Good study habits and when to start
Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Welcome to the very first post of my brand-new blog. From this point forwards, I intend to share with you (your child) some nuggets of wisdom that frequently arise with my own students in their journey to unlock their academic potential. Much of the advice is directed at students preparing for 11+ exams in English & Maths (ages 9-11), but can also be relevant to GCSE or any learning goal that your child is working towards.
When should my child start preparing for the 11+ exams?
If your child is already of above average ability (their school report and parent-teacher meetings will give you a good idea of this), then a year before they are due to sit the exams should be plenty of time to prepare. Since grammar school tests usually take place from September and private school tests in January (do check entry procedures for each school), it is a good idea to have some kind of study plan in place as your child enters into year 5. By a study plan, I don’t mean hours and hours of intensive study each day. But a small amount every single day over the course of a year will make a huge difference.
To use one of my favourite quotes…
…Little by little, one travels far.
Or in the words of Ovid, the ancient Roman poet:
Dripping water hollows out stone,
not through force but through persistence.
If your child is not yet in the above average ability group, they may want to start earlier through self-study and/or tuition, to ensure that they have a solid foundation in the basic skills.
Good study habits are the basis of an effective study plan.
For English, your child needs to be working in a systematic way to build up their vocabulary – the standard in this area is pretty high. Buy a vocab-building book and do one exercise/page each day. If they know all or most of the words already – it’s too easy. If they don’t know any of the words – it’s probably too difficult. As a rule of thumb, they shouldn’t learn more than about 5 completely new words each day - in order for the words to sink into their brain before taking on new words. They should not forget to CHECK THEIR ANSWERS (I’m always surprised by how many students don’t do this), and HIGHLIGHT/RESEARCH/MAKE NOTES on any new words. I will give more tips about vocab-building in my next blog.
All the while, your child should be reading, in order to provide a natural context for their expanding vocabulary. Weirdly, a word that they meet for the very first time in the morning often crops up again at some point during that same day. Curious.
As for the type of book – it should be something that they enjoy, but not so easy that they are not coming across any new words. If they must read Diary of Wimpy Kid, alternate it with another book which is more challenging (but still enjoyable). For reading ideas, visit The School Reading List.
For maths, Corbett maths 5-a-day (primary version) is a perfect way to ensure that your child is covering all the topics. There is a choice of levels – bronze, silver, gold, platinum. They could start with silver or gold and adjust their level according to how easy/difficult they find it. Answers are also provided, as well as videos and worksheets on any topics that they need to brush up on.
At weekends and in holidays, your child can look at sample papers. This will give them an idea of the level that they are aiming for. Again, they should CHECK THEIR ANSWERS, and HIGHLIGHT/RESEARCH/MAKE NOTES on any new words/knowledge. They can also annotate the paper with useful advice that can help them get a better score next time – I like to call these ‘TOP TIPS’. By making notes, it anchors that advice more strongly into their brain as well as providing an instant visual reminder should they ever glance through the paper again.
It is a good idea to visit the schools that you may be interested in applying for in the autumn term of year 5. You can also do this in year 6 of course – but your child may be more focused on preparing for exams at this stage. Therefore, I recommend visiting schools a year in advance, and then again (if you need a second viewing) in year 6. It’s good to know well in advance what they are aiming for! For information about school open days as well as registration dead-lines (if applicable), visit the individual school websites.
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In the next blog, I will share some of my favourite VOCAB-BUILDING RESOURCES & TECHNIQUES. In the meantime, I will crack on with redecorating my son’s bedroom. This is what it looks like so far (sky-blue fading into lilac)…