Eight weeks until the major band of GCSE and IGCSE examinations, a bit longer for A Level and IB exams. Is it serious yet? Is the nervous tension starting to crackle a little around your house?

Difficult times for all of us.

If your children have kept up with all their coursework all year and have been diligently re-processing all the information they get as they get it, making daily, weekly and monthly summaries then by now they will be serenely confident and will be looking forward to a few weeks stress-free revision and then to aceing the exams.

If on the other hand your children are more “normal” they will have coursework that still needs finishing, they won’t have started serious study yet and they will be seeing the next 12 weeks as being an endless series of serious deadlines. On top of which they will still be getting new material every day at school, usually at a faster pace than normal as teachers struggle to complete their content before the year’s end, and everyone will be pressurising them to study, study, study in order to do well in their exams and not have to live a life of poverty and loneliness. Their reaction is often to practice one of their most highly developed study skills, procrastination. Put it off and put it off and put it off until either the stress level is so high that they finally do get everything they need done under extreme duress (and of course don’t produce their best work) or they procrastinate until it is too late to start and thereby avoid the whole problem and simply fail.

Time for a reality check.

There is still enough time as long as they start work now!

The antidote to procrastination is organisation.

Right now the most important thing for your children to put together is a detailed timetable for the next 12 weeks:

Making an Exam Study Timetable

Very simple but absolutely vital to passing exams.

I will address this directly to your children as it is them who need to complete this task – not you.

You need a blank calendar of all the time from now until the end of your exams – with enough room to write on each day. What you do is this:

1) mark in all the dates

– highlight weekends, holidays, study break days before the exams

– cross out any days where it is absolutely impossible for you to get any study done – this does not mean every Friday and Saturday

2) write in how much time you will commit to study on each available day (starting tonight)

– you need to decide how much time you will be able to devote to study on every available day and write in the time per day on the timetable. 1 hour, 1½ hours, 2 hours, 2½ hours, 3 hours per day – whatever you think you can do per day

– the important things are to do some study each day you can and to make the amount of time realistic

– anything less than ½ hour study on any one day is going to be a waste of time and any more than 8 hours study on any one day is probably too much

– remember to include study time on the days between each exam

3) add up the total time you have available for study

– all the hours you have just written in – add them all up

– for a study timetable covering 8 weeks prior to a serious exam I would think that less than 40 hours is not taking it seriously enough and more than 150 hours would be giving yourself too much stress – but everyone is different

4) list all your exam subjects in a priority list from the subject that needs the most time (effort, work) put into it to the subject that needs the least time

– use the results from your ‘mock’ exams and your own subject knowledge and comfort to work out a priority list

– some students want to put the same amount of time into every subject and that is fine as an option

5) divide up the total available study time between all your subjects

– giving more hours to the subjects at the top of the list and less hours to each subject down the list

– make sure that the total time is still the same as the total time calculated in Step 3.

6) write in one subject for study each night unless more than 1 hour is available

– I am suggesting studying each subject for one hour and then changing to another subject but you may prefer to stick with one subject for 2 or 3 hours – it is an individual choice

– avoid spending less than 1 hour on one subject

– focus on getting depth in your study rather than covering a little of each subject each night

– remember to devote the whole day before any exam to that exam subject and to programme study on all the days between exams

When you start your serious study for your upcoming exams (tonight) one of the first things you can do is to work out how much information you need to get through and what your study rate needs to be. You need some measure of the total amount of information to be processed in each subject. It might be the total number of topics or assessment standards to be covered, or the total number of pages of information to be processed or some other measure and then you can work out your study rate.

7) calculate your study rate

– add up all the topics/pages to be covered in each subject

– divide by the total hours of study allocated to that subject, this gives you your study rate – amount of information to be processed per hour of study – for each subject

8) monitor your study rate

– if when you are studying you find you are processing on average the correct amount of information you need to per hour, making good summaries and understanding as you go, then you know you will get through everything in time

– if you are processing at below your study rate you need to go back to your timetable and add in more hours for processing that subject

– if you are processing at better than your study rate then you can afford to take time off

9) make your timetable a living document

– if you find you cannot achieve the study you set out for yourself on any one day because something unexpected comes up it is very important to take the hours you were going to devote to that subject and allocate them to another day

And then what…?

Then they have to do it – study.

If they are unsure of how to study all the necessary techniques are in my courses and now in my book “The Art of Learning – Companion Volume for Students” available from my website but essentially the keys to effective study in every subject are:

1)     Get as much clarity from teachers as possible about what might be in the exam

2)     Make sure you have good notes or textbooks for the whole subject

3)     Obtain study guides for any subjects you are struggling in

4)     Process all the information in every subject making short explanatory summaries as you go – we suggest using our THOrTmaps as a good summary tool

5)     Once you think you have covered a specific topic thoroughly, find an old exam question on the topic, at your level, and do it without referring back to your notes

6)     Move on to the next topic

7)     If you have difficulty understanding anything, find someone to help explain it to you – teachers, last year’s students, parents, university students, relatives – find someone!

For information on:

Motivation in the lead-up to exams – see my blog

Strategies for Exam Room Technique – see my blog from last year

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