Thursday 23 January 2020

Supporting your Child through their GCSEs

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Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

It’s January and when you have a child in year 11 and getting ready to sit their GCSE examinations in the summer, that means mock exams time at most schools. My son is right in the middle of his, he had three in November and now the rest of them in a three-week block in January. So far, he has sat eight of them and whilst he’d happily go without the mocks, I am really pleased the schools do them.

When I’ve asked secondary school teacher friends what the best way to revise is, they have all said that the best thing your child can do is complete past papers. This doesn’t actually give them new knowledge or even revise what they know already but it allows them to recall their learning, to give exam-style structure in the answers and to gain valuable feedback from the person marking it, as to where they could improve and gain valuable points. An extra point or two on a paper could be the difference between grades, and thus a pass or a fail.

Let me share with you how I am supporting JJ in the run-up to his GCSEs -

1.  Being available - have you noticed that teenagers never want to talk to you when you make yourself available? My JJs favourite times to chat to me are as soon as he walks in from school and I’m working, or around 11.15pm, when he should be sleeping! Yes, it can be annoying, but I’ve learnt it is far more important to stop what I’m doing and give him 15 minutes to download his concerns, thoughts or questions. This is particularly important during the actual exam period, then if your child feels as if an exam went wrong it’s good to be able to talk about it and externalise the associated feelings.

2.  Let them set the agenda - your child is now 15 or 16 years old and as such we have to give them a level of trust. Allow them to choose what they will study and when, of course, we can offer advice, but it is really important that we don’t continually badger them to do things our way. I know that if I asked JJ too much about his revising he would clam up and probably do less as he’d be annoyed at me.  Let’s afford them the level of trust they deserve, and of course, each child is different. 

3.  Offering practical help - I’m lucky in that JJ is super smart. I couldn’t even hope to contend with him in Maths knowledge but that doesn’t mean that I can’t help. Something like English is far too subjective for him, and he finds it hard to put himself in someone else’s shoes and talk about how they feel, whereas for me that’s easy. So, we’re playing to my strengths and I’m helping with structuring essay-style questions.

4.  Devise a revision timetable together - I’ve also offered to help JJ put together a revision timetable, but he says he is fine, and that something that structured doesn’t suit him. So, I’m choosing to respect his wishes and remembering it is his life and not mine. He is getting loads of advice at school about how much study he should do and how to break his subjects down and I’m happy to admit his teachers are the experts, I’m not.  I have, however put a plan on the wall of the dates all his examinations are on, so we have a visual reminder of what is happening and when.

5.  Giving opportunities for a break - plan to go out for a coffee, a trip to the cinema or insist they come for a dog walk with you. Some children are prone to overstudying and spending too much time with their head down. It is really healthy for them to stop and breathe for 20 minutes or more. A maximum of around two hours of revision on a school day will be more than enough to help your child attain a result that matches their natural ability.

6.  Making space - where is your teen doing their revision and study? JJ is lucky that he has his own room, desk and laptop, so there is no reason for him not to be comfy and settle down to study. Of course, the X box, TV or iPad could all be distractions so it might be an idea to offer to look after those during study times. It’s much easier when temptation is out of the way!

7.  Offer to host a study group - some children learn best through discussion and interaction, if this is your child why not offer your dining room once a week as a study room with drinks and snacks for them and their friends?

8.  Insisting on the basics - a good night's sleep, regular glasses of water and a healthy breakfast to start each day. These are all my non-negotiable for my kids, but especially when it is revision and exam time. It would be far too easy to allow your child to stay up late and cram when actually that extra couple of hours sleep would do them far better.

9.  Plan something for the end of the exams - some people do a treat for the end of each subject, others one good one at the end of the exams. Whatever you do it needs to speak to your child and be something they’ll enjoy. The treat rewards the hard work they put into their study and exams, not the grades they actually come out with, that could be another treat if you so choose.

I'm trying to remember that whilst it would be great if JJ got all 7s, 8s and 9s in his GCSEs, realistically it doesn't matter if he doesn't. My D in maths and E in chemistry never stopped me from attaining a degree, masters degree, professional body membership or decent salary. Once your child moves on to college, an apprenticeship or whatever the next step is, chances are they will thrive even more if they are then studying or working in a field they enjoy. 

If one or more of your children is getting ready to take their GCSE exams this year, all the best and take a deep breath, it will all be OK.

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