Many of us are familiar with oft-touted study tips such as taking regular breaks, using mnemonics and other memory aids, and minimising distractions. But truly effective strategies take into consideration your child’s physical and mental needs, provide structure for the study process, as well as address the objective for studying, which is to gain a clear understanding of concepts. The following strategies are useful for the upcoming exams, and they’ll help your children grow into lifelong learners too.
Sleep Well Before you attempt anything else, make sure your child is getting the recommended amount of rest in a conducive environment. Increased sleep efficiency has been linked to better academic performance, and according to science reporter Benedict Carey, who also authored the book “How We Learn”:
“’Deep sleep,’ which is concentrated in the first half of the night, is most valuable for retaining hard facts—names, dates, formulas, concepts… [The] stages of sleep that help consolidate motor skills and creative thinking—whether in math, science, or writing—occur in the morning hours, before waking.”
Use A Study Cue A tip from college professor Marty Lobdell: If your child studies in a bedroom, position the study desk such that it’s not facing the bed, and create a tangible association with studying to help signal to your child that it’s time to focus. This can be anything from a study lamp that is turned on only for the purpose of studying, or a classical or instrumental music playlist that is played only during study time. (Do note that while some studies have linked classical music to positive brain effects, others have found that it’s better to study under conditions similar to the test or exam setting.)
However, don’t fret if circumstances dictate that your child has to study in various locations—this may have a positive impact on recall, as your child is not reliant on learning “comfort zones.”
Try SQ4R You’ll find this learning strategy recommended on various sites with slight variations, but SQ4R generally stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Reflect, and Review. With this strategy, a step-by-step guide to reading a textbook is mapped out for a child. Although it’s most useful for older children, it’s also an appropriate method to introduce to primary schoolchildren, to lay the foundations for independent learning.
To carry out SQ4R, one should scan and develop questions for one’s study material before reading it carefully for the first time. The crucial component however, is not the reading, but the “recitation,” which is the process of rephrasing information you’ve just learned in your own words. This is then followed by reflection on the material, where you mull over how it’s relevant to you or the world at large, and regular review, to cement the information’s place in your memory bank. You can read more about SQ4R here.
Check: Has True Understanding Taken Place? Lobdell cautions that the common practice of highlighting key facts while reading a textbook may mislead students into believing they have absorbed the highlighted information, when in fact, they merely remember highlighting it. He recommends an emphasis on recitation (as mentioned above), and cites a favourite student, who he says aced his class by summarising every one of his lectures for her family members over the dinner table. In the same vein, a quick way to check your kids’ understanding of a concept is to ask them to explain it to you—in their own words. To challenge your kids further, ask them to provide practical examples of a concept or state how it is useful in real life. Get more ideas for checking understanding here.
Allow For Distractions If kids are stuck on a math problem or experiencing a creative block while writing a composition, the best solution is probably to let them have a break to do something fun. “Distracting yourself from the task at hand allows you to let go of mistaken assumptions, re-examine the clues in a new way, and come back fresh,” says Carey. “[Y]our brain will continue to work on it during the break offline, subconsciously, without the (fixated, unproductive) guidance you’ve been giving it.”