Help your child study effectively
Your child put in many hours studying for the exams. Yet, her marks don't reflect this. Could this be due to poor study skills? We take a look at study methods.

You're feeling very nervous. Exam time is coming and your daughter keeps telling you that she has plenty of time to study. And although she did well in her continuous assessments, she usually falls short at exam time. What can you do?

"Exams are one of the most stressful times in any child's life," says Liezl Jansen van Vuuren, a Cape Town ELSEN (education for learners with special education needs) teacher. "Exams don't measure studying – they assesses learning. That's why it's so important for children to review new information immediately. If they don't revise, it's as good as lost. Assessments are there for a reason; they're supposed to take the stress out of exams," she says.

For example, if your child has done well throughout the year, she knows that she has her assessments to help her through. "However," Liezl cautions, "before attempting to assist your child, you must first help her discover how she learns best."

Set the scene

"Routine is very important as it encourages discipline and will help prepare her for later grades when she will have to put more time into studying," says Liezl. She suggests the following:

  • Decide on a time and place best suited to studying, with your child. The area should remind her of studying and should not have pictures or posters that can distract her.
  • The study area should have a desk that's big enough for study materials such as pencils, books, dictionaries and reference material.
  • The lighting should provide adequate visibility, but must not be too bright or dim.
  • Most children prefer to study with some background noise, so they don't feel abandoned. Soft classical music works well, especially for an auditory learner, but avoid music with vocals, which may make her concentrate on the words.

Make learning fun

Help your child develop essential study skills with these fun and creative activities:

  • When travelling, give her a map and make it her responsibility to direct you.
  • Try to relate what she's learning to something she's familiar with. For example, if she's studying flowering plants, use the plants in your garden to encourage a different view from what's in the textbook.

Time management

According to Liezl, studying shouldn't be done only at exam time. It should be practised throughout the year. "Revision is crucial and should be done every day. Studying for the exams should therefore only be a case of revising information she's already familiar with." Before setting up a timetable, ask your child how she feels when she gets home after school. Some children prefer to take a break, while others are in the "school mode" and prefer to revise immediately. "It's crucial that your child contributes to setting up a timetable. It makes her assume ownership. If she doesn't, she'll feel as if it's being forced on her," Liezl says. Although some research suggests study periods of 40 minutes, Liezl feels that 25 minutes of studying followed by a five-minute break is better.

"Most children have a shorter memory span, and breaking the timetable into half-hour chunks makes it easier to set up." Here's how to go about it:

  • Make a list of extramural activities such as hockey, tennis, and so on, on a sheet of paper.
  • Mark off time for homework, dinner, relaxing, and so on.
  • Insert the due dates of assignments and projects, adding the time needed to work on them.
  • Lastly, fill in study periods and breaks.

Mind mapping

Studying large chunks of information can be daunting. To digest it more easily, encourage your child to break the work into bite-sized pieces.

  • Get her to write a central word or concept on a piece of paper.
  • Around that word, write down five to 10 main ideas that relate to that word.
  • Now take each of those words and again write down five to 10 main ideas that relate to each word. In this way a large number of related ideas can be put together. This method encourages summary writing and is a useful tool for creative writing where it's important to get down all your ideas first. It also makes revision easier and faster, and is especially useful for visual learners.

Learn more about mind-mapping.


    This method is based on remembering the first letter of a keyword in a sequence and can be used to help remember information, such as facts or long lists of places or names. For example, if she needs to remember the names of the planets and their order, form an acronym by making a new word out of the first letter of the keywords. For example, "My Very Early Mother Just Saw Us Near Paris", which represents the names of the planets in our solar system, and their order with regard to the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

    Learn more about studying with mnemonic devices.

    Master maths

    "Maths is a subject that cannot be studied. It must be practised on a daily basis," says Liezl. If your child doesn't have any Maths homework, encourage her to practise her tables. Other good ways to practise the skills needed to succeed at Maths, include working through old tests, exam papers and textbook exercises.

    Most book shops also stock study guides such as Train Your Brain (Maskew Miller, from R25), a series that covers most of the learning areas.

    What's her style?

    The owl: auditory learner

    Like an owl preying in total darkness, an auditory learner can pick up sounds in the environment others may not even be aware of. She learns information best by hearing it and processes it by repeating it aloud. She:

    • never stops talking and is a good storyteller;
    • knows all the words to songs;
    • usually has poor handwriting; and
    • prefers videos to books.

    What you can do:

    • Speed up the learning process by recording her lessons on tape or CD, and let her listen to it while she follows it in her book.
    • To reinforce what she's learning, encourage her to read aloud while studying.
    • Encourage her to use a finger or a pointer to avoid skipping words.
    • Use rhymes when learning new facts. For example, if she has to learn the dates that Columbus sailed to America, try the rhyme "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue."

    More study tips for auditory learners

    The eagle: visual learner

    With her eagle-like eyesight, a visual learner notices everything and loves anything that involves her eyes. She:

    • prefers reading and learns information best by seeing it;
    • likes to look at books and pictures and enjoys doing puzzles;
    • will write something down if she wants to remember it;
    • notices detail such as how others are dressed, and spelling errors;
    • likes using technology such as computers; and
    • remembers the faces of people she meets and may forget names.

    What you can do:

    • Try flash cards. For example, write the word "apple" on one side of a page, and paste or draw a picture of an apple on the back. Older children can use flash cards to memorise difficult formulae or definitions. For example, try pasting the flash cards on doors, mirrors or in areas your child frequently visits.
    • Encourage your child to use different colour pens to underline or circle important information. For example, red notes represent main themes, blue notes point to supporting themes, and so on.
    • When learning new words, encourage her to write each word several times.

    More study tips for visual learners

    The cat: kinaesthetic learner

    Like a cat loves being touched, a kinaesthetic learner absorbs information best by touching or experiencing it. She prefers participating in activities and performing skills such as note-taking and writing. She:

    • can take items apart and put them back together again, such as building blocks;
    • moves around all the time and is often regarded as a hyperactive child;
    • is usually good at sports, such as hockey, tennis and swimming;
    • enjoys reading how-to books on topics such as pottery or carpentry; and
    • likes to lie on the floor or bed to study.

    What you can do:

    Kinaesthetic children are usually creative and most of them find studying difficult. Bring colour into her studying by encouraging her to write summaries on different coloured paper. For example, use green paper for Social Science, pink paper for Natural Science, and so on.

    • Because she finds it difficult to concentrate for long periods, limit her study periods to 15 minutes at a time, with five-minute breaks in between.
    • When studying, encourage her to sit on a gym ball instead of a chair.
    • Try to make sure that there are no distractions in the room.
    • Encourage her to take as many experimental learning opportunities as possible such as lab or studio courses, instead of traditional courses.

    Read more kinaesthetic learning tips.

    Other learning styles:

    The two-minute brain booster

    To study effectively, we need to use both sides of the brain. Get your child to try this two-minute exercise to activate the creative part of the brain, needed for successful studying:

    Get her to write down as many uses for a paper clip as she can. They don't have to be logical. For example: it keeps pages together; can be used as a toothpick; can be used as a teaspoon, and so on. Develop your own exercises, for example, uses for a rubber band, a brick, and so on.

    How does your child learn best? Share your tips and advice about study methods with us at and we may publish it.

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