From FAILING to PASSING Exams in Only 12 Weeks: Here’s How We Did It

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 8 minute read

As parents (and I speak for myself here too), we’re just human. We make mistakes. We don’t always get it right.

I speak from first-hand experience as a parent of a 14 year old boy. I know that life can be tough and throw curve balls you just didn’t expect. I know just how important it is for my son (and even me as a parent!) to have a balanced life. After all, what happens when you don’t have balance? You fall over and hurt yourself.

But should that stop us from trying? The answer will always be a very definite NO. By all means possible, we need to stick it out alongside our children in order to give them the best future possible, and guide them even when we don’t exactly know the way ourselves.

Exam Procrastination

That’s why I breathed a massive sigh of relief when my son completed his last exam of the second school term. We had spent nearly 3 months preparing and revising for the exams. There were several ups and downs during this time, several moments of feeling victorious as a parent, and several moments of feeling like I had failed him. I’m sure there were also several moments where he felt like he had failed me. But that’s just how this interesting thing called parenting goes – it’s a daily struggle of watching your child learn and grow, while learning and growing so much yourself.

The reason I was able to breathe a sigh of relief after his last exam, wasn’t so much to do with the fact that the exams were now officially over, but rather to do with the fact that I knew in my heart that my wife and I had done everything we possibly could to help our son do his best for those exams.

And the reason I in particular put in so much effort during the second term, is because I saw first-hand the negative impact my own procrastination had on my son’s first term results. It was his first year in high school and the 1st term tests crept up on me quicker than Chuck Norris’ pumped up kicks. In other words – I had not planned in advance. Not as well as I should have. Life got in the way, or that’s what I told myself.

It was my fear of not knowing how to help him prepare for exams, and not knowing where to begin, that lead to this procrastination. I was afraid that my exam study plan wouldn’t be “perfect” enough.

Looking back months later, I realised that I had not prioritised my son’s learning and education as well as I could have during that 1st term. Fortunately, I realised this failure to act before the 2nd term started, which meant that I could plan in advance for the 2nd term. Low and behold, it made a huge, positive difference to my son’s school report. It also taught me a valuable lesson: preparation and planning DOES work. It also made my son feel far more confident to tackle the exams.

How did I improve (as a parent) during the 2nd term?

For starters, I recognised that the failure to plan amounts to planning to fail. It sounds like a cliche. It’s actually the truth.

I took the following steps (exactly in this order) and my son’s school results improved quite markedly:

1. We sat down and I opened up to him by being completely honest.

As my son is growing up, he is becoming more independent. That’s natural, and good. Which meant I could have a frank, open discussion with him about his school results. However, instead of simply blaming him for his poor 1st term results, the first and most important thing I did was point out how I had failed him.

I did not show anger nor disappointment towards him for bringing home a poor report. I avoided using negative words, but I didn’t mince my words either. I was direct and honest, and pointed out that working hard at school and passing subjects is not an option but rather a necessary part of life.

I pointed out how difficult and busy life had been for me over the past few months, and how that meant I didn’t realise how quickly the 1st term test series would arrive. I hadn’t looked at the calendar and hadn’t planned properly on his behalf.

I made a promise that the 2nd term (and all future terms) would be different because I’d help him plan for exams properly. He made a promise to commit to the plan. His commitment to the plan waxed and waned repeatedly over time, but that’s understandable because it’s natural human behaviour to feel very motivated one day, and very demotivated the next. However, as the parent, I had to be as consistently motivating as possible throughout the plan.

A note to you as the reader: you might be asking yourself why a 14 year old boy wasn’t planning for his own exams? Isn’t he old enough to take charge of his learning? If you know anything about the average 14 year old boy, you’ll know that exams are not a top priority, and that most normal children need a lot of pushing and motivating to get them interested in schoolwork. Be grateful if you have a child who simply does everything he or she is required to do! My real goal is to get my son to the point where he is equipped to manage his own life. I’ll explain more about that towards the end of this post.

2. I looked at a calendar. This was not rocket science.

I decided that the best approach to planning is to determine a goal and then work backwards to determine how long it will take you to reach versus how much time you have available. That’s how we project manage here at WorksheetCloud.

