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!

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

CHECK OUT THE EPISODE BELOW:

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IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT…

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.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode!

HERE’S HOW TO SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW

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.

Elementary School, Study Tips

Episode #67: Study Tips

Study Tips
Fireborn has a few tips to help kids understand how to study effectively and efficiently by making studying more of an active process and making sure kids don’t spend too much time studying information they already know well.

Studying is not an intuitive skill. Lots of students do not know how to actually study. This can mean kids avoid studying because they aren’t actually sure what to do. Or it can mean they spend a lot of time studying, but not actually learning or retaining very much. Fireborn has a few tips to help kids understand how to study effectively and efficiently by making studying more of an active process and making sure kids don’t spend too much time studying information they already know well.

CHECK OUT THE EPISODE BELOW: 

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IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT…

Lots of students do not know how to actually study. This can mean kids avoid studying because they aren’t actually sure what to do. Or it can mean they spend a lot of time studying, but not actually learning or retaining very much.

Some key aspects of studying are that:

1) You want to make it as active as possible, and

2) You want to spend the majority of your time on stuff you don’t know very well, as opposed to reviewing stuff you do know.

  • Studying should be more active because the more you engage with the information, the better it will be stored in your brain, and the better you will be at recalling and manipulating the information during the test.

How to review information for any type of exam:

1) Take out all of your old homework assignments, quizzes, and tests.

2) Start going through them one by one, starting with the homework assignments because presumably they are easier. Look at each question. Cover up the answer. And write down what you think the answer is.

  • If you get it correct, put a check mark by that question and never return to it again while you are studying.
  • If you get it wrong, circle it. Review the correct answer. Then, cover up the answer, and try to answer it again. Continue this step, reviewing the correct answer and trying to answer it again, until you get the right answer on your own. Once you get the right answer, move on to the next question, but keep this question circled.

3) Once you get to the end of that first assignment, go back through all of the circled questions and try them again.

  • If you get the answer right, put a check over the circle and move on.
  • If you get it wrong, make a square over the circle. Review the answer and then try to answer it again on your own. Keep doing this until you get it correct. Once you get it correct, keep the square around the question and move on to the next circled question.

4) Once you get to the end of the assignment, restart with the questions with the squares.

5) Repeat this until each question has a check mark. Then you can move on to the next assignment.

This gives you an opportunity to review all of the old information quickly by sorting through what you already know and what you don’t know yet.

Other ways to study include…

  • Flashcards
  • Practice tests
  • Study guides

Good luck with exams!

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode. How do you help your children study and get ready for exams?

HERE’S HOW TO SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW

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!

Slow Reading Comprehension
School Advice

Episode #56: Slow Reading Woes

 

Being a slow reader is frustrating! It stinks to have to spend so much more time than your peers just to read through and remember the same amount of information! While we can’t make your child a speed reader over night, Fireborn does have 4 tips to help make reading go a bit faster and to help your child remember more of that information.

Slow Reading Comprehension

CHECK OUT THE EPISODE BELOW: 

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IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT…

What used to happen to me: As I would look over the huge amount of reading for the night, literally just staring at the number of pages in the book, I was stressed. And that stressed, totally overwhelmed feeling did not make me want to just dive on in and get started. It made me want to hide from my homework.

Tips for reading a book from an executive functions coach:

  1. Focus on one chapter at a time.
  2. Go through the chapter once by reading all of the titles, headlines, and bold words, skipping everything else.
    • Even if read quickly, the brain is now ready for the information. It is subconsciously working to help organize the information.
  3. After the initial run through, do the normal read through.
  4. Skip the pictures and anecdotes on the side, especially when in a rush.
    • These are rarely tested on.
    • Some people need those extras to make the reading interesting or at least bearable, but if the option is skip it or to not get through all of the reading, get through all of the reading.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode and how you handle your children’s slow reading comprehension?

HERE’S HOW TO SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW

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!

 

Slow Learning
ADD/ADHD, Difficult Topics, Study Tips

Slow is Fast Enough When Learning

Quick, speedy, fast, and faster! That is how I like to get things done. That was the root of my difficulty with homework: I would dive right into reading, get overwhelmed because I was not reading quickly enough and I knew I had a lot of other work to do, but I did not know what it was. If all that other homework was going to take this long, there was no way I was going to be able to finish my work.

Then I would try to “speed read”. That never worked for me. Instead, I would “finish” a page and even if I had understood the main ideas, I certainly could not retain that information.

I needed to slow down. To take the time to plan and organize, as I explained in Plan First, Work Later.

I needed to understand that slow is fast enough. In class, I sometimes felt compelled to work faster than the other students and know the answer first. But when I was aware of that desire, I became anxious, skipped instructions, and made careless mistakes. I needed to slow down.

