As we transition into a new year many of us have been reflecting upon both the victories and hardships that we have faced in recent months. Accordingly, we are likely brainstorming potential resolution ideas in hopes that they will improve our lives for the coming year.
The primary New Year’s Resolutions that I hear in my work with high schoolers largely center around 3 key areas:
and being happier overall.
As you read this, you might be thinking – wow – those goals sound incredibly broad. And you’re right – resolutions usually are! In counselling, we help teens unpack and break down these ideas into SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals in order to maximize the probability of these objectives being reached.
Fun fact about me: I originally went to school to teach Intermediate/Senior English and Family Studies (aka middle/high school English and Family Studies) prior to transitioning into counselling. Teaching (as both a student teacher and tutor) in conjunction with counseling has granted me some pretty incredible insights into where teens find themselves feeling the most ‘stuck’ when it comes to studying for both tests and exams. As January comes to a close and exams approach, I wanted to delve more deeply into why teens get stuck, strategies that teens can use to increase their feelings of preparedness, and what parents can do to support their teens during this stressful period.
Why Do Teens Feel ‘Stuck’ & Overwhelmed by Exams?
- The thought of remembering 5 months worth of information for one large test sounds impossible
- They have not adjusted their priorities during exam time to make studying a primary focus (they are putting the same amount of hours into their part-time jobs, extracurriculars, hanging out with friends, gaming, etc. because they have not learned how to re-balance their priorities [yet!])
- It can be easy to assume that they will have enough time to study during the weekend(s) before exams and they don’t budget their time wisely
- Their notes are incomplete or unorganized (ex. notes are not dated, they are floating around in different binders, or crammed into the bottoms of backpacks)
- They feel immense pressure when they realize that exams can be worth a high percentage of their final mark in the course
- It’s the end of the semester… and they are exhausted!
What Can Teens Do To Make Studying More Manageable?
1) Choose an appropriate study location and be consistent. Studying at home can be difficult because students tend to stay in their bedrooms, which can be a highly distracting environment. It’s important to choose a location outside of your bedroom (which you should associate with sleep and relaxation – not work and stress!) that you can connect with studying. For many teens this space is the kitchen table, an at home office, a desk in a parent’s bedroom, or the basement.
2) Make it easy to jump into your study session. Sometimes getting started… is the hardest part. When you create a set study location, make sure that it is equipped with all of the things that you need to study (ex. flash cards, highlighters, pens, pencils, paper, your laptop/iPad), as well as snacks and a beverage. It’s difficult to think, let alone concentrate, when your basic hunger and thirst needs are not being met.
3) Set a timer and goals for each study session. Most teachers recommend studying for no more than 45-60 minutes in a stretch (so that you can concentrate and retain information). When you set a goal for your study session you have a direction in your studying and it will be easier to stay focused. What might your goals look like? Here are a few examples:
a. Read through Unit 1’s notes. Use 3 different highlighters to label information you know, don’t know, and kind of know to give you an idea of where you need to focus your attention. Take a 15-20 minute break. Read through Unit 2 and 3’s notes and highlight as you go. Take a 15 minute break. Read through Unit 2’s notes.
b. Practice re-writing previous Unit Tests or read over Feedback from previous Assignments to see where you can improve for next time.
c. Practice math equations from specific previous quizzes/tests.
d. Read over SparkNotes summaries & practice tests from specific English texts that your class studied.
4) Evaluate each study session. Did you achieve all that you had hoped? What made it difficult to get through your study session and what made It easy? When you reflect on your session you will know which changes you can make for next time. For example, maybe you found it challenging to stay focused because your friends were texting you, or your study space was too cold, or you were feeling tired after you ate dinner. Consider what adjustments you can make so that these aren’t a problem next time!
5) Learn to say no. You can’t be in two places at once (wouldn’t that be nice though?) and if you feel like you have too much on your plate, you will wind up with a lot of things that you can’t manage. Don’t do two things half way when you could do one thing completely.
Study Strategies That Work
- Rewrite class notes in your own words. When you summarize or re-word your notes using language that is comfortable for you, you will be more likely to retain it.
