Study Tips

How To Survive Exams

Exam time is stressful. There is most likely a lot of cramming going on (just being realistic here). Stuff that your child struggled with during the rest of the year but was able to put off is now starring them right in the face – they can’t ignore it any longer (well they can, it would just hurt their chances of getting a good grade – and let’s not forget, learning). That can really make them panic as they realize they have a limited amount of time to actually learn what they don’t know and what they have had a hard time learning.

To help make this time a bit easier on your child (and you), we have 8 tips to make exam time a little less stressful and a little more productive. (Depending on your child’s age, the following recommendations are either for you to help your child with or for your child. Younger children are more accepting of help than older children. Developing these habits early makes surviving exams easier.)

1. After each exam, treat yourself. Rewards help motivate you – they give you something to look forward to. Exams can be daunting. Knowing that you don’t have to immediately start studying for another one as soon as you finish this one gives you extra energy to keep going.

Rewards are also good because they give you a break. Breaks rejuvenate your brain and make you more productive during study time later.

Some good options include: Frappuccinos (my treat of choice after exams), a trip to the ice cream store, 30 minutes of basketball, a game of fetch with your dog, and talking to friends about non-exam-related stuff. (As a parent, during middle school exams, start this habit by picking your child up from exams and suggesting an immediate trip to a favorite restaurant or snack place).

2. Move on after you have finished one exam. Do not rehash what you may or may have not gotten wrong, though it is quite tempting to do this with friends. Move on. It does not matter anymore until you get your test back. Harping on it takes time away from studying for the next exam. It can also increase your stress level and make studying for the next test harder.

3. Create a plan for how to attack studying at the subject level (How will I study for math?) and at the daily level (What will I study Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday?).

For example, for math, I will take out all old homework, quizzes, and tests and start redoing all the questions I got wrong. Then I will keep redoing each one until I get each one right. Check out Fireborn’s episode on Study Tips for specific tips on how to study.

Then, perhaps you have two exams on Monday. So perhaps you plan your days as follows:

  • Friday after your exam you will take a break and enjoy your day and evening, maybe watch a movie.
  • Saturday in the morning, you will study for History. Then in the afternoon, you will study for Science. Then in the evening, you’ll again take a break and reward yourself with a movie.
  • Sunday, you will do the same study routine as Saturday during the day. Then in the evening, you will study whichever subject needs more work.

4. Take timed breaks. Like I said before, breaks are important. They are little rewards that help motivate you to get through your work. They also energize you and your brain. Timing your breaks is a good idea because then you are less likely to lose track of time and use up all of your study time on your break.

5. Eat a quick dinner with your family. Family dinner is an important reset and time for reflection and connection every day, but during exams it becomes even more important. Family conversation helps get your mind off of work and rejuvenates you. Making it short will stave off any anxiety you may feel that you’re not studying every single moment you have free.

6. Exercise. Sleep. Meditate. All of these things help reduce your anxiety and help you perform at peak levels. Sleep also helps you remember what you’ve been cramming into your brain the last few days during the test. Without sleep, what we’ve been studying doesn’t get encoded and so you’re less likely to remember it on the test the next day.

Exercising, sleeping, and meditating are important for both parents and students. Parents can become quite stressed by exams (or by their stressed students) and need to take care of themselves too!

7. Parents, you can help your child stay awake to study by staying awake with your child. If your child wants you to, sit and read or answer emails in the same room as your learner. Having someone else in the house awake and sitting with you can help you to stay awake as well as focused on your task.

8. Make exciting plans for the end of exams. Have something concrete to look forward to, such as a night out with friends, a movie or game night with your family, or going to Six Flags! Again, rewards are important. Having something to look forward to motivates us to do our best. The anticipation of something fun helps energize us to keep studying and doing well. Without that motivation, it can be hard to sustain that energy level and exams can become a slog.

Exams are hard! It’s easy for students to get overwhelmed and trudge through them. But it’s really hard to do your best and learn and get the grades you deserve when you’re dragging your feet to do your work or when your really anxious. By rewarding yourself, taking breaks, exercising, and planning out your study times, you will have more energy and be more motivated to get the studying done. You’ll be a happier, less anxious student and your quality of life (and hopefully your grades) will be much improved!

