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Learn to set an exam study schedule

Confession time: I used to love setting an exam study schedule.

I used to think it was the dorky combination of coloured markers and compelling countdowns. But after helping my son Judah set his, I’m wondering if it wasn’t something else that thrilled me: A sense of control.

This is how we did it:

Decide on the ideal length of a study slot. 20-30 minutes isn’t enough for Judah to get stuck in. It takes time to get into the physics mode or think like a historian. But an hour is too long. We settled on 40 minutes. In an hour and a half he can do two forty minute slots with a decent 10 minute break.

Identify how many 40 minute slots are available before the exam. Most weeknights, Judah only has one and on the weekend or study leave days he might schedule four or five. The tricky part was letting him decide! He will honour what he set out to do - not what I think is needed.

Draw an exam timetable that demonstrates the study - times in colour slots drawn on each day ready to be assigned to the different subjects. I showed him how to overlay his master schedule: noting class tests and social or sport obligations. We identified he had 25 slots till his first exam. These are for getting those notes done and covering all the content. Exam study slots will be for practicing what we’ve learnt.

Decide on a ratio of time needed per subject. Which subjects get the most, medium and least slots? We considered variables like: This subject hasn’t had a class test so I’m behind in these notes and need more time. This subject I need more time to improve my grade. This subject has less content as an elective. This subject I downright don’t care about. (Poor accounting, sacrificed on the altar of a sense of control).

Some negotiation happened when Judah felt that he didn’t have sufficient slots for all the most demanding subjects. Would I consider letting him have a slot or two during my consultant times? I tried to not show my pleasure in how much he was owning it!

Assign subjects into each slot. We were mindful of tests that needed prepping for and aware of the very first exams that don’t have practice time during the examination period.

Look at each subject individually and actually decide what happens in the 3-5 study sessions available to it. For some subjects this assignment was easy. Judah was elated when he saw how many of his notes were already in order. I rejoiced with him at those same books that seemed like chaotic messes of undefined and incomplete exercises only 6 weeks ago, now being clearly laid out with headings and subheadings consistently highlighted.

He took ownership for the subjects that still need many notes made - regretting how little time for practice remained. For one or two subjects we realised we were still at sea about what is in this exam and what needs to be caught up from the beginning of the year’s fog. Another note on the daily schedule.

I was never diagnosed with a learning difference, though as an adult, understand that I am mildly dyslexic. I loved school, I did well and would have been described as being a good student. Judah’s journey has looked so different.

And yet here he was, getting that same kick that I did so many years ago, setting an study schedule.

Not because we had changed the nature of school (although let’s not rest till we do), not because he was trying to please me and not because he was tricked into thinking exams are fun! But because he could see his competency grow. He could see it in the pages of his notes, the big picture of the scope of work and his capacity to break it down into doable chunks.

It clearly gave him a sense of control: “Now all I have to do is stick to my plan and I can change how the story ends.”

Oh for more opportunities that Wonderfully Wired kids can say, “I can change how the story ends.”

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