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Managing Midterms: When and How Parents Should Help

Posted on 01/10/2019, by Dr. Ellen Fithian to Parents of 7th and 8th Graders, Parents of 9th Graders, Parents of 10th Graders, Parents of 11th Graders, Parents of 12th Graders (0 comments)

The first semester is almost over. Students have entered the last lap and can see the finish line. Before they can cross it, however, they’ll need to vault over a series of testing hurdles. Some students will leap every one without even appearing winded, but others will stumble and fall, doing serious damage to their course grades.

If you're the fortunate parent of a student who has an established track record of high achievement on major exams, count your blessings and read no further. However, if your teen typically struggles with exams - or will be encountering cumulative tests for the first time, I'd advise getting involved in the following ways.

What should parents do?

First, make sure your student appreciates the importance of his upcoming midterms. In many courses the exam grade accounts for 20% of the semester average, so for the next few weeks, preparing for midterms should be his top priority.

Parents can help by striving to remove distractions from the home environment and making it as supportive and stress-free as possible. Now is not the time to refinish your hardwood floors or invite your fifth grade daughter’s Girl Scout troop to your house to work on their cooking badge.

Teach time management strategies

Next, you’d be well-advised to take an active role in helping your teen learn how to manage his exam preparation time.

One of the most daunting challenges high school students face is that they typically have no control over the timing of their exams. If the exam gods frown on them, they could end up with midterms in their two most difficult courses scheduled for the same day. Even in a best case scenario, where exams are evenly spaced over the course of a week, finding enough time to adequately study for each test is tough.

How does a teenager prepare for the following line-up of exams: Spanish Monday morning, Geometry Tuesday morning, Chemistry Tuesday afternoon, English Wednesday morning, and World History Thursday afternoon? Many teens adopt a fatalistic approach; they simply progress from exam to exam, making do with the time between tests to study. Unfortunately, trying to shoehorn a semester’s worth of content into an evening of study often results in a disappointing grade.

Some parents believe that experience is the best teacher, and reason that teens who suffer adverse consequences from the foregoing approach will learn a valuable lesson and do better in subsequent exam seasons. In my view, there are two pitfalls to this philosophy.

First, the costs of this type of lesson are just too steep. Students who tank their midterms can end up having multiple course grades lowered – a discouraging outcome that could have significantly negative consequences for their success in gaining admission to the college of their choice. Second, learning from mistakes requires that you are capable of figuring out how to do better the next time.  This is not necessarily the case for navigating semester exams. Without explicit instruction, a teen who bombs one set of exams may very well repeat the performance the following semester because he doesn’t know how to approach his exams any differently.

To prevent that scenario, teach time management strategies.

Creating a Study Schedule for Exams

Start by purchasing an inexpensive calendar or planner (or making one from an Excel spreadsheet) and having your teen write down the dates of all her exams in pen. For the rest of the exercise, however, use a pencil, as it typically takes several iterations of scheduling to arrive at a workable study plan.

Next, inquire which subject she believes will require the most preparation. Ask her how she intends to study and how many hours she expects she will need to master the material.  Add a few hours to her estimate, as things often take longer than students expect, and have her pencil those study hours into her schedule.

Proceed to the next most challenging test and continue until she’s done. If you and she are realistic about the time needed to prepare for each exam, it should quickly become apparent that there will not be enough available study hours in the week that finals are given, so she will need to utilize time in the week and weekend before finals as well. In fact, she’ll probably be facing a solid two weeks of studying.

This is not only a dreary prospect, but an unrealistic one as well. It’s the rare teen who can grind through two weeks of unrelenting work.  So step two in effective time management is to reorganize the schedule to make time for short breaks every couple of hours interspersed with more significant intermissions – like a Saturday night spent hanging out with friends or a Sunday afternoon movie with the family. Finally, the most meticulously crafted schedule is worthless unless your teen adheres to it, so do your best to help her stay on track by providing encouragement and rewards for compliance.

Semester exams are no fun, but they’re critically important to succeeding in school.  Creating a supportive environment in your home and helping your teen craft a manageable study schedule will decrease his stress level, increase his likelihood of success and teach him valuable time management skills for the college years -  when you won’t be there to help.

Good luck to all your kids!




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Posted on 01/10/2019, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments)




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