Being in the thick of the “heat” towards final examinations, most households are witnessing the latent and so OBVIOUS pressure and stress. This is it – all kinds of thoughts are churning in the house. “I hope she/he has studied well.”, “Is there anything I can do to help?”, “Oh my gosh! She/he is acting so calm as if there is nothing going on!”, “What can I do more, or not?” and an endless cycle of words and consonants playing on the mind.

As much as you want to help your student through this critical time in their final performance of the Academic Year – there is an all too common “lingering fear” lurking until the last day of exams.
I have been asked for any “last minute tips” to help the kids. And when I am helping the parents understand the fragility of the moment, my main message is how to ensure their student walks in confidently with the aim to “perform” not freeze in the examination room – for the simple reason, that if they are carrying the anxiety of their own self and that of their parents and judgments, that in itself can paralyze any hope of recalling any information for the test. After all, if they fail, it feels like a parent’s failure.

One tool that is extremely helpful for a student is for a parent to be a “home cheerleader and coach” to boost their FINAL revision. This is a powerful resource because, it can really be what is needed for the final bits of information to be cemented and pushed into the long term memory, from the short term and working memory. Final exams measure how much of the information is actually stored in the long term memory of a student who has “actually” spent time learning and working year round – nothing more, nothing less.

When we want our student to get help for any academic related issue, we are amazing at providing external resources – which is fantastic. And yet, being their study buddy at home, can be rewarding for both them and your long-term relationship – trust me! I know, I know, I just made your work harder, right?

So what does this involve?

It is a simple act of calling out the student to interact with you to just help “self-test” how much they have the information in their mind for recall. You ask for their book/notes/anything that they have made year-round, and just start asking questions. (Word of Caution: This is only possible if at least 80% of the subject material has been previously revised).

For example, I was wanting to help my daughter, who is in high-school, with her Spanish. She is a great student, but because I can see the normal signs of fatigue, exhaustion and her trying hard to study on her own, I intervened and asked her, “Let me see the book,” with a purposeful, genuine curiosity of my own. Reasons being that I wanted to see the magnitude of the work to assess for myself what I was getting myself into, of course. But, also seeing how boring it can be to do it endlessly by herself can actually be unpleasant. Gosh! Was it a lot! Of course there was resistance, as each question asked is like a threat or taken as a risk of “What have I done wrong now?” or “Why do you need to?”

I then bravely offered her with, “Hey, let me help you revise it by asking you questions and you just answer? What do you think, it just might be a good change, also, I will get to see how much Spanish I know?” She of course, quizzically thought, and said, “No, its okay” with a monotonous tone, implying that she is doing it her way, and it’s okay. But that was just it. I could see for sure that of course she could manage it, but I wanted to help her just break the monotony and make it literally a FUN experience. I know with my years of research and practice – “the teen brain is inclined to learn more and effectively for long term memory, if the learning experience involves pleasure over pain.”

So, I insisted, and offered that if she did not find it useful in 30 minutes, we could stop. She agreed! And that began the start of a journey of our Study Buddies that day. What started out as a mere test for her motivation, energy boost and change in study methodology, became a very thoughtful, self-reflective, constructive feedback for her learning. We lasted for 90 minutes – YES we did, after which I did say, “Wow, okay, I am done! I have no spit to talk anymore, and I am so proud of you – this was intense!”

Now, wait! There were some key deliberate ingredients that required me NOT to do during the session which is what this is all about. If most of these are missing, there are less chances of this happening again and being one of the most well-known speedy way of learning and recall. They include:

1) Taking some mental effort and energy to just be with her in the present moment. Knowing you will be pulled away at home from other “to-do’s” you will need to make time to do it, and honor it so, your student can see the BIG message behind the activity. Those include “I matter”, “I am worthy” which are so crucial building up towards the final exams (not just a working machine).

2) When the student is blanking out or cannot remember the answers, help by giving a few clues (You really cannot expect rote memorization being spilled out by a parrot to happen here constantly).

3) Let them know that you will circle or underline areas that were forgotten, to stand out as the things that can be revisited later for revision, indicating that, there are definite areas of solid recall that were met.

4) You can freely introduce a funny tone of voice into the questions, to lighten up the mood.

5) Try asking a question from the pages, and also give the answer asking, “Is that true?” and then “How come?” Wait for the student to give feedback which shows proper reasoning and learning of information in a way that makes sense.

6) Show a page when you are tired, and cover the answers, so the student can come next to you, and answer it.

7) Praise the student for actually remembering and applying the facts that they had learned and revised information in Term 1 – that’s amazing!

8) Let them know if you are needed somewhere else, AFTER the first 30 minutes that you committed, as this shows your level of commitment and concern for your word. You can automatically sense in the first 20 minutes if you have established a healthy rapport of going back and forth – without judging if the memory recall is BAD. Trust me, they are on the hot seat, and are feeling judged anyway.

