Tips for home learning in preparation for 13+ Common Entrance exams
By Elizabeth Holtom
06 May

Preparing for the 13+ school entrance exams at home? Elizabeth Holtom, author of Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond, has compiled her top tips and practical advice on how to revise for the 13+ remotely.

This is a difficult and stressful time for everyone with schools across the globe closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important to talk to your children about why they are staying at home and discuss with them how they are going to keep up with their learning as they prepare for 13+ Common Entrance exams. You are likely to face barriers such as anxiety and reluctance to engage with their learning in these new circumstances or refusal to allow you as parents to adopt the role of teacher and mentor. So, here are a few tips on how to achieve a system that you and your children can work with.
Daily routine
It is vital to establish a routine that the whole family adheres to – one which becomes your ‘new normal’. 

  • Meals: have breakfast at your usual weekday and weekend times. Schedule breaks for nutritious snacks and lunches. Eat supper together and discuss the day. Include a selection of the top 10 brain foods I set out in chapter 1 of Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond.
  • Work space: decide where everyone can work most effectively without distractions. Make sure your children have all the equipment they need and have storage boxes or shelves where everything can be kept neatly. This is even more important if more than one person is sharing the same space.
  • Timetable: encourage your children to set up a weekly schedule. Planners (daily, weekly, annual and subject specific) are available to download for free here. Have their daily or weekly planner pinned up where they can see it. Decide on a colour code for the following: book based learning; e-learning; exercise; breaks between learning sessions; free time.
  • Exercise: this may seem much harder during lockdown but there are plenty of YouTube options to choose from such as P.E. with Joe Wicks or Yoga Education Resources. Make the most of any opportunity to get out in the fresh air – just jogging round the garden or going to the park – keeping to social distancing guidelines of course. If it is raining, just run up and downstairs several times. Exercise is a fantastic way to reduce stress and improve mood. It increases blood flow and oxygen going to the brain and boosts energy levels. A great start to a study day would be a 10 minute exercise session before or after breakfast.
  • Relaxation: it is vital for wellbeing to have time free from schoolwork and remote learning. Choose one day a week – ideally at the weekend – when no new learning takes place. There may be some reviews to do. See the advice on reviewing in the How to Revise section below. Enjoy more family time in the evenings playing board games, baking together, reading, watching a film together.‚Äč
  • Sleep: keep to normal bedtime routines as much as possible and make sure everyone gets enough sleep. We should all put our devices away at least 45 minutes before going to bed. The blue wavelength light they emit keeps the brain on the alert and inhibits the production of melatonin which is necessary for sleep.  

Screen time 
It is understandable that children are likely to want more screen time. Aim to make media use positive and helpful.

  • Educational websites: schools will no doubt recommend the ones they would like you to use. New BBC Bitesize resources have been designed for home learning. The range of choices may seem overwhelming. Discuss with your children the websites they will find most useful. 
  • Study groups: suggest to your children that they create a small study group with friends, using a platform such as Zoom. They can agree on a subject area they are going to study. Each of them can choose one aspect they will teach their friends. You can only explain a topic when you have fully understood it yourself so this is a really useful way of reinforcing knowledge. They can also create quizzes for each other. Another option is to make presentations together using Prezi.
  • Social connections: social distancing is isolating. Children are missing their school friends and other members of their family. Video chats are a way of staying in touch. This should be part of their free time but not part of their bedtime routine.
  • Screen rules: limits on screen time are important. Negotiate when and for how long children can play video games online with friends or use social media. 

How to revise 
Read about the learning strategies I describe in chapter 4 of Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond. I explain in detail how to use a wide range of strategies from mind maps to humorous mnemonics.

  • Choice: children should choose the strategy that appeals most and fits with the topic being studied.
  • Multi-sensory: they should use as many different ways as possible to make revising active and interesting. They should complete the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic questionnaire in section 1.2 of Study Skills for 13+. Then they can make the most of the tips for each learning preference. They may like mind maps for certain topics, index cards for others and flashcards for things like vocabulary. 
  • Focused: only have a device available for specific online learning. This should be clearly set out on their daily or weekly schedule in a colour code.
  • Timed: set a stop time for studies at home. This should encourage focus because children know they can relax and enjoy themselves with a sense of satisfaction after a period of active studying. For example, allow for two 30 minute chunks of learning, each one followed by a five minute break and a few minutes reviewing. Set the timer appropriately. If half hour chunks are just too long for some students, reduce them to 20 minutes each. Follow the period of learning with an extended break, including exercise and a snack. Use this format for as many chunks of learning as your children can usefully cope with. 
  • Reviewing: ‘little and often’ is the golden rule. Worst first: students should not waste time going over things they already know really well. They could download a subject planner and prioritise the subjects/topics they find most difficult. The harder a subject or topic is, the more important it is to allow for plenty of overlearning through full use of the reviewing system described in section 1.3 of Study Skills 13+.

Finally, review each day with your children. Talk about what went well and what they or you would like to change for the next day. Your home cannot replicate school so don’t be over ambitious as this will only lead to stress. There is no one perfect routine – just what will work best for you and your family. 

Elizabeth has been a study skills consultant since 2012. Previously she designed and implemented a whole school study skills programme at Cranleigh Prep School where she had also been the SENDCo. Learn more about Elizabeth here.

Tags: 13+, 13+ Common Entrance, 13+ Revision, 13 plus, Common Entrance, digital learning, Entrance exams, exam, Exam Preparation, Exam tips, exams, family, home schooling, independent schools, learning, online learning, Parents, revision, revision prep, Revision Tips, school entrance exams, Study Skills

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