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Easter holidays revisions- how can you best support your children?

Easter holidays revision period

Published: 06/04/2023

Easter holidays are traditionally a time for revision. But – how and why can we make the best use
of our time and support our children with this?

Ever since a written entrance exam was introduced at Cambridge in the 18 th Century, exams have
become part of the educational landscape, and with them, revision. The Easter holidays traditionally
sees a huge requirement on teenagers of all ages to knuckle down and revise, with Common
Entrance, GCSEs and A Levels, coming up soon after term starts in April. These sets of exams all
require revision, testing knowledge that has been taught over the previous 2 years at school, and
therefore require a certain amount of home revision towards the end stages. I’m often asked by
parents ‘how’ to revise – children are not often ‘taught’ this at school, simply told to go away and do
it (though I have to say that schools are much more aware of teaching ‘study skills/revision
techniques’ than ever before), but revision largely falls to the parents and children and can turn into
a real challenge – think of the worst homework battles you can have and imagine them magnified, as
the pressure is far greater to ‘achieve’. The end goal is no longer a teacher’s disappointed face the
next day, but the difference between getting into a particular school or university and this makes the
stakes higher, making the experience very much more fraught for many parents.

So let’s start with what can go wrong before we discuss how to do it right

There are two main problems with revision. Firstly, emotions run high when it comes to success and
what the exams themselves mean. The only person who can revise is the child themselves, and
parents can become frustrated if they feel that their child is not doing ‘enough’. They can’t control
this element of their work. Secondly, as I mentioned, children don’t actually know how to revise. I
remember at school, we were told to go away and revise. To me, what this meant was, ‘go away
and stare at a book and hope it goes in’. No one actually taught me what that meant. Unlike a test,
or worksheet or essay that you do at home, where you can see what your work has achieved, and it
gets a mark at the end, revision is a largely unmeasurable task. You can’t tell if you have done
enough, there’s no output and there’s no immediate feedback. It’s intangible and many teenagers
do not have the maturity or skill to know how to do it. Plus, it’s the holidays, and they’d much rather
be doing other things.

What are the essentials for parents to know and do?

I’d like to talk about how to make revision a really positive and productive experience, and there are
both practical and emotional things to consider here. Let’s take the practical first, as these are
easier to achieve!
Think carefully about environment. Firstly, food. We all do better when we are well fed. Provide
meals at regular times so they have a routine to build their revision round. Don’t be upset if they
want to eat while revising if they are on a roll. Vitamin C is said to support the adrenal glands (which
take a pounding at stressful times). Don’t forget regular water consumption. Some studies show that
water aids concentration. Sleep – Sleep is vital to consolidate what’s been learned during the day.
Make sure your teen gets out into the sunlight – this will help to regulate their body clock. Make
sure their room is pitch black for sleep – light interferes with melatonin production (the hormone
needed for sleep) but blue light – such as that emitted by smartphones and tablets – is especially
disruptive so no screens before sleep for an hour is a good rule for winding down. Location – Create
a revision space – a quiet, separate area, away from distractions such as the TV, music, game
consoles, tablets and phones. Make sure there is plenty of room for notes, text books and other

Revising on the bed is more likely to lead to sleeping than work. Your children will often try to
convince you that they need music to revise – but it depends on the type of music and how loud it is.
Complex lyrics will distract as will loud music or music with a heavy bass/beat. As for watching TV
and working – that just doesn’t work – don’t let them argue it does! However, films and You Tube
clips can be helpful.

Timing: Timing is everything with revision. At the beginning of the holidays it would be worth sitting
down together and creating a revision timetable and outlining the expectations you have of each
other. Give your child some ownership of this and they will be more willing to participate. They will
possibly even enjoy designing a routine if it is realistic and achievable. When it comes to revision, do
not expect your child to revise all day. We wouldn’t expect adults to sit staring at a book all day with
no other stimulation. Hassle them when they are in the middle of something they enjoy (for
example, a favourite TV programme) and it will breed resentment. Create a timetable for revision
that includes reward time, such as an opportunity to watch their favourite TV programme or time for
social media and gaming.

