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teenage boy studying exams

We’re officially entering the pointy end of this half of the school year, which for lots of teens (perhaps yours?) means exams are only a couple of months away.

If the reality of needing to start thinking about exams hasn’t sunk in for your teen yet, then perhaps you could gently remind them that their exams are probably only 8-12 weeks away from starting…

The very good flip side of that is — there is plenty of time left for them to get EXAM READY.

To that end, we want to make sure that your teen understands the essentials of effective exam study, so here is a reminder of 4 big-ticket items of exam study that we strongly attribute our own exam success to:

Having a plan is key to organization, motivation, and managed stress levels.

Embarking on exam study without a plan for how you’re going to approach it is most unwise.

A lot of teens mistake planning for time wasted that could be spent studying. But we reiterate, to think this is a mistake.

Planning at the forefront results in much more time saved over the course of your teen’s exam study.

The reality is that by the time exams are around the corner, your teen has learnt a LOT at school that year. Multiple subjects, multiple topics per subject. A lot of ground has been covered. This of course means that there is a LOT of content to cover for the purposes of exams. And such a volume of content is much MUCH easier to get through in an organized, systematic and logical order if you have given some thought to your study plan before launching in, rather than wading through an enormous mound of material without a head torch.

Be sure to help your teen make an Exam Study Timetable before they start preparing for exams. This certainly does not have to be a work of art, it just needs to exist in some form.

Having an Exam Study Timetable will help your teen plan their study days, ensure they cover all topics, keep them accountable, AND keep stress levels at bay. When I felt the feeling of panic rising up in my throat as exams approached, I found great comfort in my Exam Study Timetable — seeing that in fact there was enough time to fit everything in, I just had to stick to the plan.

Focusing on the topics that count the most

A further common mistake made by a lot of teens, is to approach studying like an archeological dig — getting bogged down in the detail, and losing sight of the big picture. The big picture being the key topics of each exam. It’s these topics that will in all likelihood be the focus of the exam questions, and therefore, the most marks.

Like it or not, preparing for exams isn’t just about being smart or knowing absolutely everything, or even who has studied the hardest. It’s about studying smart. And this means focusing your study attention on the topics that matter. (In this YouTube video we tease out this important aspect of exam study in more detail.)

Your teen should know, or at least be able to find out, what the key topics of each of their subjects are, based on what they have spent the most time on in class, and also by their curriculum. They might even have been given a break down of a subject’s curriculum at the beginning of the year. This can be a great thing to base their Subject Maps on.

Studying a way that works for YOU

If there is any message we try to convey here at The Study Gurus, it’s that the key to achieving consistently good exam grades, is to figure out what study techniques and methods work for you and in what order, and to apply that process every time you prepare for exams. We call this your unique Study Formula.

There is so much advice out there about studying, and a lot of this advice is probably very good. But the thing to understand is that the advice no doubt worked for the author, but is it going to work for your teen?

That’s where we differ to some educational commentators. We believe that every student’s ideal Study Formula will be unique to them. Sure, there may be a lot of overlap between different students’ Study Formulas (most will include writing study notes for instance), but there are bound to be subtleties in each teen’s study process that ensure THEY are reaching their academic potential. No two brains are exactly the same after all.

So when your teen sits down at their desk, encourage them to be thinking about the study techniques they’re putting to use. If they’re getting really bored, or frustrated, or feel like nothing’s going in, then there’s a not insignificant chance that it’s because they’re doing something that doesn’t help them to understand what they’re supposed to be studying.

Good students understand how they best process and retain information, and this is the ultimate goal for achieving effective exam study.

Putting what you study into practice

If we could put our finger on what it was that helped us get consistently good grades in exams, it would probably be that not only did we revise, read, and make study notes during exam study; it was that we also practised APPLYING what we had studied to practice questions and practice exam papers.

Students often neglect to appreciate how incredibly important this icing on the cake element of exam study is. You can study all you want, but if you turn up to the exam and haven’t before applied what you know and crafted an exam answer to suit the question being asked, you’re highly unlikely to get the marks you otherwise deserve.

Being able to apply knowledge and answer an exam question properly and fully is a separate skill to the act of simply acquiring knowledge during the course of exam study. And like all skills, it must be practised before it can be mastered.

The insurance is simple — all your teen needs to do is make sure they incorporate answering practice questions and attempting past or practice exams as part of their study process. This is such an important aspect of exam study — so important that would always argue that it is better to allocate time to this and to forgo studying something peripheral to the relevant subject. The examiner can only afford marks when your teen answers the questions properly, while good intentions count for nothing.

Exam success need not be complex.

You can appreciate from this list of must-do exam study elements that effective exam study does not need to be a mystery to those students who have not yet achieved their academic potential.

Effective exam study is possibly one of those things that is simple but not necessarily easy. We’re not going to pretend that hard work, discipline and an appetite for delayed gratification are not required. BUT, any student can apply the practices outlined above, and if they do, they will be well on their way to getting the best possible grades they are capable of.


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