How to Help Your Teen Hit the Ground Running

6th September 2019

September’s here, and as millions of children return to school, the season brings its unique sense of optimism about a fresh start – many adults never shake off that autumn anticipation, even decades after they finish education. For some students, though, expectation is tinged with anxiety as a particularly challenging year gets underway – and at no time is this more apparent than the start of GCSEs. There’s a sense among young people that their entire educational career has been building up to this point as they face their first public exams, laden with so much significance. How can your teen harness this ‘September feeling’ to their advantage and start the two year course as they mean to go on? Lisa Botwright offers some tips…

1. Celebrate New Stationery
Never underestimate the motivational power of a new novelty rubber. Yes, your teen’s desk drawer may be spilling over with every kind of highlighter, but a blank slate requires shiny new stationery to go with it. A key part of their new haul will be A4 lever arch folders and plastic wallets, at least one for each subject, to keep papers tidy and subdivided into topics.

2. Organise Their Workload
Encourage your offspring to personalise their folders and decorate them, if that’s their thing, but, most importantly, make sure they start using them. The new GCSES (which were phased in from 2017, and only have just been fully rolled-out) are ‘more challenging’, according to education professionals; they cover more content than in previous years, and are entirely linear, rather than modular in structure. What this means for your teen is that instead of remembering information in bite-sized chunks and being assessed by a mixture of exams and coursework, they will now have to recall two years of work in one set of make-or-break exams. Since the stuff they’ll be learning now will seem like a distant memory by the time they get to their exams, it’s vital they keep all their papers and worksheets organised to revise from nearer the time.
It also goes without saying that they need to keep on top of their homework, (something that might have trailed off a little towards the end of Year 9 after GCSE choices were made) and should aim to use a planner or an app to keep track of deadlines. With the fast pace of the new curriculum, it’s vital they take responsibility for their leaning and ask for help straightaway if they find something tricky.
Also keep an eye out for updates from school – there may have been a list for relevant books and stationery already sent out, but most subject teachers will also send out additional information throughout the academic year regarding suggested revision texts.

3. Understand their Style of Learning
Effective learning takes place when facts and concepts move from our short term memory (where we can recite and hold information temporarily, but can’t manipulate it) to our long term memory; but it takes time and practice to do this. Those worksheets shouldn’t just be filed away without being looked at properly; encourage your child to adopt the 3Rs: to ‘recap, review and reinforce’ their lessons when they get home each night, to check they understand everything. The ‘review and reinforce’ part of the 3Rs is all about finding strategies to consolidate information in a way that works for your child – whether that’s chatting with a study buddy, drawing spider diagrams or re-writing notes – but it has to be ‘active learning’ i.e. properly engaging with the text. Encourage them to start trying out different learning/memory aids early on, so they can discover what works best for them. This is also why it’s never too soon to start the revision process: research consistently shows that students who study regularly remember the material far better than those who do all of their studying in last-minute marathon sessions.

4. Have a Goal
It really helps for your teen to have a clear goal, to remind them what this hard work is all about, especially if it gets too much (even the most laid-back teen has moments of stress and doubt), and to help them envisage the life they hope to achieve post-GCSEs. It’s not enough for them to say ‘I want to do well in my exams’; that’s too vague – they need to think about their specific aspirations and the grades they need to achieve them. ‘Goals that are genuinely meaningful, rewarding, aim to fulfil your personal hopes/desires and are freely chosen to represent internalised self-motivated goals, promote well-being,’ according to Joanne Dickson, an Associate Professor of Psychology.

5. Treat themselves Well
Sports and hobbies can start to fall by the wayside as the pace picks up at the start of the GCSE year, but it’s more important than ever to encourage your teen to maintain a life outside of academic commitments. Working in regular stretches, rather than last-minute cramming, means there’s plenty of time for seeing friends and engaging in fun and meaningful activities. Socialising and keeping active is obviously paramount to maintaining health and well-being; but activities also bring benefits in other ways. Bear Grylls, Ambassador for the Scouting Movement, reflects ‘As a child, I remember learning as much outside the classroom as I did at my desk: climbing, doing martial arts and of course, Scouting. I didn’t know it then, but I was getting a character education, developing my sense of self-worth. I was learning to weigh up risks, take decisions and develop my initiative. By overcoming setbacks, making mistakes and picking myself up again, I was learning resilience.’ Future employers and admissions officers also look favourably upon well-rounded individuals who engage in their local community through their hobbies and interests.

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