Encouraging Persistence Instead of Complacency
Parent-Child Communication

Encouraging Persistence Instead of Complacency

Honors Chemistry my sophomore year of high school was one of the hardest classes I ever took. My teacher, Mr. Spooner, expected so much more of me than had ever been expected before. It took me months to figure out that “good enough” for other teachers was not good enough in his class. Looking back, his feedback on homework clearly outlined his high expectations.

Just because I worked for hours on my homework and could not figure out the answer was no excuse to not have explained my thought process or to not have thought further into the problem, he would say. Whwasn’t I finishing the problem? Where was I getting stuck? What if I pretended as though I got that part right and moved on? Where would that take me? I would explain my thought processes to him in person, but he wanted me to write it on the paper while I was doing the work, not discussing it the next day with him. It was okay to get the wrong answer, but it was not okay to give up and to write nothing (or too little).

By the time I finally figured out what he was asking of me and I was able to do it, I understood why he wanted it: writing out my thoughts usually generated ideas that led to the correct answer. It encouraged increased consideration of the problem and boosted my ability to problem solve. Instead of giving up, writing down why I was confused and how I thought the principals should be applied but were not working, often showed me the flaws in my thinking and made me reconsider.

Giving up too easily was never okay for Mr. Spooner and I am so grateful I had someone to teach me that lesson.

In his most recent book Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners, veteran teacher and educational writer Larry Ferlazzo explains that “There may be times when students are having difficulties meeting their goals. If and when that occurs, researchers recommend that accountability is still important and it should not be dismissed with a shrug… Find out from the student why they think they are having difficulties, elicit from them ideas on what they can do differently and perhaps provide some of your own suggestions” (2015, 31). Too often teachers (and parents) accept less from their learners than they should and fail to push hard enough.

Based on my own experience teaching and my failure to push hard enough at times, I would wager this stems from a desire to acknowledge how hard the student has already worked, how hard the work is, and a desire to keep the child engaged. But that actually often has the opposite effect. If children are not held accountable and are not held to a higher standard, they will then not push themselves to do better. They will limit themselves to those lower expectations. That is what I had been doing.

Mr. Spooner was not one of those teachers. I remember a classmate, a smart one too, once complained after getting a bad grade, “But Mr. Spooner, what about our effort? Why aren’t you trying to motivate us instead of making us feel bad about our grades? What about our self-esteem?” He responded, “I’m not here to help your self-esteem. I’m here to teach you.” I disagree. In the short-term, he did not help with self-esteem, but in the long-term, his class boosted my self-esteem more than any other. He was there to teach us to push ourselves and in our effort and eventual success we were rewarded with the knowledge that we can accomplish more difficult tasks than we thought. We did not need praise anymore. The work other teachers did to preserve our self-esteem was actually hurting us and keeping us from that knowledge that we were more capable.

Kids need some pain points to overcome challenges. Therefore, like Mr. Spooner, we need to stop saying “It’s okay” so feelings are not hurt and so that ‘self-esteem is maintained’ because that is not how it works. 

Instead, Ferlazzo recommends “a strategy called ‘plussing’ that is used by Pixar animation studios with great success… ‘Using words like ‘and’ or ‘what if,’ rather than ‘but’ is a way to offer suggestions and allow creative juices to flow without fear'” (2015, 7), such as “What if you tried this?” and “And why do you think this is happening?” By asking questions starting with “and” and “what if”, judgment is removed, but students are still required to continue thinking about the problem, instead of being given permission to give up.


Ferlazzo, L. (2015). Building a community of self-motivated learners: Strategies to help students thrive in school and beyond. Routledge: New York.

Your Teacher Doesn't Want to Fail You
Elementary School, High School, Middle School, School Advice, Self-Advocacy

Your Teacher Doesn’t Want to Fail You

Has your child forgotten to turn in a few assignments?

Were they incorrectly graded on a test? 

If so, these are great opportunities for your child to learn to self-advocate, for your child to go to the teacher and talk about making up work or revisiting test questions in an attempt to improve her grade. However, students often feel uncomfortable talking with their teachers about these issues and so avoid these conversations.

Perhaps they feel embarrassed about missing those assignments and by not talking to the teacher about them, they can avoid directly thinking about how they messed up. Perhaps they are worried that those questions they answered correctly were actually incorrect. Perhaps they do not know what to say to their teacher.