In middle school I worked on a poster with a friend, Caroline. We typed and printed a few headers and sentences to glue on the poster. Normally, I would have slapped on some glue and hoped that the piece of paper landed on the poster evenly. Caroline, though, first cut out colorful boarders for each write-up. Then she used a ruler to position each one perfectly. My anxiety from the amount of time this was taking was clear to both of us, and her mother, who calmly told me it would not take much longer and it would be worth it.

She was right. Caroline was slow, but our project was one hundred times better because of it. (For the record, in no other situation would I consider Caroline “slow”. She studied for history class on the bus ride to school and got better grades than I did. She’s also a Fulbright scholar).

According to neuropsychologist Dr. Sam Goldstein, (confirmed by numerous parents and teachers I have spoken with) slow is not fast enough in our current culture (2015). We expect our learners to learn a certain way at a certain pace and panic if they get behind. But people do not all learn the same way at the same pace.

“Adopt a learning to ride a bike mindset” Dr. Goldstein recommends. The experience gained simply from taking time and working on something new is valuable in and of itself.

You learn:

  • To learn from your mistakes,
  • To set realistic goals and celebrate the small wins,
  • To be optimistic and hopeful in the face of challenges,
  • How to deliberately practice to improve,
  • To realize that as you change something, the outcomes change too, which leads you…
  • To develop an internal locus of control.

And eventually, your child will learn to ride a bike. She has also learned all of those other great skills that will help her continue to learn and succeed.

So try to help give your child time:

  • When you notice yourself rushing, slow down and talk about it out loud so your child can hear. For instance, if you notice yourself searching frantically for keys, say, “Stop. Slow down. Think for a moment. Where might those keys be?”
  • Tell your child about a specific subject or concept that was difficult for you to grasp that you learned over time. For me, I had a really hard time understanding the Pythagorean theorem and thought I would get demoted to the lower math level for sure the next year. I kept getting C’s, which was low for me. But I kept doing my homework and re-doing old homework and quiz problems that I got wrong until I got the answer right multiple times without any help. It took a lot of time and it was boring doing the same problems over and over again, but I know the Pythagorean theorem and I did not move down to a lower math class the following year.
  • Be patient and empathetic while your child is working on something difficult. 
  • Praise him when he does take the time to work on a difficult project. “Wow. You sat for two hours and just worked on this project. And what a great poster you made! I am so impressed.” (Be as specific as you can be with your praise).

Finally, as Dr. Goldstein says, “Don’t panic when learning is slow”. Remind yourself of all the good lessons your child is learning!


References:

Goldstein, S. (2015). Managing behaviors. The Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.

Homework Help
Difficult Topics, Motivating the Unmotivated, Study Tips

The Unknown Victims of Homework “Help”

One of my favorite education writers, Jessica Lahey, wrote about the disservice parents do to their children when they basically do their child’s homework for them (2015). Obviously parents have good intentions, as Jessica explains, “We’ve all been there, usually around 11 on the night before a child’s project is due, reluctantly stepping over the line between helping and taking over. It starts out innocently enough, as, “Here, let me help you cut those last pieces out so you can get to bed,” and quickly snowballs into a lie, a Ph.D. dissertation in third-grade handwriting” (2015).

When the child goes to school the next day presenting his parent’s work, he knows it is not his work and the lesson he has learned is that he is not capable of doing the work. Meanwhile, Jessica explains, the child, whose parent did not intervene despite knowing how subpar the project is, has to live uncomfortably with his project for a few hours knowing he did not do his best work. But then, it is over. And the next time he has a big project, he works much harder on it to avoid that painful experience. Therefore, parents, in an attempt to save their child from embarrassment, are actually hurting their child’s self-esteem and their child’s motivation to do better on his own next time.

That is a big deal and a good point. No parent helps their child with the hopes of hurting his self-esteem and drive.

What is missing from this conversation is the other victims of too much parental involvement in homework: the children who did their projects by themselves and deserve an “A”, but who see the projects with parent “help” and do not know that such help has been given. Those children are left thinking that their excellent work is actually subpar and can be discouraged. How can they ever live up to that impossible standard?

And what can teachers do?

Well, teachers can give the deserving students an A. However, those students are smart and have seen the other projects. They know the other children did better. So, even though they got an A, they still think it was not as good as it could or should have been. Their project is still lacking.

Teachers can also, as Lahey puts it, “assess children’s work for what it is — the work of children” so that parents do not feel compelled to improve their children’s work.

And what can parents do?

Try to focus on the long-term goals (internally motivated children with an understanding that they are capable) and suffer through the short-term anguish you feel sending your child to school with a project you know will make him feel uncomfortable.

Both parents and teachers need to recognize, prioritize, and value the long-term goals while understanding the repercussions for all students when parents “help”.

It’s hard, but your children (and the children of other parents) need you to be strong.


Lahey, J. (2015). When a child’s project shows a parental hand at work. The New York Times.