With Covid-19 disruptions, are your kids finding it hard to focus on revision? It’s natural, and even adults have been fighting to stay on task during this time.
“The news of the day constantly provides an unconscious reminder that we are all mortal. This can result in negative thought patterns,” says Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of the book Emotional Intelligence. If one is unable to shake off these negative thoughts, a sense of futility may follow (“What’s the point of doing anything?”), making it difficult to fulfill daily responsibilities such as homework assignments.
But, as your child’s teachers would have reminded you, come what may, school — and along with it, tests and exams — will go on. For those sitting for milestone exams this year, regaining a sense of momentum will be even more crucial in the latter half of the school year. This may prove challenging for many children, and if you’ve tended to take a hands-off approach to your kids’ studies, this may be the year to make an exception.
The best way to get through uncertain times is to make the most of what you can control. We’ve rounded up advice from brain experts, so that you can help your kids to get started on the right foot in Term 3!
Keep A Lid On Negative Thoughts
Here’s how Covid-19 distracts us: our mind is drawn to bad news and doomsday predictions, we begin to fixate on potential threats to our future, and, in the face of widespread uncertainty, we’re left in an unsettled state that we can’t shake off. If this is happening to your children, help them to set clear news boundaries — this could include turning off Covid-19 alerts, and limiting news consumption to once a day, and never before bedtime.
Your child may also be distracted by school-related concerns, such as “What if school closes again?” or “What if I can’t catch up with my work?” This is known as “unproductive uncertainty,” which can lead to a fixation on “either-or” outcomes that are extreme, such as “doing well in the exams” versus “failing miserably.” Such thinking can be highly stressful for your child, so do avoid painting extreme scenarios in the hope of scaring your child into starting revision early. Instead, it’s much healthier to consider a range of possibilities, such as basing a potential score on your child’s current performance, assessing the realistic improvements that can be made with additional help, and, if your child is sitting for a milestone exam, listing the variety of pathways and the options ahead for each path. Let your child know that there are no dead ends, if the spirit is willing — it’s important that you believe this too.
Create The Ideal Study Environment — Inside & Out
The shape that online learning will take going forward remains to be seen, but it’s never too late to get the home-learning environment in order, if you haven’t already done so. Apart from the usual tidying and decluttering, you can take steps to ensure that the environment is conducive for learning. Factors that make for calm, inviting spaces — natural light, good airflow, clean walls, silence — have also been scientifically proven to be beneficial for studying. If you can, place your children’s study tables by the window, remove all distracting posters and wall hangings in the study area, and get everyone’s cooperation to minimise noise whenever studying or work is in progress. Plants have also been shown to have a calming effect on us, so if you’ve been thinking about getting some houseplants, this is the perfect excuse.
Next is to ensure that all the study tools and materials that your child needs are neatly in place and within easy reach, from writing materials to textbooks, files, and guidebooks.
After which, it’s all about helping your child to have a conducive “internal environment” for work, which means ample sleep every night, good hydration and nutrition, regular exercise, and finally, a healthy mindset. Although mindfulness has not been subject to rigorous scientific study, some have found mindfulness practices useful, and educational institutions have recommended them. Simple mindfulness techniques that your child can use before study sessions or during breaks include focusing on one’s breathing for several minutes, using a mindfulness audio track (on an app or streaming service) to meditate, and being attentive to one’s attention span — how long can one stay focused without being distracted, what are the causes of distraction, and can they be avoided? This awareness can help to improve the quality of study sessions going forward.
Use Science-Backed Study Strategies
Before revision for the year-end assessments begin, do sit down with your kids to discuss their goals. A study has shown that setting goals could give you a 62% chance of fulfilling your goals, while giving a weekly progress report to a third party could increase the likelihood of success to 76%. Note that self-awareness is crucial to goal setting — children should know why achieving their goal is important, and understand exactly what they need to do to meet their targets.
Taking your kids’ schedules into account, set aside a realistic amount of time each day for revision, and be specific about what “revision” entails. There are many ways to revise for tests and exams, but two highly effective methods — as proven by research — are self-testing (asking oneself questions or doing practice exercises to check retention and understanding) and doing what is known as “distributed practice,” which refers to learning and relearning material in several sessions that are spread out over time. With limited time to cover a year’s (or more) worth of material before the exams, you could help your kids to organise study sessions such that the most crucial material is covered twice, about 30 days apart. In this way, what has been forgotten can be relearned and better retained.
Here’s another surprising study tip: when revising math and science topics, it’s not necessary to restrict oneself to one topic at a time, as research has shown that “interleaved practice,” where students alternate between working on a variety of problems or processing different types of information, has resulted in better test performance.