After mid-year exams – using their results to help prepare for end-of-year

In the last couple of months your children will most probably have sat their mid-year exams, by now they will have got all the results back and as they are now looking down the road a bit to their end of year exams it might be a good time to go over those mid-year exam results: 

1) sit down with your child and discuss these results

2) find out which exam results they were least happy with and within those subjects which parts they are most unhappy with

3) find out whether the problem was a lack of understanding of the subject, a lack of the right information, a lack of good study processes, procrastination….or something else, look for evidence

4) now is the time to insert appropriate intervention – provide any resource based solutions – did they have all the right information to study from? If not buy suitable study guides for the subjects, use internet study guides, get more information from teaching staff

5) were their any sections in the exams that they just didn’t understand? If so make sure they go and see the respective teachers and get help from them, if that doesn’t work get focused remedial tutoring in that area, maybe from a student who had the same subjects last year or an external subject expert – be very specific

6) investigate their study techniques:

  • did they have a study timetable?
  • did they stick to their study timetable?
  • how much time did they put into studying the areas they didn’t do as well in as they wanted to?
  • do they know how to summarise information?
  • do they know how to remember what they need?
  • if any of these areas are a problem refer them to the course they did with us

7) make sure they finish the analysis of their mid-year exam performance by making a commitment to change any unsuccessful exam preparation strategy in some positive way

There is still plenty of time left for them to put in place good study strategies before their final exams but they will only do so by recognising what isn’t working and changing it.

This is how mid-year exams are most useful.

Your children now have 2-4 months until their end of year exams. They will be aware of this but often do not have a clear time frame in mind and it always seems to be ‘simply ages’ away. One way I always used to help build timelines without pressure with my children was simply to install one of those large year planners in a prominent place in the kitchen and to mark on it the dates for all significant school, social and sporting events for all to see. And then to cross off the days one by one.

All schools these days have websites with good calendars which give you all the data you need which you can then transfer to your home calendar.

All your children will have different aims, goals and purpose when it comes to their end of year assessments but it is important for them to have thought those things through. “If you don’t know where you are going it is very hard to get there.” They need to be clear as to why they are doing their exams and you as their parent need to realise that a focus on external drivers does not produce the best motivation or the best performance.

I see many parents who try to help their children generate motivation to study by talking to them about the importance of getting the best marks in order to get to the best university in order to get the best job in order to make the most money in order one day to be happy…… And yet in their own lives they notice that their own greatest motivation comes out of learning new things, finding new capacities within themselves, overcoming new challenges, gaining personal satisfaction, producing something worthwhile, helping someone else.

We all need extrinsic motivators to help us to create dreams, develop plans and set goals but to get through hard times – study, learning all your subjects, exam prep – the most powerful motivators are always intrinsic. As parents I think that one of our jobs is to help our children learn how to enjoy learning for its own sake – to help make learning an autotelic experience. To see all subjects as interesting for the new knowledge that is in them not just for the result at the end of the year. Help focus your children on gaining satisfaction from their study, the satisfaction of taking on new knowledge or more simply the satisfaction of achieving something that they thought would be difficult. And be reassured, because the more satisfaction your children get from their studies the more likely they are to persist with them and achieve the results that we all like to see, anyway.

My Experience

I can remember this time of year some years ago with my own children when my daughter had just finished her internal exams for Year 11, she was waiting to get the results back and then there was going to be a six week gap until she was to sit  her final, end-of-year external exams.

In my consideration of rewards for her exam performance I had two choices, waiting until she got the results back from her exams and see about rewards then – rewarding outcome – or waiting until she finished her last exam and reward her then – rewarding effort. All the research shows that rewarding effort creates resilience so my strategy was always to tell her how impressed I was with the amount of effort she put in for her exams and promise to give her a treat (money, dinner out, a present) as soon as she finishes her last exam. To me the results are not that important it is the application of effort that counts.

My son on the other hand, at the same time of year had had all year, a constant battle with application – the need to use a good process and to put in effort, and had been “slack and lazy” – typical year 10 boy behaviour but not something I was prepared to put up with. After receiving several letters home from teachers referring to his lack of effort in class, his distractibility, his lack of completion of set tasks and his general lazy attitude I decided to take action.

i)              first I had the discussion with him about purpose – that was OK, he understands very well the purpose of education and gaining good qualifications

ii)             second, I had the discussion with him about effort – that we only wanted to see a good effort from him, we weren’t concerned about his getting top grades we just wanted to see him try and apply himself

iii)            third, I made sure he was clear about what a good successful process would be – getting onto his homework as soon as he came home from school, every night reading over the notes he took that day and making key point summaries of information every weekend

iv)            fourth I talked to him about rewards and punishments – how I would much sooner give him rewards for putting in effort than punishments for not doing so but that I was prepared to do either and I focused in on his 3 key pleasures – TV, MSN and his cell phone.

The result was an immediate improvement. Being required to do his homework immediately he came home from school made a big difference, the reviews kept him up to date and in class he understood more so he was more focused and concentrated better. We heard from most of his teachers that he had improved his performance in most areas.

At this time his worst subject was one of his options – French – and when a letter came home informing us that no progress had been made in French, in fact things had got worse, we had another talk. Our solution at this point was to move him out of the French class (which we didn’t consider to be too important for a Kiwi kid) into a different option – Drama – which turned out brilliantly as he discovered a love for this subject and showed he has a real talent for it.

Then we got another letter home! This time from his Maths teacher!! Obviously the strategies were not working thoroughly so I determined it was time to put in place corrective strategies –  punishment. At this point I took away all his television watching, all his MSN time and I took away his cellphone! I figured that only a massive shock would do the trick so I went for the maximum. I also went out and bought revision guides for English, Maths and Science for him so he had a body of good notes to now work from and I organised some extra tuition for him from a student friend of the family who had recently finished school and who needed some extra cash.

And it worked!

He knuckled down and worked better than he ever had before. He started getting all his work done, he began reviewing his material and he worked through his revision guides. Also he took up reading again and began spending all his spare time reading fiction. I also noticed that began to spend more time outdoors and appeared to be enjoying his life and having much more success than ever before.

He learned from his mistakes, he put in place an effective process and he was focused on putting in effort. He won back his cellphone but we held him on a complete TV and MSN ban until the end of his final exams.

Now I know that those same strategies would not have worked at all for my daughter but they worked brilliantly for my son. I have always been reluctant in the past to put in place serious punishments for my children but it would seem that in some instances they can be both appropriate and effective.

My challenge was then to help him to apply himself this well, independently of me, to become a truly autonomous learner – but one step at a time.

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