To help them, if they are young enough (i.e., not in high school) and unwilling to self-advocate on their own, you can set up a meeting between you, the teacher, and your child. You will be there to support your child and help if he has difficulty saying what he wants to say.

Before the meeting, talk about how you envision the meeting going and what your child will say (with her input). The meeting will probably go something like this: You will sit down in the classroom together and say hello. The teacher will want to know or reiterate the purpose of the meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to acknowledge that you have missed a few assignments and that has been hurting your grades. You would like to make up the work if possible. And it is your child’s responsibility to say that.

Your child will probably feel uncomfortable. So, you can remind them that their teacher is there to help him learn and wants him to succeed. So even if you can’t make up the work, the teacher will probably help you come up with a solution to make sure that in the future homework is turned in on time. Also, no matter what, this conversation will show the teacher that you care and will gain you some goodwill in the teacher’s eyes. A teacher’s goodwill cannot be underestimated. 

Then you both go and talk with the teacher. If your child is still uncomfortable, you can again say, “[Insert teacher’s name here], I’m sure you will agree with me when I say that teachers want their students to succeed, right? Otherwise, we would not even be having this meeting. So, [insert child’s name here], let’s talk about if there is anything that can be done to make up for the missed homework assignments.”

By reiterating this point in the meeting with the teacher, your child will see the teacher’s positive reaction and feel empowered by it. Then, even if your child cannot make up the work, the conversation has been framed in a collaborative tone (instead of the argumentative tone your child was expecting), which will encourage creative problem solving to help your child do well in this class.

Any time we self-advocate, we want to start the conversation (and hopefully end it) collaboratively. Teachers (and future co-workers and bosses) are much more likely to want to help you when you approach them in a friendly way, as opposed to an argumentative way. If you assume that the teacher wants you to succeed, it is much easier to see the conversation as collaborative as opposed to combative. And that is the lesson we want to impart on our children – that to successfully self-advocate, have a collaborative tone and assume goodwill on the other party’s behalf.

Once your child has gone through this process with you, she will feel more confident self-advocating by herself next time.

The Happy Student # 15: It’s Paper Time
School Advice, Study Tips, The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student #15: It’s Paper Time

Writing papers can be super intimidating! Catchy openers, good transitions, a strong thesis, supporting evidence… That’s a lot of work. And starting with a blank piece of paper or screen doesn’t help. Fireborn’s got a few tips to help you help your kid write their paper! (One idea: offer to type up what your kid says. To your kid, it feels like you are writing the paper for them, but you are simply putting their ideas on paper, which can be a bit of a block for them otherwise.)

The Happy Student # 15: It’s Paper Time




The school year is really in gear: quizzes, exams, and PAPERS. Writing can be a scary, trying time for kids and parents. Looking at a blank page can make it impossible to actually start writing anything. Organizing thoughts in a cohesive fashion is also really tough for kids. Coming up with a thesis can be intimidating. There are lots of difficult aspects to writing papers. You don’t want to be that parent who writes entire papers for your kid, but you do want to be a supportive parent and some kids need a lot of support when it comes to writing.

  • Make sure that they never look at a blank page and help create an outline that fits their needs as a writer. They can add in all those icebreakers and transitions later.
    • First, you want to help create a “Robot Thesis”. A robot thesis is a simple sentence. It is: This is a paper about __________________.
      • Ask your learner, “How might you fill in the blank space?” You can generate ideas together if it is difficult to answer. Your learner could even write “I don’t know what I would say.” It does not need to be an amazing, dynamic thesis, yet.
        • You may do the typing (but not the thinking) for your learner. Let them dictate their thoughts to you.
      • Secondly, you want to help create an outline.
        • Organize the outline for your learner.
        • Show your learner how to create an outline.

