My son is sitting public exams this summer. He was hoping to use the Easter holidays to catch up on his revision but seems to be overwhelmed by the quantity of work he has to do. How can I help?
The feeling of panic when you first sit down with a pile of revision notes and books can be paralysing. The trick is to move past the initial fear, ignore the totality of the work and start organising the subjects into smaller and achievable blocks.
The first thing your son needs to do is to get a copy of the course syllabus. If his teacher has not provided this have a look online. Most public examination boards have their own websites and you can download topic lists and learning outcomes. You can use the former to create a master list of areas of learning and the latter to test knowledge.
Go through the syllabus, dividing content into three columns marked "confident I know this", "need to go over it", and "not the faintest clue". Some boards will give weightings for various topics, which are extremely helpful when you are trying to prioritise. Teachers often hand out revision lists based on their experience of preparing students for public exams. If your son has one of these lists, compare it to the syllabus to try to get an impression of which topics need more time spent on them.
I would not discount study guides (if available) although these do tend to simplify knowledge and should be used as a support rather than a sole source of information.
After creating the topic list, your son should go through his notes, handouts and textbooks. If he is a typical student, these may well be in a state of complete chaos.
Don't allow him to become overwhelmed. Again, take a systematic approach and add three categories to your topic columns: "have all study notes", "need to get more information", "have no information".
At this point, you will need help with anything that falls into the latter category. The best source will be your son's school. If his teacher is unavailable, the course notes may be on the school's intranet. You could also try a classmate. If all of these routes fail, acquire a copy of the course textbook. Textbooks are readily available through various online bookshops and you can also buy second-hand copies. Consider shipping times if you are buying online; a book which arrives after the holiday is not terribly useful.
With an overview for each subject, he can prioritise the topics and start allocating revision time.
Clearly, your son's focus will be on updating his knowledge of the familiar but consecrating more time to the unfamiliar. Break down time into realistic blocks. It is worth casting an eye over the plan at this point - is he really going to be able to cover the entire Cultural Revolution in a night? Unrealistic plans only create the feeling of failure.
Bear in mind that your son will also need to schedule for pre-planned events and build in time to exercise, eat and have some downtime. It is more effective to have a more sustained revision plan than cram everything into a few intense days. I would also suggest that you factor in time cushions for unexpected delays.
There will be days when the revision comes easily and others when your son feels as though he is not making progress. Ensure that he marks off each revision block as it is done so he can see that he is covering the work. If a topic demands more revision, use the time cushions to allow for this.
Your son should start each day with a recap of yesterday's learning. This could be questions from past papers, a quick summary or a concept map. If the plan is well organised, he will be able to cover his work during the holidays and return to school a lot more confident about his exams.
Jessica Ogilvy-Stuart is director of the Brandon Learning Centre