• Help Your Kid Ace Her Exams: 5 Effective Tips From a Teacher

    This college professor wanted her 7-year-old to review for exams on her own. What she did can work for your child.
    by Angela Abaya-Garcia .
  • Help Your Kid Ace Her Exams: 5 Effective Tips From a Teacher
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  • I don't think that grades are an accurate reflection of how much my child has learned and how well she is doing in life. So if my 7-year-old comes home with less than stellar grades, I am not devastated because I know that love for learning counts more than high grades. But, for some odd reason, I, along with thousands of other parents, find myself stressing over reviewing my child for quarterly exams. 

    I actually have two children, but luckily the older one is 17 and self-sufficient when it comes to his studies. It's my little girl who still needs a whole darn lot of help. If I tell her to review Chapter 6, I need to watch her like a hawk. If I don't, she'll spend three minutes looking at the first page and 10 minutes picking the scab on her elbow. 

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    I am not a full-time mom, but I do work mostly from home. And many times my daughter's quarterly exams have coincided with urgent deadlines of my own. Because tutoring my daughter is such high maintenance, I had to come up with ways to make sure she can review more independently but thoroughly, while still getting some of my own work done. Here are some of the ways I've found to be effective. 

    1. Make videos.
    They say that one way you know you've learned something well is if you're able to teach it to others, so I use this principle in various ways. 

    One recent science exam required her to know the life cycle of a frog, so we reviewed the diagram in the textbook together. Then I left her alone to make a video of herself explaining the topic, like a YouTube tutorial. After recording herself, I had her check the textbook to see if she missed any important points and repeat her recording, if necessary. "Checking" her own video allowed her to reflect on the information she had yet to retain. I would let her take and retake shooting herself until she feels she has recorded her best. I then watched her final video and addressed any concepts she missed.

    Essentially, this strategy is like having her explain the concepts to me, which is the typical way that we review our children, except that she's explaining to an imaginary audience (and I'm getting work done). Of course, I don't leave her entirely on her own to do this. I prompt her to make sure that she's not going on for hours on a single video. 

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    2. Make worksheets.
    I think one common practice that parents do is make review worksheets for their kids. I do that, too, but I've found so much benefit from having her make worksheets for me as well.

    In Math, for instance, I'll create a couple of sample word problems, and after she has worked those out, I'll often ask her to make similar ones for me to solve. I may also show her sample questions or tasks from her textbook, and challenge her to make similar ones on her own. Sometimes, she will recall a written activity done in class, and she'll recreate it for me. 

    While she's creating her worksheet, it buys me time to work on whatever I need to do. When she finishes, I answer the worksheet, and I give it back to her to check, buying me even more time.

    This exercise leads her to reflect deeply about the topic because, in order to make a worksheet, she needs to recall all that she remembers about the topic and make decisions about what questions are appropriate to include. I can tell a lot about her understanding of the lesson by the questions she generates on her own. Her questions also help me sniff out misconceptions in her thinking, and I address them after answering her worksheet. Sometimes, I will purposely answer one of her questions wrong to see if she will catch it. 

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    3.  Make artwork.
    Take advantage of your child's natural interest in art. One of my daughter's recent lessons was on national symbols and the Filipino values they represent. Rather than asking her to just go over the textbook and memorize the information, I asked her to make me a poster containing all of the national symbols described in the book, and what each represents. I allowed her to look at the book while she was making the poster. 

    I think my daughter retains information better when there's movement involved (e.g. her hand drawing pictures). Other children may not necessarily need a movement to retain information; they may do well just by looking at images and text. If your child is like that, try giving him time to review the lesson, then challenge him to make a poster or an infographic of what he has just reviewed without looking at the source material. This will test how well he retained the lessons -- while giving you time to continue on with your work. 

    After finishing her poster, I then tested her memory on each of the symbols and what they represented. 

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    4. Make games.
    I actually hate reviewing for lessons where my daughter needs to memorize facts and figures. Although more and more teachers are aware that meaningful teaching goes beyond mere memorization, the ability to remember and retain information remains a basic skill that students need to practice. So this kind of reviewing is unavoidable.

    If I can, I try to find a way to turn a lesson into a simple game that my daughter can play with friends (so they review with each other...see what I did there?) 

    One of her exams in Social Studies entailed remembering facts and figures about monuments, landmarks, and structures. So I made trivia cards using slips of board paper. On one side of the paper, I wrote a description of a monument taken from her textbook (e.g. "a monument found in Luneta Park which honors our national hero").

    On the other side, I wrote the correct answer ("Rizal Monument"). I made these cards several days before her exam, and I told her to take those cards to school and quiz her classmates during recess. This meant that she would be reviewing with her friends, with the added element of fun and social learning. Of course, I went over those facts and figures with her at home, too, but since she had been reviewing with her friends at school, it made my job less cumbersome.

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    5. Don't cram. 
    One last practice that helps reduce the stress of reviewing for quarterly exams: we try our best not to cram all the studying into the one or two days before the actual exam. Studies show that reviewing materials over and over again (rehearsal and repetition), over an extended period of time, significantly increases retention over studying the whole lot one or two days before. I know this sounds like common sense, and yet, procrastinators far outnumber the students who actually practice this. Some students believe that studying before an exam is effective, but what they don't know is that they are most likely using short-term memory resources. Once that test is over, they will likely forget what they've studied. Going over lessons repetitively over a period of time increases the chance that the information lands in long-term memory.

    Stressful as it is, I've realized that spending time with my kids studying is worth the investment. It sends the soft message that their education is important to me.

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    Mom to a 17-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, Angela Abaya-Garcia earned her master’s degree in Psychology from the Ateneo de Manila University. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Educational Psychology at De La Salle University (Manila), where she also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on child development, research methods, learning and teaching.

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