To create an outline:

  1. Have your learner slowly read the assignment aloud to you. While they are reading, start the bare bones of an outline.
  2. Have your learner read through the outline and check with them.
    • Ask them: Does this make sense? If we flesh out these bullet points, will we have answered all of your teacher’s questions? Do you think this is what your teacher was looking for? Adjust accordingly.
  3. Ask your learner for their thoughts on the paper. Do they have any initial thoughts about what they want to say? While they are responding, type up their thoughts in an appropriate place in the outline.
    • Outlines help non-linear thinkers organize their thoughts in a linear fashion. You are taking your child’s non-linear thoughts and showing her how to organize them. These are initial thoughts. As your writer continues to work on the outline and the paper, the ideas will mature and progress.
  4. Ask your student to find quotes that he thinks are relevant. Ask them what they think the quotes mean. Write it all down!
  5. When the research does not obviously fit with the theme of the paper, ask some clarifying questions, such as: That’s very interesting. How does it relate to the thesis? Then figure out where to put it in the outline. Maybe you need to create a new bullet point.
  6. Add in a bullet for the introduction and conclusion (and any other specific section needed) if your student has not yet said something for which you would create a bullet point.
  7. Ask if they want to update her thesis now that they have done so much research. They probably will.
  8. Now, take a break! Then let your learner take some time to write the rest of the paper without your help.
  • This outline is for your learner, so it does not need to be pretty with impeccable language and word choice. Functional is just fine – probably better.
  • Writing is a personal process. What is best for one learner, is not for another. This is one option worth trying.
  • If you want to see the outlines written out, you can view How To Start Writing a Paper.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode!


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Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!

The Happy Student Podcast #81: Shock Your Teens with Radical Calmness
Parent-Child Communication, The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student Podcast #81: Shock Your Teens with Radical Calmness

Teens often do crazy things. Sometimes they even tell you about it beforehand, and despite your explanation of why it’s a terrible idea, they go ahead and do it anyway! One way you can get your teens to listen to you is to use radical calmness. When you use radical calmness, you stay calm when your kids say something crazy (instead of launching into why it’s a bad idea), which can shock your children into listening to you and hopefully help them decide to do something less crazy.

The Happy Student Podcast #81: Shock Your Teens with Radical Calmness




  • Radical calmness is when you shock your children into listening to you by staying calm when they say something crazy to you.
  • So teens love to get a rise out of their parents – they’ll say crazy stuff to get a big reaction from you, tell you that you are crazy, and then they may go do that crazy thing even though you’ve told them exactly why they shouldn’t do that.

When your teen comes to you saying something totally ridiculous, practice radical calmness:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Respond with something innocuous like, “Okay. Tell me about why you are choosing to do that.”
    1. Tone is important here. Stay away from judgmental and really lean into sincere curiosity.
    2. This information-seeking response is not the reaction your teen was expecting. The scenario they have been playing out in their head is thrown off track. They cannot just blow off what you said and go and do what they want to do because you haven’t said anything.
  3. Ask open-ended follow up questions to get your teen to really think through their decisions.
    1. For example, you may say, “So how do you think she’ll respond to you doing that?” and “What do you think she’ll do then? Do you think she’ll just be sad or do you think she might want to get back at you? How might she go about getting back at you?”
  4. Once they get to the conclusion that you had already reached in your head given your years of practice making decisions brainstorm together alternative ways to respond to the situation.
  5. Finally, tell them how proud you are of them and acknowledge how difficult making that decision and acting upon it is.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode!


Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!

How to Not Look at your Phone During Homework Time
High School, Middle School, School Advice, Study Tips

How to Not Look at your Phone During Homework Time

We each have a certain amount of willpower – an ability to not watch TV and instead get to work or an ability to not eat that chocolate cake. And we use up our willpower as the day goes on (which is why it’s much harder to avoid that cake or that TV as the day progresses). We can strengthen and increase our willpower, but it will never be infinite.

Every time your child puts his phone down and starts reading his textbook, he’s used up a bit of his willpower. So, as the night progresses, and bedtime approaches, and homework still needs to be done, he has less and less willpower to keep putting down his phone and it gets harder and harder to actually do his work.

Thankfully, there is a way to avoid depleting your willpower and get your homework done: HABITS. “Things that are habitual don’t tax your willpower” (Barker, 2014).

The more good practices that we can turn into habits, the less we use up our willpower, so we have more of it in reserves for other stuff.

So, if you are currently eating chocolate cake every evening at 9 pm, you could try changing that habit to first eating an apple and having a glass of water and seeing if that fills you up and satisfies your sugar craving. Create a new habit.

Or perhaps, when you get home from work, you know you have chores to do, but you have a habit of watching TV instead and the chores don’t get done. Create a new habit. When you get home and want to go sit down on the couch in front of the TV, lie down on your bed instead (and don’t turn on the TV or your smartphone). You’ll either get bored and decide to just get your chores done or you’ll take a nap and wake up refreshed ready to do some chores.

