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.

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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School Advice

Reading Has A Big Impact on Your Child’s Development

Reading has a great impact on children’s development. Parents know this, but instilling this value in their children is often difficult. Children may not always want to read, which can create a strain between parents and their children. Many parents use material bribes to coerce their children to read. However, a more effective tool can simply be reading aloud to your children.

When parents read aloud to their children they are doing much more than reciting words from a page. They are inspiring their offspring to want to read. Children whose parents read to them are more likely to see reading as a pleasure than as a chore.

There are also many educational benefits to reading aloud to your children. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children who come from environments where books are read aloud to them, have more brain activity in the areas of narrative comprehension and visual imagery. These MRI scans prove that early reading has an impact on children’s development (Pearson, 2015). Reading aloud to children furthers their language development.

Children’s vocabulary grows more extensive when their parents read to them. Parents can read more difficult books than their children can read independently; so their children are often exposed to more challenging words. Additionally, advanced books tend to use more sophisticated language than our everyday spoken language.

Parents also teach their children about the grammatical structure of sentences by reading to them. Instinctively parents will pause at the end of a sentence or at a comma, their voice will have a higher pitch when there is an exclamation mark, or sound inquisitive when encountering a question mark. They are setting a foundation for their children’s academic development by reading aloud to them.

Children can be exposed to a wider variety of books with their parents’ help. Parents have the opportunity to choose books to read aloud that their children might not choose on their own. They can expose them to new authors and genres. Also, parents can choose books that reflect what is happening in their children’s lives and use them to help guide, comfort or teach. For instance, if their children are starting school, parents can read books about the joys of school and what to expect to prepare them and open the lines of communication.

A stronger relationship between parents and their children is formed by reading together. It is the foundation for many fond memories. One sixteen-year-old girl from Colorado reflects, “When I was little I loved sitting with my mom and having time together–even when my siblings sat with us and listened. My mom read to us every day” (2016). Eighty-three percent of children between ages six to seventeen claimed that being read to was something they loved or liked a lot. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Parents who spend time reading to their children create nurturing relationships, which is important for children’s cognitive, language and social-emotional development” (Pearson, 2015).

Reading aloud has many benefits; however, parents often stop reading to their children once they can read for themselves. Ninety-eight percent of parents read to their children from their birth to eight years old. After that, the percentage drops significantly with only seventy-seven percent reading to their children between ages nine and eleven, thirty-five percent read to their children between the ages twelve and fourteen, and twenty-eight percent read to them between ages fifteen and seventeen. The benefits of reading aloud continue even as children grow older. Author of the Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease, believes teachers should also continue to read to their students even in high school. This promotes the enjoyment of reading and encourages students to read for pleasure even as they grow older (Matthiessen, 2016).

No matter their age, children enjoy listening to a book. So build reading to your children into your daily schedule. As Dr. Seuss said, “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Written By: Emery Tedesco


Hodgekiss, Anna. “‘Parents Should Read to Their Child Every Day from Birth’: Story Time Routines Help Boost Vocabulary and School Grades.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 26 June 2014. Web. 27 July 2016. <;.

“Kids and Family Reading Report.” Scholatic, n.d. Web. 27 July 2016. <;.

Matthiessen, Connie. “Reading Aloud Benefits Even Older Kids.” GreatKids. GreatSchools, 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 July 2016. <>.

Pearson, Catherine. “Science Proves Reading To Kids Really Does Change Their Brains.” The Huffington Post., 6 Aug. 2015. Web. 27 July 2016. <;.

Taylor, Melissa. “The Importance of Reading Aloud to Big Kids | Brightly.”Brightly The Importance of Reading Aloud to Big Kids Comments. Penguin Random House Company, 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 27 July 2016. <;.

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.

Have your child preview homework and then take a break
Elementary School, High School, Middle School, Parent Tips, School Advice

Have Your Child Preview Homework and Then Take a Break

Sometimes it can be intimidating to start homework if we know (or we think we know) that we don’t know how to do the homework and so we avoid that. But just previewing the homework, we don’t have to really worry that we don’t know how to do it. And then our brain does this amazing thing: while we are having a break doing other stuff, our brain is thinking about how to solve those problems. So by the time we start our homework, we actually have some ideas on how to approach that tough math question or what to write about for that essay.

So often helping kids with homework feels more like nagging them to just sit down and do their homework. That stinks. It’s really no fun for parents or kids. So how do you shift from being the homework nag to your kid’s homework coach? Fireborn’s got 6 tips for you on how to stop being a homework nag so that homework becomes, dare we say it, potentially a pleasant, collaborative, relationship-building opportunity instead of an all out fight!

