Final 13+ study tips for half term
By Elizabeth Holtom, Author of Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond
24 May
With less than two weeks to go before the 13+ exams, every remaining moment of exam preparation is precious. Elizabeth Holtom shares her final exam tips for half term, and explains how excessive screen time will have a negative impact on your child’s study routine and on their sleep pattern ...

This academic year I have written four blogs containing advice on how to prepare for examinations: October: Mastering revision techniques over the holidays; December: Christmas holidays and exam preparation; January: Making New Year’s resolutions with the family; March: Easter holidays and exam readiness. Do check these blogs out as there are a host of tips that will apply in the final run-up to Common Entrance in June.

For this blog I have chosen a topic that is a worry for many parents – children’s screen time. Excessive time spent on their devices will have a negative impact on your child’s study routine and on their sleep pattern.



Parents are concerned because their children spend too much time on screens, whether it is a smartphone, computer or iPad. Indeed, a modern-day challenge for many of us is how to manage our devices instead of letting them manage us.

Tips for managing screen time

1.    A new habit for the whole family. Perhaps screen-time addiction is something the whole family experiences. Would everyone benefit from a digital diet? Test out the Moment app. It automatically tracks how much screen time you have on your iPhone and iPad each day. If you’re using your phone too much, you can set daily limits on yourself and be notified when you go over. You can choose to force yourself off your device when you’re over your limit. You can even track your family’s use from your own iPhone and set up time for your entire family to be screen-free (for example, using family dinner time). A family-wide approach might be the best way to limit screen time. 

2.    The power of the subconscious. Even when your child is not actively learning, his or her brain will be processing what they have just been studying. This is why it is so important to avoid activities such as computer games, which will clash with all that subconscious consolidation. Check out the “How to take effective breaks” tips on page 14 of
Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond. I hope you are able to negotiate a reasonable compromise. If you are faced with outright rebellion, remind your child that this is only for the final big push before the exams start. Remove all such distractions from their bedroom/study area! They will have to go cold turkey for however many days needed in order to achieve top-quality learning.

3.    The science explained. There’s a lot of research on the negative impact of our devices on sleep. This is because the artificial light they emit – blue wavelength light – activates our arousing neurons, making us more awake and possibly anxious. A simple solution is to put devices away well before going to bed. Our bodies will then produce melatonin, which helps us fall asleep and stay asleep.

4.    The best house rule. Turn off electronic stimulation in your child’s bedroom at least one hour before bedtime. This includes loud music, mobile phones, computer screens and the TV. Switching off mobiles can be hard for young people, but late-night phone calls and text messages can mean broken sleep. Sleep helps with learning as this is the time when new learning moves from temporary storage in the hippocampus to long-term storage in other parts of the brain. Check out the “Get enough sleep” tips on page 6 of 
Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond. This really is the right time to go on that digital diet.


The importance of sleep

Sleep is vital for:
  • maintaining a healthy body
  • ‘cleaning up’ the brain·        
  • helping the immune system
  • improving energy levels
  • replaying, registering and filing away what is learned during the day
  • acting as an ‘ideas incubator’.
Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on behaviour, emotions, attention, social relationships and school performance.

Sleep needs for children aged 12–15 years

It’s thought that teenagers need an average of 8½ to 9¼ hours of sleep each night to function at their best. This means they still need more sleep than an adult to be sufficiently alert during the day. And it’s not just about the quantity. It’s also about the quality, and how much deep sleep your child gets. 

During puberty, children start to secrete
melatonin later at night than they did in earlier childhood, which means that your child will want to go to bed later at night and get up later in the morning. This can be a problem on a school day. Also, as their brains mature during puberty, children are able to stay awake for longer.

Tips for getting a good night’s sleep
  1. Encourage your child to avoid caffeine (in energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate and cola) – especially in the late afternoon and evening.
  2. Make sure your child has a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can cause people to feel more alert or uncomfortable. This can make it harder to get to sleep.
  3. Encourage your child to get as much natural light as possible during the day, especially in the morning. This will help the body produce melatonin at the right time in the sleep cycle. A healthy breakfast also helps to kick-start the body clock.
  4. Allow plenty of time – for example, 40 minutes – for your child to do wind-down activities before bed. This way, he or she will be ready to catch a ‘wave’ of sleepiness when it comes. Good wind-down activities might be a warm bath, a warm milk drink, writing in a journal, reading a book or magazine, or listening to quiet music.
  5. Physical activity has been shown to increase the total sleep time of children during adolescence. It’s not a good idea to play sport or be active late at night, though. The stimulation and increase in body temperature can make it harder to get to sleep.
  6. If your child can’t get to sleep straightaway, he or she could try getting up and doing something relaxing, such as reading under dim light. When they feel tired, they can go back to bed. In the mornings, they should get out of bed when they wake up, rather than trying to go back to sleep.
  7. Encourage your child to go to bed and get up around the same time every day. Keep wake-up times on school days and weekends to within two hours of each other. This can help get your child’s body clock into a regular rhythm.
  8. Change your child’s sleep space if necessary. A dark, quiet, private space is important for good sleep.

So, these are my final tips before Common Entrance exams start on 2nd May. I hope my book and my blogs have given you some practical ways of helping your children achieve the best they are capable of. Good luck to them – and to all members of their back-up team!

Elizabeth Holtom's, new title offers a holistic approach to study to give pupils the essential skills and tools they need to learn and revise efficiently, cope with stress effectively and feel confident and fully prepared to do their very best in exams.


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