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Best ways to help your child study for exams

Do your kids find it hard to study? Following the right study skills and strategies might help

It's common for children to dislike studying. Here are some ways to get them on the right path.
It's common for children to dislike studying. Here are some ways to get them on the right path. (Pexels)

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“My son hates to study,” a friend told me about her 13-year-old. “I cannot get him to take his work seriously and he is always in his own world.”

Does this sound familiar? When I was a teen, I disliked studying too. I dreaded math and science and I thought I would fail anyway so why bother?

During my eighth grade, my mother decided to try a different strategy. She first accepted that I simply did not like certain subjects but she still wanted me to do my best.

I had many textbooks, notebooks and a huge volume of content that simply overwhelmed me. I could not remember anything even though I ran over my notes constantly.

My mother asked me to make visual notes, doodles, and diagrams of every chunk of content I needed to learn. Suddenly, it became clear – the notes made visual and structural sense of the mass of text that I simply could not memorise or tackle. They also highlighted the essential information.

My mother also made me teach her the material and asked me to make visual charts to remember dates in history. From that day onwards, I liked studying and did pretty well in my exams.

If your child dislikes studying, here are some ways to get them on the right path.

Set a routine and use different approaches

Set a study routine with your kids throughout the year and not just before exam time. It is also a good idea to try different approaches to get your children interested in a subject.

Carolyn Wilson, an Indian mom of a 16-year-old son based in Kuala Lumpur, set a year-long routine for her son. He follows this practice to this day in grade 12. “When my son was very young, we would start the study session with games like dice, crosswords, Lego, and puzzles, and then move on to the homework,” she says. “Everyday, even if there wasn’t homework from school, we made it a habit to read for a minimum of 20 minutes and to practice math for 10 to 15 minutes. He works on his math even on holidays, Sundays, and vacations. From kindergarten till grade 7, he used to write everyday for 10 minutes. We break down his writing task into generating ideas to write, planning, drafting, organising, and revision. He used to do one part a day, but everyday. It's like how one practices music.”

Also Read: How you can help your child manage exam stress

When your kids have understood concepts on a broad level, use engaging videos, interesting books, and colourful resources with visual aids and graphs to get them into the details instead of only returning to the textbook.

Make subjects relatable and use study skills

Educationists worldwide have called for research-backed study skills to be included in the school curriculum. What are study skills? Sangitha Krishnamurthi and Parul Mathur are co-founders of The Teachers Collective, an organization trying to reframe inclusion in Indian schools and bring international best practices to teachers and students in India.

Say Mathur and Krishnamurthi, “When a child sits down to study, they think they’re working on the content alone. However, without several skills in place, it is hard to achieve success. These skills are called study skills – strategies and methods that help us squeeze the juice out of the content in such a way that we understand, can apply, and will never forget without ever memorising.”

6 Strategies recommended by Sangitha Krishnamurthi and Parul Mathur 1. Link the subject to something the students like: We could use cricket to teach averages, have them look up sports statistics and see how it is relevant, and use real data to calculate it. 2. Use examples from everyday life: To understand constants and variables in algebra, use real-life examples. If you eat dosais from a specific restaurant everyday, is your experience the same? Why not? What are the same and what could be differences? 3. Get creative: Get children to do projects, write poems and generally create versus ‘repeat and remember.’ This will help anchor learning. 4. Schedule study plans: Set goals, prioritise what content to study, and schedule a study plan using planners, checklists and to-do lists,. 5. Use note-taking strategies: Use strategies like the Cornell note taking system, mind maps, visual note making, sketch notes, interactive notes, and other methods to make studying active. 6. Work on test-taking skills: These include writing parts of a paragraph, working on the writing process from drafting to the final product, understanding what is being asked, and the expectation from the student in terms of answers.

Krishnamurthi cites the example of a student who took her summer workshop. “She didn’t use the skills she had learned,” she says. After a low test score, she decided to apply the study skills we had taught her and her marks shot up. I mention marks here to show the incidental effect of structured study skills.”

Students reel under the pressure because they lack academic self-regulation and a knowledge of study skills that can help them. Scoring marks is not the main purpose but if we use intelligent study methods and learn to enjoy the process, these strategies translate to better grades too.

Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist in Mumbai

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