Study leave is a waste of time

8th April 2005 at 01:00
I've never had much faith in study leave - turning 16-year-olds loose in April for the beginning of what many of them treat as a five-month holiday, to be filled with a lot of hanging about in public spaces, eating chips and pulling wheelies on their new mopeds, interrupted by a couple of weeks of sitting in silence in the gym.

Curious that study leave releases just the right number of teachers to become invigilators, and at just the right time. Even more curious that anyone ever saw fit to employ highly-trained professionals to do the kind of uninvolving supervisory work that a retired parking attendant would be delighted to do for a fiver an hour.

All that will come to an end from September, but some enlightened schools have already discovered that - surprise, surprise - keeping examinees in school and continuing to teach them actually improves exam results.

Even if your school hasn't reached that happy state, your pupils need your support, and it has to be practical and realistic. Someone has to balance the pressure from parents, from peer competition, from those horribly evangelical Year 11 assemblies that tell kids that they either work hard (whatever that means) or face the eternal damnation of being a shelf-stacker for life.

That someone is you.

Harry Dodds


Many pupils seem to think that reading through their ragbag notes and skimming through their course books is enough. Effective revision is about taking what you know and reinterpreting it, making connections, turning factual information into knowledge. It's about finding your own understanding. One way to do this is re-express existing notes in a new format. You've been trained to see pupils as having either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic ways of learning, so bear this in mind when advising them on revision methods:

* mind maps can be helpful - one for each major topic and one to express an overview of the whole specification, showing links between topics. This is good for subjects that explore relationships, such as literature and parts of science

* a subset of the mind map is the grid - important learning points along one axis, types of evidence on the other, and sources of evidence in boxes

* talking things through works for some: suggest working in pairs, divide course content between them and turn notes into mini-lectures to deliver to their partner, refining their understanding by asking and answering questions

* revision cards can be useful. Putting the completed cards in an order that reflects the structure of the subject forces the student to make links and connections. Useful for subjects with lots of factual content

* don't forget mnemonics - the more rude or ridiculous, the better.


Parents, ideally, have been involved with their children's studies all the way through school, and should also know, from your newsletters and websites, what support is needed at exam time, but they are still likely to come to you for advice. Their children need support, not pressure. The prospect of exams is stressful, without parental pushiness as well. Support should be practical, and include:

* ensuring a steady routine - a sensible, regular diet and plenty of sleep

* encouraging breaks in revision - 50 minutes of revision followed by a 10-minute break for sixth-formers; 40 minutes for GCSE pupils

* help when it's asked for - the kind that promotes understanding and organisation

* persuading them to take exercise - walking the dog is better than no exercise at all

* negotiating a space for their social lives

* keeping an eye on the demands of evening or Saturday jobs - most employers are understanding and flexible

* relieving the burden of chores, child care, family responsibilities

* learning to listen. Children have been talked at all their lives, but can have sensible opinions

* asking them to summarise their latest revision session - talking can help things click into place

* making sure that the working environment is comfortable, airy and not too warm

* giving lots of praise and building in small rewards for success.


You, the form tutor, can be indirectly helpful to pupils who are revising.

Your main tasks are to promote a culture of success, and to offer constructive strategies to help pupils cope at a stressful time, such as:

* encourage pupils to be responsible for their own revision - help them to be proactive in seeking help and resources

* be ready to talk to other teachers on their behalf - they may tell you what they would never discuss with a subject teacher. If they want specific support, you can help them ask for it

* be prepared to mediate if there are tensions. Parents can sometimes be perceived as unreasonable in their demands of their children

* help them be organised - they should have a revision schedule, but may need help in prioritising, or pruning it to a manageable size

* be aware that boys, despite their machismo, probably need more support than girls. Studying and revising are not seen as "manly" things to do

* be careful not to focus your attention solely on the "high-flyers", or the CD borderlines. Distribute your support evenly, but differentiate your advice

* bring in older pupils to advise - the successful ones, yes, but also those who have had a recent shock. They will have really useful advice

* target the "coasters" - those who did well in mock exams, and think they know it all, and those who did badly, and so think there's no point.


Begin by thinking that whatever you achieve is yours, not anyone else's.

Let your parents and teachers be proud of you, and acknowledge their help and support - but the grades you get are yours, not theirs. Remember:

* look after yourself - set up a routine with sensible times for sleep and exercise

* have a social life, but be careful about "social" revision, it can become unproductive

* don't revise in bed - you'll snooze. Set yourself up like an office worker, and keep the room on the cool side - better for mental alertness

* make a schedule, have someone check that it's reasonable, then stick to it. Build in some rewards to mark your achievement of targets

* background music is fine if you're used to it, but TV or voice radio will distract you

* challenge the material you're revising - argue with it until you understand it. Don't swallow anything whole without thinking about it

* use past papers to become familiar with their layout, requirements and instructions. If you find them hard, don't be depressed - contact your teacher to find out why and what you need to do

* legibility is important - how does an examiner know how bright you are if what you write is illegible? Buy the pens that you will be using in the exam and get used to writing with them. The more you use them, the less likely you are to end up with blisters - I'm not joking.

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