May 22, 2019 by Kim Wyrley-Birch
The revision, emotions, and brain power required for every exam over the next coming weeks will be exhausting for teens. If your child has dyslexia, this exhaustion level steps up a notch too, as they have to work even harder to understand what is being asked of them.
My eldest son will be taking his A-Levels over the next coming weeks. I can’t quite believe we’re saying “he’s taking his A-Levels”. One of them being Economics! This was my son who found learning to read and write unbelievably tricky. However, I hope it shows that your children can succeed in school and an exam environment. I’ve experienced over the years as a parent (and as a trained dyslexia professional) that giving your child the right tools and support can be transformational. I’m nervous for my son, as any parent will be, but we have a sound system in place that I know he will walk into the exam room with confidence to tackle the questions head-on.
I’d love to share our tips with you to help your child get through their exams over the next few weeks.
1. A consistent sleeping pattern
Our brains function better if we stick to the same daily sleeping sequence (not accessible over the exam period). Agree with your child a time for them to go to sleep and a time to wake up. Rising by 7.00 am in the right place to start. It’ll give your child enough time to get up, dressed, and eat a good breakfast before sitting down to revise or head off for an exam.
2. A visual revision and exam schedule
If you haven’t done already, compile a plan for the next coming weeks. Put it on the wall for you all to see. Children with dyslexia respond well to routine and structure as it helps with their working memory. Writing the schedule down, using colour, will also relieve their mind of exam dates and revision plans, which will help them focus. I believe starting early and having time at the end of the day for a break is an active pattern.
3. Colourful mind map revision
People with dyslexia struggle with short-term memory and working memory, which impacts how they remember information. Mind maps can help overcome this by introducing a new way to see things. Get your child to draw a mind map, in bright colours and with little pictures, for each subject. The act of them completing the task is revision in itself as it will help information enter their memory. When your child comes to revising, they will feel happier interacting with the mind map rather than staring at words on a page. They also have the bonus of enabling easy retrieval of information during an exam.
4. Chanting information
Get your child to talk themselves through things they’re learning, out loud. Repeat information again and again. This technique will help their memory take on new details until it becomes automatic. When they need to revisit the information in the exam room, your child will be able to hear themselves saying the words, and it will give them the ability to write the answers down.
5. Highlight keywords
Children with dyslexia can struggle to skim sentences. In a pressurised situation, the words on the page are even more likely to muddle in front of them. Equip your child with highlighter pens to take into the exam. Tell them to highlight the keywords when reading a question. The colour on the page will enable them to concentrate on what is being asked.
6. Tackle favourite topics first
Every child will enjoy a specific area of a subject. Tell your child to tackle these parts in the exam early. Once they have answered these questions, they can go back and answer the rest. This technique helps them score as many marks as possible on the areas they’re confident in. Marks from the topics they struggle with will be a bonus.
7. Draw out math and word problems
Visuals are so important for children with dyslexia. It helps them interact with information to understand issues and sequences. Guide your child through how they could sketch out maths and literature questions. Small diagrams will make it easier for them to see the answers.
8. Take a deep breath between questions
It’s not easy teaching a teenager to breathe deeply. But breathing techniques can help with anxiety in exams. I always tell my children to close their eyes and take a deep breath after each question. It helps them get rid of the information associated with the last query and focus on the next.
9. Eat well and drink plenty of water
What we put into our bodies, teenagers included makes a real difference to how we feel. Support your child with a proper diet during their exams. Lots of carbs, protein, fruit and veg, will boost their moods and give your child the fuel they need. Water is fantastic for energy too. Perhaps a new water bottle will incentivise them to pick it up and take a gulp!
10. Factor in a lot of downtime
Your child’s brain will be working extremely hard over the next few weeks, so encourage them to take breaks to recover. Downtime is significant to ensure they don’t burn out. A right mix of revision and relaxation will give their brains and bodies the stamina they need to get through.
Finally, good luck! To your child, and you. Drop me a note if you’d like more tips for supporting your child during their exam period. I’d love to hear from you.