9) This is a time to ONLY see how much work has been done, and what can be corrected or needs to be done more. And you are a great resource for helping the students “want” to know about it if you do it without the urge to say, “Hey, I thought you had studied and revised – it does not look like it.” This is a TRUST – building and rapport exercise first, and everyone feels nervous doing it the first time. Be patient. The student will always have the motivation to improve by how you offer self-reflection, and constructive feedback.

What I noticed was that as drained and exhausted we both were together, she has just experienced a new and active way of revision that was extremely interactive and different from the usual way of studying alone in her room. I clearly did learn some Spanish, and made fun of my words and accents that made it fun for her and me. I also learned that last week she had a Spanish test, that she got great results in which made her so happy, of course. Upon asking her my famous questions that I always ask my kids, “What did you do differently?” she replied “Hmm, I don’t know, it just came a bit easier.” To which I remembered our activity and enquired, “Do you think it was helpful when we did the chatting, learning and testing you last week?” She paused for a while, and said with a beam, “I guess so!”

To which I instantly offered, “So, would you want to do it again?” Before I could take it back (Yes, I am a normal parent, and I also know what I was getting myself in) and she without a hesitation said, “Sure!”

The moral of my story is not to take pride in what worked. But to share that our students are a reflection of their parents. If you emulate your values and are trying to instill them for your students, as they navigate their lives in school, middle school and high school, then you are capable of actively showing them as a role-model what you are trying to build them up for.

I was hoping to instill hard work, resilience, grit, perseverance, hope, and I could see all of that in action while she was revising. But, I also knew that when things get boring, and monotonous, the teen brain has a hard time to stay focused, only because the pre-frontal cortex region where logic and reasoning is being formed, is still developing. My presence and small help could have backfired, but I approached it with a shot and giving a choice to introduce a “fun and productive” way to study. What any tutor, coach or parent would do for their child. You do not need to be an expert at the subject in question, you only need to know what and how much “understanding” has taken place in the student’s mind. Do they know the concept, etc.?

Additionally, in moments of being “stuck”, all you can do is show the topic or area, read it together, and just ask questions like:

1) What do you understand in simple English only, what is going on here? (comprehension of subject material)
2) If a question came from this paragraph, what do you think could be asked? (reverse thinking)
3) So is this about a definition, or is it about a process, function or deep explanation? ( asking about the command terms in a question paper)
4) How does this paragraph relate or not, to the one before and after it? (linking strategy for information recall and comprehension)

As I end, just do check in with your student to see if they are okay before and during the exams. You can help change the monotony and be the most valuable coach for them in this stressful time of their life. Try not to make it about how worried and stressed you are for them in your finals. They are already working hard on their own fears. Instead, ask if you can help by maybe providing a snack or two quietly for them in their study area, check in for appropriate study breaks, call the out or go in and chat when they might just need a break; assure them that “this time shall pass”; push a bit when you know they might need it but with gentle, loving kindness explaining the reason that the brain just needs a little nudge, or it might get comfortable not knowing the important information you need if asked in the exam. Step up to the plate when they come and ask for your help in any way. Even if you are having a bad day, acknowledge it, and actually find it in you to “listen” to when they need you – that is the key message. You can always be genuine and say, “Okay, I can see how you want me to help you. I am happy to, but can you wait for _______hour/s and then I am with you, so at least I have rested and feel fresh enough to help you?” (Fair enough)

You actually did it when they were young, but as the “teenage brain” develops especially in middle and high school, they still need structure, guidance and motivational coaching to boost them up for their final examinations. They have not attained mastery YET in studying and learning – they are “work-in-progress.”

I now have to prepare for another 2 sessions of Study Buddying, upon special request, for Spanish and now, Biology and Design and Technology – prayers! (I will be exposing myself to genetics, ribosomes, and all kinds of design materials and their processes )

What have I put myself into right? I am in it for the long run, as I also believe, “This time shall pass too.”

Sadaf Khwaja
Clear Horizon Consultancy – Founder and Owner

“Do Not Be Afraid To Parent” Advocate

Disclaimer: I want to inform all readers, that the opinions and experience I have written and shared are mine, and I take full responsibility for all things mentioned. Additionally, I am a Careers and Guidance Counselor, and an Academic Coach that has always practiced what I preach at home first, on myself and at work. I am a strong proponent of hard work ethics and consistency. So, anything that seems great and you wish to try, it can only work if you consistently apply the behavior for 40 days straight. When making comments, please do keep this in mind. All shared practices of mine come with strategies that have been in place over time with their results. It is rarely a one-time shot.
My philosophy is that for any new behavior to take place effectively, with the intention to see a change for the better, you have to be willing to keep at it, accept the good and bad parts of it, trust in yourself and your abilities, be firm and patient and communicate that to your house members if you wish to be taken seriously, and slowly it will start to take place in both their psyche and behaviors. After all, everything that our child does is a reflection of what we do. I operate from all that is important in my values and use that as an anchor in instilling and communicating for my family. I am a Life Learner, Researcher, and constantly find techniques that can help shape our youth into capable and functional adults for our society.