistakes||This is the most common reason why students get low marks. Get into the habit of checking your work at the end. Aim to finish 10 minutes before the end of the exam so that you have time to do this.|
|I didn’t read the question||Use highlighter pens or underline key words in the question. Learn to skim read so that you can pick out the important information in the question. Exam questions are very wordy and you can easily lose yourself in the background information. Learn how to get to the heart of the question. A good way of doing this is to imagine you have to tell someone what to do in the question without reading out the whole question.|
|I left out a lot of questions||Never leave a blank answer. Especially if it’s a multiple choice or a one mark question. If you skip the question thinking you will come back to it at the end, you might forget. So make an educated guess and write something down.|
A week before their A2 Chemistry exam I taught 2 different students. The first got a D grade last year and the second got an A grade. And in my opinion, both seemed to know their subject equally well. But what differentiated them both significantly was that the A grade student had completed and marked 4 full exam papers and highlighted specific questions for clarification from me whereas the D grade student had attempted 1/2 a question paper, not marked it and not even highlighted the parts that she needed further support on.
Upon marking these papers, the A grade student was getting a C grade and the D grade student was failing. A day before the exams, the A grade student had completed and marked and read through at least 3 times all past papers since 2002 and the D grade student hadn’t attempted any. Her excuse being that she had other subjects to revise for.
What actually happened was that getting a bad grade in the initial mock exam seemed to motivate one student and de-motivate the other. It made her face her fears and her “fight or flight” instinct kicked in. The D grade student chose”flight”. But, if she had stuck to her timetable and been more organised, and maybe started going over past papers 3 weeks before the exams, then would the results have been different? We shall have to wait and see what grades both students get.
I did an assessment on a year 12 pupil yesterday (age 17), who will be sitting her GCSE Maths in 9 teaching week’s time. She wanted to get a C grade, but when I tested her, she was working at a low E grade.
She was also re-taking her GCSE and got an F the first time round. That meant that she had only improved by 1 grade since starting her course 7 months ago and that’s with approximately 4 hours of maths per week at college. So it’s not difficult to do the numbers here. It’s plain and simple that 9 weeks of tuition (an 80 minute session per week) is not going to get her that C! In fact it would be nothing short of a miracle if she did. And that’s exactly what I told her.
From all my years of teaching experience, I have learnt that to pass maths you need to
Learn the different methods of working out maths problems
Practice using these methods and formulas
Go over past exam questions
Revision and learning is like building a wall. One brick at a time is laid and cemented together to make a wall. But if those bricks are not solid enough or the cement hasn’t had time to set, then the wall will be weak and inevitably break. So don’t leave your revision to the last minute or think that having a few extra lessons is going to be enough to pass your exams. It takes hard work, organisation and dtermination!
The results of poor study skills are wasted time, frustration, and low or failing grades. No two people study the same way, and there is little doubt that what works for one person may not work for another. But what works for everybody is creating a timetable.
Creating a timetable will help in the following ways:
help you to organise your time
make sure that you are studying equally for all subjects
allow you to keep track of your studying
make you follow it!
And don’t forget that a timetable can be revised and modified according to your needs. Don’t go into too much detail by timetabling every minute of the day. Organise each day into blocks such as “free time”, “homework time”, “guitar practise”, “exam revision”, “meal time” and “TV time” for example.
The time slots given for each block can also be changed and you can delete/add blocks into the timetable at different times of the year. You must understand that your timetable is to help you develop good study habits. Once you have developed them, timetable construction becomes easier. Note that you should not be studying continuously for more than 30 minutes. Make sure you incorporate a 5 minute break in between study periods.
So spend 5 minutes of your time today to make up a timetable and STICK TO IT! It will save you more than 5 minutes of your time in the long run. This poster has some good tips.