The best place to find South African school term dates is a site called SA School Terms. They even count the weeks and days available in each term. It’s a lazy parent’s paradise for dates …

South African School Terms

Immediately I was able to spot that there were 11 weeks in total during the 2nd term. I compared this to the exam timetable received from my son’s school, and was able to calculate precisely the number of weeks I had available to work with when drawing up an exam study calendar for him.

Simply add up the total number of weeks that your child writes exams, then subtract that figure from the total weeks available in the term. This shows you how many weeks you have BEFORE exams begin, which is a great starting point.

3. I reviewed his school workbooks and textbooks.

Your child can’t study if they don’t have the notes and books to study from. This step involved taking a thorough look at my son’s workbooks and textbooks, and comparing them to the exam summary outline received from his school.

I was easily able to spot sections of work that would be assessed during the exam, that were incomplete in his books. The first step was getting him to complete his notes in full so that he had something to work with while studying.

4. I created a study timetable by working backwards.

Using a combination of the school exam timetable, the number of weeks available, and how much content my son needed to study, I began creating a study timetable to ensure that he would have sufficient time to summarise his work as well as study those summaries.

I also used the advice from WorksheetCloud’s free exam study plan guide to help me.

I created the study timetable in Microsoft Word (pretty simple). Here’s what the final study timetable looked like:

Study Timetable

You can download my template in MS Word format here. Feel free to use it for upcoming exams (you’ll just need to update the days of the month etc.)

I split each subject into a session for creating summaries (notes from which to study) and a session that requires actual studying of those notes.

I cannot overstate the importance of having PROPER STUDY NOTES. Well written, well ordered study notes make revision much, much easier.

5. We reviewed the study timetable as a family.

I knew the critical element that would determine the success of this plan would be to get my son’s buy-in, to make him feel like he had a voice during this process. Once I had drafted the study timetable, our entire family sat together to review the timetable while taking into consideration each person’s personal calendars (social, sport, religion, family time, relaxation etc.).

We had to ensure that the study timetable was realistic, and that personal commitments we intended making were also realistic in terms of focusing on priorities (e.g. is a night out at the movies more important than spending time studying?).

There were a few small changes that needed to be made to the study timetable once my son provided his input. This process made him feel like he was in charge of his own schedule (which is a big thing for a 14 year old!).

6. I purchased flip folders to store revision summaries for each subject.

As mentioned in point 4 above, I cannot overstate the importance of having PROPER STUDY NOTES that are well written and well ordered.

I purchased several flip folders and labelled them for each subject. Once my son began making summaries from his school books and textbooks, he was able to store the summaries in a flip folder for easy future reference when the study sessions began. Any folder or binder will do the job, so you don’t specifically need to use flip folders.

Study Notes

The front cover of my son’s Social Sciences flip folder. An original artwork masterpiece.

7. I searched through WorksheetCloud for relevant content and practice exams.

As part of the preparation process, I accessed my WorksheetCloud account (yes, I have a free account because I work at WorksheetCloud), and was able to find about 90% of ALL the practice worksheets and exams my son would need to help him revise for the real exams. This saved a huge amount of time.

The other 10% I was able to source from his school workbooks and textbooks.

Online Exam Exercises

8. We got stuck in with summaries.

I’ll mention this again because it’s THAT important – I cannot overstate the importance of having PROPER STUDY NOTES that are well written and well organised.

My son made use of different colour pens and highlighters to easily identify where certain key concepts and ideas started and ended, meaning that when he began studying from these summary notes a few weeks later, he would be presented with logical, ordered summaries that were easy to study from.

Here’s an example of a History summary …

Study Notes

Notice how important ideas and topics are separated with bullet points and lines. This makes studying easier …

Study Notes

A very happy “THE END” signals a break from studying, and playing a bit of well-deserved Fortnite or Xbox for an hour or two …

Study Notes

9. We got stuck in with focused study sessions.

As per the exam study timetable, we needed to study (retain the knowledge) from the summary notes for each subject.

For content subjects like Social Science and Natural Science, we studied by reviewing the summary notes, and then writing down key points and sentences on a scrap piece of paper. My son would then close his eyes and recall from memory what he had just written, point by point.

For logic subjects like Maths and languages, we practiced, practiced, and then practiced some more.

WorksheetCloud helped with the practice of both the content and logic subjects, and thanks to the automatic marking of the online worksheets, I was able to quickly see which subjects my son needed to spend more time learning and studying.

