Joe’s Jotter: Guiding your Child Through their Exams

Your Role as a Parent as Exams Approach

One of your main roles around exam time is to create a good atmosphere at home and it will be important to remain calm and try not to transfer additional pressure on to your child in the lead up to them. This applies whether they are sitting a state exam or an end of year summer test. I would be wary of placing any extra emphasis on them achieving certain grades or points. Allowing them to talk without judgment, actively listening to them and keeping career options and results in perspective are other ways that you can be there for them at this time. Be sure to check that they have a plan ‘B’ in place for further education/training, as this will help greatly to regulate stress levels in the house.

Try not to let uncertainties or worries you had in school, especially any negative vibes you had around exams or certain subjects, influence how your child deals with their exam year. I don’t think conversations beginning with “When I was doing the Leaving Cert…” are really that helpful or relevant to their situation now. Similarly, never compare your child’s performance or study ethic to that of their peers or siblings, as this will just add to the stress. Complaining about the unfairness of the exam process is also airing unhelpful negativity. Keep it all on a positive plane and let them breathe. If you have any concerns at all about your child, you should contact their school, as teachers and management are usually more than happy to help. If you meet a roadblock, I would be delighted to help and advise you in some small way; so don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

More than any other time in their life, it is important to help your child manage their feelings, as they may struggle with overwhelming emotions and pressures placed on them by exams. There are lots of great techniques you can show them, like slowing their breathing down or helping them become aware of their feelings. Maybe, look up one or two of these online, so that you can pass on something practical to use during intense situations. Exercise and involvement in activities right up to exam start are brilliant stress reducing techniques and should be strongly encouraged.

Practical Insights to Really Support Your Exam Student

The following are some real and practical insights into how your support can really help your son/daughter be their best around exam time. This advice applies to all types of examinations, not just the state ones in June:

  • It’s an obvious one to start but ensure that your child is present in the exam hall for each exam. For parents who are working and leaving home early, avoid the ultimate disaster of your child missing an exam. This advice applies on days they have important class tests also. Ensure they are up and dressed before you leave home for work each morning. A small number of students regularly fail to turn up for morning papers.
  • Making them a healthy and substantial breakfast will greatly help their focus and concentration all the way to the end of an exam, especially if they have an afternoon paper to sit also.
  • Help them to draw up a check list of daily requirements based on each day’s exams. Make a final check with them each morning, so that your child is fully prepared for the day’s exams. The amount of guidance required will obviously depend on how organised your child is. Writing instruments along with the other requirements such as rulers, erasers, calculators, water, and any non-intrusive nourishment such as sweets, or fruit should be checked off for inclusion.
  • When your child arrives home after their exam, listen to their experience carefully and then move on. After each day’s exams allow them to recount to you their daily story. Do not be tempted to review in detail with them any errors or omissions on the paper. Such a process achieves absolutely nothing, other than to again increase their stress levels. Simply allow them the time and space to tell their tale and move on to the next challenge (i.e. the subsequent paper) is best policy
  • Know the exam schedule. Pin the exam timetable prominently up at home; highlight each exam to be taken. This applies to house exams also. Diary the date and time of each paper your child must take. In the stress of the whole exam period, you need to be continuously aware of whats going on and when. Investigate which days or subjects your child isn’t looking forward to so that you can be there for them in a real and practical way.
  • It can help them greatly if you have a little knowledge of each exam paper or at least show some interest in it. Simple questions such as, “What is up next?”, “Are there any compulsory sections?” or “Are there any predictable questions?” can be asked. The best open question to ask is “How are you feeling about …? “. This will allow them to express themselves more freely if they wish. This also ensures they won’t feel alone and that you really care about how they get on. If they will allow you, work with them on devising a short but efficient revision schedule, as this is something I have noticed that students struggle to do alone. Time management is key from now on.

To view last weeks feature article on ‘How to ACE your Maths Exam’, click here.

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More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition (Maths and English) Classes for Junior Cycle (2022) and Leaving Certificate (2021) Students, ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

W: acesolutionbooks.com

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Homework and Your Child – A Parent’s Guide


Homework is an extremely important part of your child’s learning at Secondary School. It is key that all students spend some time each night revising what they have learned in class each day. This also applies in situations where they are not given anything written or oral to do that evening. Tending to homework diligently each night will certainly reap benefits as a student enters their final years at second level.

How Much Time should my Child be Spending on Homework?

Time spent on homework varies according to what year a student is in. In sixth year, I recommend that students target at least two hours homework and one-hour revision each evening during the school week (Monday to Friday). Fifth years should target a minimum of at least two to two and half hours work in total each night. First up to third years should complete between one and two and a quarter hours work a night. Further time spent on homework and revision during a weeknight will probably involve a loss in Information retention. To this end, it is important to use common sense as night draws in i.e. tomorrow is another day. Students that have their work done for the following day’s classes and find themselves falling asleep, should go to bed. Your body may be telling you to rest, so it is advisable to listen to it.