How do you shift from being the homework nag to your kid’s homework coach?

  1. Preview the work with your kid and then take a break.
  • Do something fun on the break.
  • There is no pressure during this break.
  • While they are having a break doing other stuff, their brain is thinking about how to solve those problems.
  • Now, by the time they start homework, they actually have some ideas on how to approach the tough questions.
  1. Establish a study time habit.
  • Have a specific spot (that your child chooses) to do homework.
  • Have a routine to start the work.
    • Examples: eat a snack, put on classical music, or exercise.
  • Try to start at the same time every day.
  1. Ask your child to just do short bursts of homework.
  • It is less intimidating to do 10 minutes of work than to do all of the work for a subject.
  • “Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part and once your child has started, he can decide that he wants to keep reading.”
  1. Make sure your child gets breaks.
  • “Powering through is not actually a thing. And it’s really bad for your brain.”
  1. Help your child develop intrinsic motivation to do homework.
  • There are three parts to internal motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  • Autonomy- the want to be in charge.
    • To give them autonomy with homework, you can try letting them choose…
      • What time or place they do their homework.
      • The order in which they decide to do their homework.
      • What music they listen to.
    • Mastery- the want to do things that we are good at and that we want to get better at
      • To give them mastery with homework…
        • Make sure to celebrate the small wins.
        • Give your child as many opportunities to get better at stuff that they like, both with homework and extracurricular activities.
      • Purpose- the want to do things that matter
        • To help them with purpose for their homework…
          • Have your child set personal academic goals and plans for the year.
            • These goals should explain how and when the child will accomplish these goals. The more specific the goal and the plan, the better.
  1. Assume good will!
  • “Taking a breath and remembering your child wants to do right by you will help adjust your mindset so you can respond more effectively when your child is avoiding studying for that exam.”

By doing these things, instead of nagging your child, you’re actually teaching her strategies for how to study when you aren’t there to nag her.

You can learn more on The Happy Student Podcast Episode#55: How to Not Be a Homework Nag!



Preparing for Classes Over the Summer
Back to School Prep, School Advice

Preparing for Classes Over the Summer

So let’s say they need help specifically in history. You have the textbook already for next year. You ask if they want to preview the chapters and they say, “No way. I’m not doing any reading this summer.”

Well, that’s tough. One thing you can try in this instance is to then ask them “When you think of ‘preview the chapters’, what do you think that means?” They give some answer that is basically, “Read all the chapters.”

That is when you get to explain, “What if we could make previewing a chapter take 3 minutes max? And in those 3 minutes you would make a study guide for each chapter for the school year, so that you are ahead of the game and ready to take on history?”

3 minutes is a pretty reasonable amount of time. It’s hard to say no to that. Plus, you offer to do all of the work for this first chapter to show what you mean.

Here are the steps you take for Preparing for Classes Over the Summer:

  1. Tell your kid to time you.
  2. Open up PowerPoint.
  3. Open up the textbook.
  4. On the first slide write: Chapter 1 and Chapter 1’s title
  5. Then, grab the big headings. Each big heading is one slide. On that slide put the subheadings and any vocabulary words. Move on to the next slide and the next big subheading.
    1. Do not spend any time on capitalization for subcategories or grammar or anything extra like that.
  6. It should only take you a couple minutes. (You can even practice a little ahead of time to make sure this goes quickly).
  7. Print out the PowerPoint presentation multiple slides to a page and there you have it: a study guide for chapter 1!
  8. Then you can explain, “I don’t want you to do more work. I don’t want you to read every chapter. I just want you to do three minutes times however many chapters. You can find that many minutes over the summer to do that, right?”

Kids love this because you are the one working and they have the stop watch. That feels good. (Of course, you’re only doing it for them this one time).

You can also explain the benefits of this strategy:

  • You’ll know more than anybody else in your class, other than your teacher, on the first day of school.
  • You don’t have to worry about actually learning anything yet, so there’s no pressure or anxiety.
  • But at the same time, your brain gets exposure to the information, so it’s already thinking about it subconsciously so when you go back to it during the school year, you’ll remember it better.
  • You have a study guide for tests ready to go!

Taking away that pressure, time commitment, and overwhelming feelings can really help kids prepare for school and feel (and be) prepared to do well come September. It can be a huge confidence boost too.

Kids want to do well in school, even if they seem to embrace not doing well. Don’t fight that part. If you can make life easy for them to do well, then they’ll embrace studying a bit more.