Help your child study effectively

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You're feeling very nervous. Exam time is here and your daughter keeps telling you that she has plenty of time to study. And although she did well in her continuous assessments, she usually falls short at exam time. What can you do?

"Exams are one of the most stressful times in any child's life," says Liezl Jansen van Vuuren, a Cape Town ELSEN (education for learners with special education needs) teacher. "Exams don't measure studying – they assesses learning. That's why it's so important for children to review new information immediately. If they don't revise, it's as good as lost. Assessments are there for a reason; they're supposed to take the stress out of exams," she says.

For example, if your child has done well throughout the year, she knows that she has her assessments to help her through. "However," Liezl cautions, "before attempting to assist your child, you must first help her discover how she learns best."

Set the scene

"Routine is very important as it encourages discipline and will help prepare her for later grades when she will have to put more time into studying," says Liezl. She suggests the following:

  • Decide on a time and place best suited to studying, with your child. The area should remind her of studying and should not have pictures or posters that can distract her.
  • The study area should have a desk that's big enough for study materials such as pencils, books, dictionaries and reference material.
  • The lighting should provide adequate visibility, but must not be too bright or dim.
  • Most children prefer to study with some background noise, so they don't feel abandoned. Soft classical music works well, especially for an auditory learner, but avoid music with vocals, which may make her concentrate on the words.

Make learning fun

Help your child develop essential study skills with these fun and creative activities:

  • When travelling, give her a map and make it her responsibility to direct you.
  • Try to relate what she's learning to something she's familiar with. For example, if she's studying flowering plants, use the plants in your garden to encourage a different view from what's in the textbook.

Also read: How to study effectively with flashcards

Time management

According to Liezl, studying shouldn't be done only at exam time. It should be practised throughout the year. "Revision is crucial and should be done every day. Studying for the exams should therefore only be a case of revising information she's already familiar with." Before setting up a timetable, ask your child how she feels when she gets home after school. Some children prefer to take a break, while others are in the "school mode" and prefer to revise immediately. "It's crucial that your child contributes to setting up a timetable. It makes her assume ownership. If she doesn't, she'll feel as if it's being forced on her," Liezl says. Although some research suggests study periods of 40 minutes, Liezl feels that 25 minutes of studying followed by a five-minute break is better.

"Most children have a shorter memory span, and breaking the timetable into half-hour chunks makes it easier to set up." Here's how to go about it:

  • Make a list of extramural activities such as hockey, tennis, and so on, on a sheet of paper.
  • Mark off time for homework, dinner, relaxing, and so on.
  • Insert the due dates of assignments and projects, adding the time needed to work on them.
  • Lastly, fill in study periods and breaks.

Mind mapping

Studying large chunks of information can be daunting. To digest it more easily, encourage your child to break the work into bite-sized pieces.

  • Get her to write a central word or concept on a piece of paper.
  • Around that word, write down five to 10 main ideas that relate to that word.
  • Now take each of those words and again write down five to 10 main ideas that relate to each word. In this way a large number of related ideas can be put together. This method encourages summary writing and is a useful tool for creative writing where it's important to get down all your ideas first. It also makes revision easier and faster, and is especially useful for visual learners.

Also see: Learn more about mind-mapping


    This method is based on remembering the first letter of a keyword in a sequence and can be used to help remember information, such as facts or long lists of places or names. For example, if she needs to remember the names of the planets and their order, form an acronym by making a new word out of the first letter of the keywords. For example, "My Very Early Mother Just Saw Us Near Paris", which represents the names of the planets in our solar system, and their order with regard to the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

    Learn more about studying with mnemonic devices.

    Master maths

    "Maths is a subject that cannot be studied. It must be practised on a daily basis," says Liezl. If your child doesn't have any Maths homework, encourage her to practise her tables. Other good ways to practise the skills needed to succeed at Maths, include working through old tests, exam papers and textbook exercises.

    Most book shops also stock study guides such as Train Your Brain, a series that covers most of the learning areas.

    The two-minute brain booster

    To study effectively, we need to use both sides of the brain. Get your child to try this two-minute exercise to activate the creative part of the brain, needed for successful studying:

    Get her to write down as many uses for a paper clip as she can. They don't have to be logical. For example: it keeps pages together; can be used as a toothpick; can be used as a teaspoon, and so on. Develop your own exercises, for example, uses for a rubber band, a brick, and so on.

    How does your child learn best? Share your tips and advice about study methods with us. 


    Share your stories and questions with us via email at Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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