How To Help your Teen Achieve Revision Success! Part 2

Revisions strategies for teens 1This week our family have hit another parenting milestone; our 14 year old is about to sit his first exams! This has left me puzzling how I can best support him to accomplish revision success, without heading into the minefield of teenage resistance!

In Part 1 of my revision series I discussed how to identify the goals of revision and engage in a joint planning phase with your child. Today I’m looking at the how to of revision.

What does your child need to do to achieve revision success?

 What The Research Says…

As parents it’s easy to feel alienated by the technology that our children are using to study with. I know that when I was revising I created hand written notes, read paper versions of books and created colour coded index cards!

When my children are revising it often looks the same as when they’re relaxing – laptop open, headphones on and a glazed expression!

These strategies for revising have been popular for years:

  • Re-reading notes
  • Highlighting sections of text
  • Re-writing notes

These are certainly strategies that I have used, but it turns out that trying to memorise information is NOT the most effective revision strategy!

Research shows that the key to retaining information is to become deeply engaged with the material, in educational terms this is called a ‘depth of processing’, and helps the information get deposited for the long term in your memory bank.

My Favourite 5 Strategies For Engagement

If engagement is the key to revision success, how can we find activities that create this depth of processing for our children?

Here are my Favourite 5 strategies that increase engagement whilst addressing the goals of revision (understanding, synthesis, recall, consolidation and reflection).

  1. 3 Qs (Quick Quiz Questions) – create questions using your notes, write out a corresponding answer sheet then put the quiz away and test yourself in a couple of days. Research shows that repeated testing is a successful strategy for raising engagement, and leaving a few days between revising and testing is the most effective way.
  2. Quizletquizlet is an awesome online tool that allows you to make flash cards which you can then use in  activities against the clock such as pairing, questioning and testing. Research shows that practicing retrieving information is one of the best ways to retain it.
  3. SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) – SWOT Analysis is a great revision tool to encourage you to re-think ideas and make new connections, especially good for humanities and English. You can download a template here .
  4. Mind Mapping – this creative tool increases engagement by  finding connections and practicing retrieving information. Mind maps can be colourful and elaborate or simple and streamlined, Tony Busan (the father of mind maps) has some inspiring examples of mind maps here.
  5. Fishbone Diagram – this is a great tool to summarise multiple ideas and can form the basis of an essay plan for written subjects. Check out my example of a fishbone diagram based on this revision series below. You can download a template here.

fishbone diagrams ansucccesful revision strategy

So good luck to all the Mum & Dad’s out there supporting their teens through the exam minefields over the next few weeks!

And remember…

Hold on to your teen during adolescence


Not Waving But Drowning.

hand of drowning man in sea asking for help

Not waving but drowning


I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

This Stevie Smith poem just sprang into my mind when I started to muse about this weeks post. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

Waving? Drowning?

That’s what it felt like this week, as I watched my youngest son  start to drown in the relentless tide of homework.

Berry started secondary school 4 weeks ago and has been metaphorically waving at me for a while.

I waved merrily back, but in hindsight there were clues that his waving might well have been a last-ditch attempt to save himself from drowning. But having been a helicopter mum once too often, I know that jumping in too soon is counter productive.

This was tough love, sink or swim! It looked like swimming, for a while.

When asked, ‘Do you have any homework?’ responses have varied from ‘yes’ in week 1, to a ‘probably’ in week 2 until last week it was a ‘I have no idea’!

That’s when I knew he wasn’t waving, but drowning.


I threw him a life line in the form of early bedtimes and removal of distractions at home. But soon it became clear that I was going to have to swim out to him and use survival stroke to bring him in. He was drowning in a sea of forgotten emails, missed deadlines and general confusion.

The transition from primary to secondary school is as much about self management as it is about an increasingly academic curriculum. Berry was used to receiving a weeks worth of homework on a Monday, and working steadily to complete it throughout the week. Now he was faced with the challenge of checking a school messaging system that was updated with homework on any given day. On top of that teachers gave verbal messages about homework in class, and for those students prone to daydreaming lapses in concentration, these were easily missed!

Although I’d like to say that I was immediately supportive and sympathetic, it just isn’t true!

I spent a few days stamping my feet and ranting about paying attention, making notes and checking messages. It seemed that Berry’s take on homework was simple – if the deadline had been missed then that work didn’t need to be done anymore and it went off his radar! Now I was starting to see where the problem had begun.

How do I help my 12-year-old without taking over?

How can we work together so that ultimately he can manage the work by himself?

These were the questions that bothered me, so I made a plan!


Tips to Win the War on Homework:


  • Know your enemy – I tacked down every piece of homework that had been set since week 1
  • Speak the same language – I made sure Berry and I agreed on what homework included (all set homework tasks, unfinished classwork, revision and reading)
  • Identify the stakes – to motivate my boy I made sure he knew that there would be no X-Box or socials until homework was finished!
  • Plan the offensive – I created a weekly homework planner that is on the fridge that clearly identifies the hours available for homework.
  • Prioritise your treatment – I worked with Berry to triage the homework like a Field Hospital, those that could be saved from over-due penalties got treatment first, hopeless cases we  dealt with last!



homework planning

Weekly home work planner

We used post-it notes to add each new piece of homework as it arrived. Berry took great satisfaction in screwing them up and throwing them away once he’d completed them! The system is teaching him to plan, prioritise and face the challenge head-on, whilst I am able to stay informed and assess if he’s on track with a glance at the number of post-its!

Each evening I ask him to rate how he’s feeling about his homework on a 0-10 score, 0 = drowning 10 = waving.

Monday night it was a 3, two days later it was a 5.

He’s getting there. We’re getting there. Together.

The End of an Era

It’s really happening. Today confirmed my suspicions. They are growing up.

Today was the end of primary school for my ‘baby’ Berry and the beginning of a new chapter.


It’s been an emotional day for us both, but for different reasons. He’s saying goodbye to some good friends who are leaving to go to different high schools, and I’m reassuring him that as one door closes another opens! I’m sad to leave the lovely nurturing environment of junior school where you build a relationship with just one teacher, for an impersonal high school where multiple teachers barely remember the kids names.


Berry thinks this may work in his favour though; if they don’t remember his name they might not remember his misdemeanours! I think it may too! I will no longer receive the Red Note informing me of an impending detention after a water fight in the toilets!


So going to high school means not everything gets back to mum, is this an opportunity to conceal bad behaviour? Or is it a lesson in personal responsibility? If he’s not accountable to me at the end of the school day, then who is he accountable to? The obvious answer is – himself! That most important person who will regulate his behaviour and choices throughout his life!


Independence, love it or hate it, it’s coming our way!