Time spent on homework is always time well spent. Students should always divide work due into two elements, namely ‘Urgent’ and ‘Important’. Homework will normally be urgent, as your teacher will be requiring it completed within one or two days. Revision itself is ‘Important’, unless it is within a month of state exams and then I believe it is ‘Urgent’. Each week brings different ‘Urgents’ and students should use this knowledge to work out how many revision and homework blocks they can fit into each week. Nights where a student has little or no homework should allow a revision of topics learned in class over the previous few days to take place. More details on this concept are detailed in my study guide publication ‘How to ACE the Leaving Certificate’ for all subjects.

ACE Tips for on How Parents Can Help Their Child Enhance Homework Time

Below are fifteen helpful tips that will hopefully facilitate your involvement in making homework a positive learning experience for your child.

  1. Provide your child with a suitable place and time to do their homework. Minimise interruptions/distractions from TV and other siblings.
  2. If a child has difficulty with homework, you should try where possible to help them overcome it with explanations and examples, without actually doing it for them.
  3. In the case of recurring homework problems, it is advisable to ring or send a quick note to the teacher to explain what the issue is. If you are a parent of a third or sixth year student or the issue is more urgent, a phone call is probably the recommended form of communication.
  4. Parents should communicate with teachers about homework in the following cases: when your child cannot do homework due to family circumstances, when your child cannot do homework due to a lack of understanding (after studying their class notes), or when your child is spending an unreasonable amount of time doing homework in a specific subject.
  5. As well as showing a keen interest in their homework, I would suggest being more aware of the type and content of homework they are doing. You can then attempt to link it to their everyday life by chatting to them about sports, prices, trends, media headlines, countries, travel etc. This will reinforce their learning.
  6. Reward an improvement (no matter how small) in their homework with a treat. Similarly, if the teacher has made a positive note about it in their journal, a reward will be deserved and appreciated. An example might be a takeaway meal, their favourite snack or a trip away with their friends. Make sure to check their journals regularly for comments on homework. This will help you to keep on top of things and identify any challenges your child might be experiencing.
  7. Ask the career guidance teacher about study skills courses which may help your child overcome barriers in relation to homework. Ensure you chat extensively with each subject teacher about their homework at the Parent-Teacher meeting.
  8. Talk to them about the homework they are doing in each subject. Most of all, if they are finding homework difficult, encourage them to talk to their teacher about what they find challenging.
  9. If they are finding a particular type of homework difficult, encourage them to persevere, try again and maybe write down what they are finding difficult so that the teacher can see evidence of their efforts. This can also help the teacher work out which learning styles may suit them and how best they can help.
  10. Teacher’s comments written on homework, class tests and mocks will help you understand what they may be doing wrong. Try and focus on any positive comment made by their teachers. Make some suggestions as to how they can improve from the less positive ones. They may not admit it, but they do value your opinion and advice. Always book end a negative comment with two positive constructive ones. This will leave them satisfied, knowing they also need to and can improve.
  11. Much of the information they learn in school applies to everyday life, so even though you may not be an expert on a subject matter, you will still be able to draw on your life experiences to tie in with what they are learning. Do not be afraid to try things or introduce perceived links with schoolwork to your children.
  12. If family circumstances change, make sure to inform the school as this can have an impact on your child’s homework and performance, of which the school and your child’s teachers may not be aware of.
  13. Knowing how your child is progressing in the classroom can help you make informed decisions about aiding or giving them space at home. Ask the teacher to send you a homework progress comment or the odd test result home in their journal, so you can remain up to date with each subject.
  14. Attending Parent-teacher meetings is important each year, so plan ahead for them when the annual school calendar is released. You can use these meetings as an opportunity to check progress and find out how your child is performing in relation to the class average etc. It also shows your child that you are interested in how they are progressing in various subjects. In my experience, it is good to enhance communication links with your child’s teachers, as your child is now aware that a line has been established between two significant people in their life.
  15. Parents should monitor homework from a distance to ensure it is being attempted to the best of their child’s ability. Many Parents are aware that their children are spending full evenings in their room; but are they actually completing homework and revision well during this period? Quietly check in with them weekly on how revision and progress is going in each subject. Car journeys can be a good time to do this. Commencing these habits in first or second year is advised, as It won’t seem like you are suddenly checking up on them later then. Your support and encouragement should motivate and foster an effective homework schedule each evening. This will ensure that the outside of school independent learning gets the respect it needs and deserves. Standing back and hoping all will be well could be a very risky strategy. Joe

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Improving your Homework at Secondary School’, click here.

*****

More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition (Maths and English) Classes for Junior Cycle (2022) and Leaving Certificate (2021) Students, ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

W: acesolutionbooks.com

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

#:   #JoesJotter

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