Pay attention, parents, it’s time for YOUR revision!

Pay attention, parents, it’s time for YOUR revision! Want to help your children with exam hell? You need our expert’s cut-out-and-keep primer

  • Sarah Vine spoke to parenting guru Tanith Carey about helping kids to revise  
  • A recent study shows children who use their phone in school do up to 14% worse
  • Researchers say children do 60 per cent better when studying without music  
  • Educators say each child may benefit differently from varying learning styles
  • Sarah revealed her son is visiting his cousin in Madrid ahead of his Spanish exam
  • She says a few days in a country may boost confidence in speaking a language 

As I write, I am in the departures lounge at Gatwick Airport waiting to board my easyJet flight to Malaga. All around me are young families, heading off for a relaxing Easter break. No sun, sea and sangria for me, though; my trip is purely business. Exam business.

My son has been on a school trip in advance of his Spanish GCSE in May. While his classmates return to the UK, the two of us are catching a train to Madrid to stay with my brother, who lives there with his son, in the hope this brainy Spanish cousin will cement his conversational skills.

I am also, at his request, lugging a ton of geography revision halfway across Europe.

Like countless other parents of Year 11 children, I’m not expecting these Easter holidays to be a lot of fun.

Sarah Vine sought advice from parenting guru Tanith Carey about helping children to revise ahead of their GCSE exams (file image)

Whoever decided the best time to subject children to one of the most important academic tests of their young lives was when — aged 15/16 — they are on the cusp of adulthood, and therefore at their most susceptible to the emotional turmoil of hormones and the distracting pull of pubescent pleasures, was either childless or possessed of a particularly perverse sense of humour.

Still, it could be worse. Because although my daughter is sitting all hers at once, my son at least is staggering his. Thanks to his school’s wise policy, wherever possible they take GCSEs early. So while his sister faces the full onslaught, he will do two this year and two next year — meaning that by the time he gets to year 11 he’ll not only have plenty of crucial exam practice, but a lighter load.

Back home, my husband is also on GCSE watch (when not trying to negotiate Brexit with John McDonnell, that is). For what feels like about three years (but is in fact only a few weeks) my daughter has been on a cycle of eat, sleep, revise, repeat — punctuated by the occasional tension-relieving sleepover with friends.

To be fair to her, she’s remarkably sanguine about the whole thing. She’s been astonishingly level-headed, planning her own revision schedule and sticking to it rigorously.

I’ve never been a helicopter parent, largely because I don’t think it does children any favours to do their work for them, but also because my daughter is a fiercely independent spirit who likes to do things her way.

Thus we respect each other’s boundaries, and this has been key to maintaining sanity: her job is to pass her exams; mine is to ensure she gets enough sleep and vitamin C, and to make sure there is ham and cheese in the fridge for toasties.

Ex-headteacher Dr Helen Wright, advises parents to explain to their child how a revision timetable can be useful for giving their learning a routine (file image)

I’ve found a little goes a long way when it comes to relieving the pressure of revision. A trip to a charity shop to buy second-hand clothes, a movie, Nando’s. I figure a few hours here and there will be good for her mental health — and make her more likely to do her best on the day.

And, as I keep reminding her, her best is all she can do.

So if you’re finding revision hell this Easter, read our practical guide by parenting guru Tanith Carey.


You may well be completely confused by the updated GCSE grading system, which now gives numbers as well as letters, and how the subject matter has changed since your own exams. But you are still in a good position to help your child.

Many children start the Easter holidays simply not knowing where to begin.

Ex-headteacher Dr Helen Wright, a former president of the Girls’ Schools Association, says while exams are your child’s responsibility, there’s nothing wrong with offering your services as coach and supporter.

She said: ‘At the start of the holiday, ask your teen how they’re feeling and how they are planning for the weeks ahead.

Tanith recommends children revise each subject for 20 to 45 minutes, as studies have shown this is the period we concentrate best (file image)

‘Don’t stress, though — you may know better than your teen, but they have to own their revision process.’

Next, explain how a revision timetable will give them a routine and help them feel in control of their learning.

One shortcut is to use their school timetable and replicate it during the weekdays of the holidays, because it already covers all their subjects.

Studies have found that we concentrate best in periods of 20 to 45 minutes — about the length of an average lesson. So suggest they revise each subject for about that time, too.

Make it appealing by building in rewards and exercise — and when your child moans it feels like school, remind them it will soon be over and that every session will help boost their mark.


One in five UK parents has cancelled a holiday in favour of giving their kids more time to revise, a study this month found. However, it is still possible to take a break if it’s a relaxing one with plenty of downtime — and your child still has a place to work. And a trip to France, Germany or Spain for a few days may be just what they need to boost their confidence in a language.

But educator Dr Helen Wright adds: ‘If the holiday is going to involve lots of partying for your teen, think twice . . . this is not going to help.’


Now that so much learning is online, you may tear your hair out trying to work out if your child is aimlessly surfing the web — or genuinely swotting up on GCSE genetics.

The best approach, say experts, is to help your child recognise for themselves how distracting mobile phones can be.