· Highlight, highlight, highlight. As I touched upon above, many people find it helpful to ‘colour code’ their study notes. When we use highlighters to label the information that we really know (green), do not know (red), and kind of know (yellow), we are better able to focus our attention on the areas that we need to… rather than re-reading information we already remember and understand.
- Use flash cards. Creating flashcards is a really popular study tool – not only do they allow you to write things down in your own words, which increases the likelihood of you retaining that information, they can also help you to connect important pieces of information together.
- Create charts, formula sheets, diagrams, etc. In classes like math and science, it can be helpful to make a formula sheet to have as a reference tool.
o The act of writing the formula down will help you to remember it.
o If you are a visual learner you may also find a formula sheet to be helpful because you will be more inclined to recall where formulas were situated on your formula page (yay for spatial awareness!).
o In terms of diagrams, it can be helpful to recreate your own so that you are applying the knowledge that you previously learned. For example, if you need to know how to draw and label a cell, it can be helpful to recreate the image that you see in your textbook a few times until you no longer need to look at your textbook for reference.
- Quiz yourself! If you can find a friend or family member who will quiz you on your flashcards, that can be really helpful. In the moments where you need to study on your own, you can use your flashcards, recreate diagrams, or you can see what quizzes are available online. For example, SparkNotes is a popular website for English students. They have a wide variety of quizzes on classic and popular literature which makes it a helpful tool to refer to. For example, if you are having difficulty understanding Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet SparkNotes offers interpretations, summaries, character analysis, exploration of themes and symbolism, and more. It also offers practice quizzes to make sure that you are fully comprehending what you have read.
What Can Parents Do To Help
During intense periods of stress, such as exams, parents can start to see increases in moodiness (angry outbursts, increases in attitude, tears), a lack of patience, and a decrease in their teens’ self-care. As teens learn how to manage these newfound stressors, it can be important to remind ourselves that teens are just now learning these new problem-solving and time management skills and may require a bit of a break (or some assistance). Here are some of the things that you can do to help:
1) Consider sitting down one-on-one with your teen and helping them create their to-do lists or a study timetable, and giving them time off from chores and non-urgent family matters prior to and during the exam period.
2) While teens take their study breaks, it may be helpful to encourage your son/daughter to leave their study space and do an activity that they enjoy (ex. phoning or Facetiming a friend, going for a walk, drawing/colouring, baking). Many anxious or perfectionistic teens find it difficult to take breaks from studying and may need a bit of encouragement to slow down.
3) Help teens set up their dedicated study space outside of their bedroom and brainstorm which obstacles may get in their way.
4) As teens experience stress, their sleep schedules and eating habits can be impacted in big ways. Reminding teens to go to bed at a regular time each night (…which sometimes means turning off the wifi after a certain hour), and making sure that they are eating at least 3 healthy meals per day is absolutely invaluable.
5) Set aside one-on-one time with your teen, whether it be asking them to walk with you to the mailbox, to go for a drive to Tim Hortons for a hot chocolate, or asking them to sit in the kitchen with you while you make dinner to chat with them and let them vent. Creating windows of opportunity for teens to open up and connect (without too much pushing or prodding) grants them the opportunity to release their stress and frustration in a healthy way.
If you feel like your teen could benefit from talking with me,
I invite you to connect with me for a 30-complimentary parent phone consultation.
SHELYNN GERVAIS MACP, YOUTH COUNSELLOR
I have an honours undergraduate degree in English and Family & Child Studies from the University of Guelph, a partially completed Bachelor of Education from Western University in Intermediate and Senior English and Family Studies, and a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology degree from Yorkville University. I have worked with children and young adults as an educator, a coach, a camp counsellor, a distress line operator, and mentor since I was a high school student myself, and I value the honour of sharing in the chaotic and exciting experience that is adolescence with you. Under the supervision of Counting Butterflies’ Clinical Director and Registered Psychotherapist Michelle Brans, I specialize in helping teens and families through: anxiety and depression, social and school challenges, perfectionism and low-self esteem.