Or perhaps you have a habit of checking your phone every time it vibrates while you are doing your homework. Create a new habit. Turn your phone off when you start your work. Or put your phone in a different room. Or put your phone on silent. If you notice you start to check it even though it hasn’t vibrated, create a new habit. Maybe you’re checking it because you are bored? Instead of checking your phone, try a new habit of taking 3 belly breaths to help refocus your mind and maintain your attention on your homework.

The more we can help our kids develop good habits, the less they have to use their willpower, the more successful they will be at getting their homework and chores done. The younger you start working on developing these habits with your kids, the easier it is for them to develop them an internalize them.

Modeling good habits for your kids is always a good first step, like doing the dishes right after dinner instead of watching TV first or putting your stuff away when you walk in the house instead of throwing your coat over the back of a chair.

When they are young, when they get home from school, you can insist that before they play they put their backpack away and put their coat in the closet.

As they get older, you can have a rule (that becomes a habit) that they sit down at the kitchen table, have a snack, and do homework right after school.

What’s interesting is that when we have these habits, it can actually look like motivation. It looks like self-discipline. And it is those things, but it takes less willpower to be motivated and self-disciplined when we have good habits. So helping your kids develop good habits will help make being motivated and self-discipline easier for them.

No Set Career Plans and Heading Off to College
High School

No Set Career Plans & Heading Off to College

[bctt tweet=” “Does your teen really need to know what they want to do on (or before) their first day of college?”” username=”@SisuFireborn”]

Some kids just know what they want to be when grow up and their academic and career choices just fall into place to make that happen. They go to college, they choose their major on day one, they get the right internships, and they land their dream entry-level job immediately after college. Those teens are the exception. And while it’s great for them that they have it all figured out, it puts some undue pressure on the students who don’t know what they want to do.

Most teens start college not knowing what they want to do when they graduate and that is totally fine. Adults change careers all the time! Why should we expect an 18 year old to know what they want to do for the next forty to fifty years of their life? We teach students to pursue their passions and to be well-rounded, but then expect them to be singularly focused when it comes to their careers – that’s unrealistic and unhelpful.

When you talk to people with a lot of experience, you find that most times the way their career changed had a lot to do with luck and opportunities and maybe even discovering new interests. I know a pediatrician who started college as a math and economics major, only to switch to pre-med after his junior year of college. I know an entrepreneur who started out in the military, then went into human resources, transitioned to finance, and ended up managing radio stations. I know a consultant who is now in marketing. And I know a former teacher who worked in wealth management and then started a nonprofit (me!).

Most adults’ careers aren’t linear.

And that can actually help your career. Sometimes when you are so focused on your one path, you miss out on seeing some interesting connections. The diversity of thought that comes from working in a different industry and being well-rounded can improve the work you end up doing in whatever ends up being your “final career”. People who have lots of hobbies and who come from different industries often bring creative solutions to their new jobs. According to Adam Grant, “Relative to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.” And college is the perfect time to explore all those different opportunities and interests. When else will kids have access to so many clubs and courses and professors? We don’t want to pigeon hole students! So allowing them this time to explore is hugely important!

What freshman college students should do is go to career services, practice interviewing, and work on getting internships. Most college seniors are really bad at interviews, even if they are terrific students and are capable of doing well at any job after school. They do not know how to talk about or promote themselves and their experiences. So even if they truly deserve a fantastic job post-graduation, it is hard for them to convince their interviewer of that. So what is more important than knowing what you want to do after college before you even start college, is going to career services, working on building a resume through various activities you can get involved with at school, and practicing interviewing. That way, you are more likely to get good internship opportunities, which will only help you in future interviews (again, even if they are in different industries – you’re still young, so that’s okay to be figuring it out!). And that will help put you ahead of your peers and prepare you for the next interview when you have figured out what it is you want to do.

Now, if you want to get a job where there are really well defined paths (such as being an investment banker, a lawyer, or a doctor), it may be best to know ahead of time that you want to do that so that you can choose classes and internships carefully to increase your odds of getting those jobs or into the right graduate school. But often during school, kids find that they don’t actually want to be one of those things, or they discover later that they really do want to be those things. And they find a way to make it happen. That’s what’s so great: it may be a more difficult path, but you can figure out how to be what you want to be even if you figure out what that is after you graduate.