Learning psychologist Bradley Busch, revealed students who use their phone during school do worse in their exams than those who don’t (file image)

A few bracing statistics may also help, adds learning psychologist Bradley Busch.

He says: ‘A recent review found students who use their phones in school do up to 14 per cent worse in their exams than those who don’t.’

Indeed, for the best revision, phones shouldn’t even be in the room. One study in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that even if set to silent, airplane mode or switched off, phones still dramatically reduced students’ working memory and problem-solving skills.

So offer — don’t insist — to do your child a favour by taking their phone away while they revise. They can always catch up in their scheduled breaks.


While your child may look studious with a textbook in one hand and a highlighter pen in the other, it’s unlikely they are taking much in unless they are ‘actively’ learning.

Youngsters need to be engaged either by actively analysing material or being tested on it. So websites like, in which pupils can devise their own tests, can help.

Academic coach Lucy Parsons, author of The Ten Step Guide To Acing Every Exam You Ever Take also suggests a ‘power hour’ of revision. This involves finding a past paper question and spending 20 minutes revising what they need to answer the question, the next 20 minutes answering it and the last 20 minutes marking their work.

Exam expert Patricia Warner, advise parents to adapt to their child’s learning style as visual learners will prefer charts and diagrams (file image) 

Another tactic is a revision ‘buddy.’ Help them choose a partner — you or a friend. They should tell their ‘buddy’ what they plan to revise at the start of the day, then report at the end of the day on how it went.


Different children prefer to learn in different ways, broadly divided into visual, hearing and feeling.

If your child prefers to give oral presentations rather than essays, they may be an auditory learner. If they love making diagrams, they may be visual. If they like making models, they could be kinaesthetic. Use the quiz at to help guide you.

Exam expert Patricia Warner of uk, a free online revision tool, says you can then help your child adapt their learning style. ‘For a visual learner, charts, spider diagrams, mind maps and Post-it notes are useful.

‘If they are auditory, they can recite information and repeat it out loud.

‘If a child is a kinaesthetic learner, they will learn by physically sensing what they’re studying — with flashcards, for instance.’

However, children should make use of all three styles to keep their revision interesting.


In these days of music streaming, who hasn’t come across their child nodding along to their favourite song while claiming to be revising?

But learning psychologist Bradley Busch, author of Release Your Inner Drive, says this is a common mistake. ‘While music may boost motivation, it has a negative impact on revision,’ he says. ‘Researchers found those who revise in silence remember 60 per cent more than those who revise while listening to music.’

Bradley Busch says although music can boost motivation, researchers have found those who study in silence remember more than those who don’t (file image) 

But while you may be sceptical of your child’s claim to learn better with friends, if they’re hard workers too, this could be true. Bradley says: ‘Another study found people work harder if the person next to them is working hard, too.’


Experts’ recommendations for time spent revising vary, and it also depends how easy a child finds it to concentrate.

What’s key is how they divide up their revision time. Ideally, it should be no more than 25 minutes of solid revision, followed by a five minute break, before starting again.

Breaking up study improves results because the brain is better at encoding information in short, repeated sessions. Dr Helen Wright, advisor to Mark My Papers, an independent service which uses teachers to mark mock tests and give students feedback, says: ‘Quality is always better than quantity, and too much quantity can be counterproductive.

‘I would recommend approximately five hours a day of relaxed learning, but this can vary hugely.’

If you sense your child’s attention is flagging, suggest a change of activity or scenery.


In a competitive world, you may believe top marks are essential for your teen’s life chances.

However, reminding your child of this will only make them anxious. Brain scans show that the brain’s fear centres are activated when people are told they are competing against lots of others. Tell your child the only person they should try to out-perform is themselves.

Be aware of your anxiety, which can be contagious, and try to take tears and tantrums in your stride.

Helen Wright advises parents to reassure their teens instead of projecting worries over their grades (file image) 

Former head teacher Helen Wright says: ‘If you don’t keep calm, how can you expect it of your teen?

‘Absorb any aggravation and keep your worries under control.’ Teens tend to think their life will be over if they don’t get the grades they want.

If they are panicking, help them break subjects down into chunks — and show what a difference one session can make.

Dr Wright says your role is to reassure them: ‘They should do their best, but you love them and are proud of them, and they can find a way to what they want in life.’


Teens fall roughly into three groups, according to experts.

There are the work horses who are already studying hard — they will need to be encouraged to take a break and get plenty of sleep.

There’s the laid-back cohort who haven’t faced up to how much work needs to be done, and will benefit from your help to organise them.

Finally, there are the procrastinators — who are often putting off revision because they are overwhelmed.

Give them the benefit of a ‘growth mindset’ — their marks will ‘grow’ with every hour they revise, and they always have the potential to get better.

Be supportive when children hit a rough spot. You could find ‘explainer’ videos on YouTube on a tricky subject, which progress toward GCSE level. Point out how much they have already mastered to show how capable they are.

Tanith Carey is author of What’s My Child Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents, published by DK 

Source: Read Full Article