10. I followed the advice on WorksheetCloud’s blog.

During the course of the 2nd term, WorksheetCloud sent a weekly email to parents about exams. Each email focused on a different exam topic. Here is a summary of all the exam topics parents received from WorksheetCloud:

11. I motivated my son, every, single, day. And it worked!

One of the most important things I’d do on a daily basis was to remind my son that by working diligently, he could achieve the goal he set for himself: a better school report.

I was sure to use positive rather than negative language, and despite sometimes wanting to scream “why aren’t you taking your work seriously?!?” I somehow always managed to remain calm. The key was remaining calm, which helped him remain calm. Someone who is calm can think clearly and positively. Someone who is stressed can often only see the glass as half empty.

I am an adult, so I made sure to act like an adult.

It worked – as I sit at my desk typing this, I received a Whatsapp message from my son with a list of his exam results. He passed his exams and improved on 7 out of 10 subjects!

What was the difference between term 1 and 2?

In term 1, I procrastinated for far too long, putting off focusing on my son’s educational needs until it was too late. His term 1 report bore evidence to this.

But in term 2, thanks to having a plan in place, and with much persistence in implementing that plan, my son not only passed his exams but did really well. My wife and I were truly overjoyed, but most importantly, my son felt like a winner instead of a failure. By improving his “can do” attitude towards school, and thanks to a lot of hard work from my wife and me despite the other things we both needed to do such as work and provide for the family, we turned a bad school report into a great school report within the space of about 12 weeks.

What is the ACTUAL goal I’m trying to achieve?

As mentioned earlier, my goal is to help my son reach the point where he is managing his own learning and managing his own life. After all, this is what becoming an adult is all about.

There is no point in being a helicopter-parent and doing everything for your child. But there is a lot of value in equipping your child with the right tools and teaching them the right techniques so that they can start doing things for themselves.

My father and mother taught me things. They showed me what a good exam study timetable looks like. They taught me how to manage my time. How to manage my life. Then they sent me out into the world and motivated and encouraged me. Your responsibility as a parent doesn’t end with simply teaching your child some valuable skills and lessons. It also requires continuously motivating and encouraging your child once you’ve equipped them with the skills they need to tackle life.

What is the KEY to ALL of this?

Early preparation. It’s that simple.

At WorksheetCloud, we regularly have parents contacting us frantically at 11pm with messages like “I’ve forgotten my WorksheetCloud username and my child writes Maths tomorrow! Please help!”.

We literally get messages like that. And often it boils down to poor planning and preparation, or more simply put: procrastination.

If your procrastination is affecting your child’s education, know that I’m not judging you. Not one bit. After all, I’m guilty of procrastination that affected my own child’s results. But you can learn from my experience and do better next time. Use term 3 as an opportunity to make a difference to your child’s education.

Plan to fit in regular revision sessions even though the end of year exams are several months away. This helps you and your child get into a good revision rhythm. Consider signing up to a product like WorksheetCloud. Find an extra lesson tutor for your child’s worst subject. Personally spend an hour or two with your child each week. Email your child’s teacher for advice and help. Purchase folders to store study notes neatly, and use them! Make healthy meals and get your child to exercise. Do whatever you can, and whatever it takes, to motivate your child to do better next time.

Just get started. That’s how you’ll win. By taking the first step. If you procrastinate and do nothing, then both you and your child will lose. I understand that you might not have the time or resources available to do ALL of the things I’ve listed above, or that perhaps you have a child that is not currently able to do these things for themselves. But the point is that doing SOMETHING positive for your child’s education is better than doing nothing at all.

The third term has just begun, which presents you with the perfect opportunity to start making a difference to your child’s end of year school results. Just get started and don’t look back.

What’s stopping you from helping your child? I’m genuinely interested to know, so please leave your comments, thoughts and struggles below. I personally read each and every comment …

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About the Author

Adrian is the Managing Director and Co-founder of Learning Lab Apps, the company that develops WorksheetCloud. He is an activist for technology in education, but also a firm believer in the effectiveness of good, old fashioned, hands-on teaching.

1 Comment

  1. Kadtija Mia

    Thank you so much for this read. I was looking for a bit of motivation since the holidays. This is extremely inspiring…makes me want to start immediately with revision and exam prep…after such a relaxing holiday. Thank you once again.

    Reply

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