What Smart Learners Do (And Don’t Do) When Making Study Timetables

Weighted assessments may be months away, but it’s never too early to sit down and help your child create a study timetable.

However, don’t assume that all you will need to do is to buy your child a planner! A child doesn’t automatically acquire revision and planning skills in school — in the primary school years, it will be ideal if you can spend time guiding your child towards healthy study habits.

Some parents have a distaste for anything related to exam preparation. Or they may feel that they want their children to discover how best to learn on their own, even if it means experiencing failure. But if you look at the big picture, helping your child with the planning process is less about good grades, and more about preparing your child to break down a goal into smaller, actionable steps. Perhaps some children can figure this out on their own, but not all do. Others may fall prey to wishful thinking — and subsequent disappointment — or they may be overwhelmed by stress and inertia whenever a major task looms.

Below, we look at five assumptions or mistakes that students and parents might make when drawing up a revision timetable, with tips on what you can do instead!

#1 Believing there is “plenty of time” for revision.

If you take away the time spent in school and on after-school activities — including co-curricular activities (CCAs), remedial classes, enrichment classes, and private tuition — you might find that on most days, your child barely has enough time to catch up on homework, and even relaxation time is not a given.

That’s why the very first thing that children should do with their planners is to list all of their other commitments, so that everyone will have a clear picture of how much time can be allocated to revision.

#2 Thinking there is a standard “best time” to be a productive learner.

According to Michael Breus, clinical psychologist and sleep expert, we should get to know our personal chronotypes, which refers to our “body clock” or our individual pattern of activity and alertness in the mornings and evenings. This is closely related to our sleep behaviour or “sleep drive” — there are light sleepers, early risers, those who favour day activities but can fall asleep at any time, and those who are more night-oriented. That said, when it comes to learning something new, there are certain time periods that don’t work for anyone. For instance, 4am to 7am are not for processing new information, so don’t even try!

You can get more information from Breus’s book “The Power of When,” but in general, he says that light sleepers should learn something new between 3 and 9pm, while those who function better in the day would’ve peaked by 2pm. Those who prefer the night hours will likely be able to absorb new information well from 5pm to 12am — that said, 12am is too late a bedtime for any primary school-going child who needs to be in school by 7am.

Breus also describes memorisation as a three-step process, involving acquisition, consolidation, and recall. Sleep plays an important part in these processes, and Breus cautions that the worst time to memorise anything is after a bad night’s sleep, as well as first thing in the morning. He also claims that the best time to test one’s recall is 3.30pm for light sleepers, 2pm for early risers, 5pm for non-early risers who still prefer being active in the day, and 6pm for nocturnal types. Of course, you don’t have to take his word for it: your child could experiment with different timings for different tasks, such as memorising science facts versus writing a practice essay, and give you feedback on what seems to work best.

#3 Not prioritising sleep.

It is recommended that children aged 7 to 12 should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep on average, so if your child needs to be up by 6am, he or she should ideally be in bed by 8pm for 10 hours of rest, which is quite impossible for most primary school children. But 9pm is feasible (we have KSP members whose secondary school children are still turning in by 9pm or 9.30pm at the latest). In working out a revision schedule with your child, once you’ve identified the “busy” periods of the day, you should also indicate the non-negotiables for each day, i.e. relaxation and sleep.

Do note that a lack of sleep doesn’t merely affect your child’s state of wellbeing — several studies have linked better sleep to better academic performance. For instance, a joint study by two Montreal universities specifically examined sleep in relation to report card grades, and found that children with greater “sleep efficiency” performed better in math and languages.

#4 Assuming everyone knows what it means to “revise” or “study.”

Ask children in primary school to create a daily revision plan for an upcoming weighted assessment, and they will probably mark several slots on their planners for “studying” or “revision.” Exactly what does this entail, and what is the objective for each day, and is there a bigger goal for the weighted assessment? If you don’t go through these steps with your kids, they won’t know what they’re working towards, and they may not even realise, for instance, that casually browsing their second language textbook is not the equivalent of learning how to write the characters from memory.

To keep things simple, you could think about the end goal as a 10 percent increase in test or exam scores, based on previous performance. Thereafter, you and your child will need to go through the weighted assessment outlines and rubrics to find out what your child will be tested on, and how marks are allocated. Next, identify what your child can work on at home (versus what would be better taught by a teacher or tutor). If your child is not being tutored at all, home revision options would typically consist of practice exam papers and topical or component-specific exercises.

There will also be some memory work that your child will need to do, and your child should develop a practice of self-testing to check that the information has been retained. So if your child is planning to do textbook revision, do clarify what he or she has in mind, and list the steps clearly in the revision plan.

#5 Being overly ambitious with the study plan.

It might be useful to have a list of topics and tasks that need to be checked off, while doing the detailed planning on a weekly basis, so as to allow for more fluidity in the revision plan. After all, many things can crop up within a day to take away from study time.

Do give your child autonomy in planning; if children insist that they can cover several topics within an hour, let them go ahead and try it, with an agreed-upon method of testing their understanding after the revision is completed — doing a practice test or exercise is the most straightforward form of testing that you can use at home.

The other thing to note is that concentration tends to lag after 20 minutes or so, and it would be best if your child realises this on his or her own. Once children have gained some awareness of what actual revision feels like, they will be able to create more realistic study plans for themselves, with breaks factored in.