Encourage short bursts of revision. The ideal way to revise varies from person to person, but try 30-
40 minute sessions for GCSE or 50-70 minute sessions for A levels, separated by 10-15 minute
breaks, during which time checking phones is fine. Also, remember to factor in some sport!

What about revising with friends or in groups?

I think this is fine provided it is mixed in with other styles of revision. To keep things stimulating and
children engaged, encourage some revision sessions to be with friends, along with solo sessions. In
terms of ‘how’ to revise, there are many methods and it really depends on what type of learner
your child is. If you’re lucky, their school will have helped them to identify this – visual, audio or
kinaesthetic, and given them different revision styles to appeal to each. For example, using revision
cards and diagrams will help the visual learners, perhaps making up songs and rhymes, watching
short videos and using props will help the others. You may decide you need some help ‘setting up’
the revision at the beginning of the holidays – for example Ivy Education could help with identifying
styles of learning and revision techniques, plus putting together a plan for the holidays.

BBC Bitesize is a brilliant, free online resource: it covers key stage 1 to GCSE (40 subjects at GCSE)
and encourages a fresh look at a subject. You can pinpoint weak areas, read about them and then be
tested online. The great thing about this website is that your child can also go back over the old
ground of previous levels if they need to fill in gaps in their knowledge without looking stupid
in front of anyone else.

A whiteboard is a good thing to buy because there’s something liberating and fun about them. The
fact that what’s written on them can easily be rubbed out encourages discussion and silly pictures –
great for out-of-context thinking. Get them to teach you (or younger siblings) what they have
learned – this is also a good way to find out what they don’t fully understand. Having things pinned
around their bedroom so they notice it all the time certainly helps me too when I need to learn
things. Simply reading textbooks and notes is, very often, not effective. Revision needs to be active
and involve making notes or diagrams. Where possible, use past papers (also get the mark schemes),
textbooks and syllabuses to work out what should be revised. The best revision uses a variety of
materials: notes, textbooks, online resources. If your teen likes them, and knows how to produce
them, mind maps can be very effective.

What emotional support can parents give?

Ask if they need help. Offer support, whatever the outcome. Let it be known your support and love
is not about the end result. Tear (short) articles out of newspapers that are irrelevant to revision but
will make them laugh. If your child gets stressed, respond to their right hemisphere. This half of the
brain governs emotional non-verbal thought (the left deals with order and logic), so don’t plough in
with practical solutions to an emotional problem. Give them a hug instead and reassure with touch
and soothing sounds. You can go on to practical solutions (and appeal to the left side) once they are
calm. Equally, if they ask a practical question, don’t respond with a “there, there, it’ll be OK”. Get
the rest of the family onside. It’s no good you being supportive if others are undermining your
efforts. It is important that everyone in the home understands the importance of revision.

Lastly, what are the real don’ts?

Don’t use threats. Teenagers are only too aware that if they fail they may “never get a job” – they
don’t need more stress. These threats are unspecific and vague. Comparisons, for example, ‘Your
older sister was much more driven about revision than you are, ‘ are also not helpful, and breed
resentment. Remember the encouragement you gave your children as toddlers when they did the
simplest task? Encourage the effort they are putting in. Do not buy books of revision tips and thrust
them in front of your child – it’s too late and will just be something else for them to worry about. By
all means buy books that help you cope with the runup to exams so you don’t become another
source of stress for them, but keep them hidden. Don’t promise one big prize at the end of it all, but
– if you want to provide incentives – little ones along the way. Although be aware that Alfie Kohn
(author on several books about education) says “carrots and sticks reduce people’s interest in
whatever they were rewarded/punished for doing”. That said, something to look forward to never
made anyone sad!

Remember the encouragement you gave your children as toddlers when they did the
simplest task? Encourage the effort they are putting in.

Charlotte Faber is our new Education Consultant. Having worked for many years in a top London prep School, Charlotte is now one of the most well-regarded Educational Consultants in London. Charlotte helps families, both resident and international, navigate their way through the UK independent education system, advising on suitable schools and admissions processes at any age.

Please contact us if you’d like to discuss any aspects of this article.