31 August 2009 04:53 PM

Helping Your Kids Prepare for Tests

by Dr. Rick

This blog is for parents.


For the past several posts, we’ve been discussing ways students can get ready for the new school year.  I just finished giving tips for middle 24 August 2009 and high school 27 August 2009 students to sharpen their test-taking skills, to take responsibility for their studying, and to increase their confidence.  I urged high schoolers especially to choose to make “studying and test taking” major academic goals this year.  I urged them to ask you and their teachers for help when they need it, to choose their friends wisely, and to be single-minded in their determination to take control of their school lives.


Today, it’s tip time for parents.  How can you help your kids to study for tests in school, to be determined and purposeful in their academics, and to achieve the success both you and they want?


Here are some simple tips for parents of middle and high school students.

  1. Be the adult.  Adolescents and teens look to us adults for guidance, even though it’s against the secret Teen Agers’ Rulebook to admit it.  So, let them know you’re monitoring their progress, that you’re aware of due dates for major reports and projects, that you know when report cards are coming out.  Be omniscient – or at least let them believe you are.

  2. Monitor.  Keep track of their homework, their reading assignments, and their preparation for tests.  For most kids, you don’t need to look at every page of every assignment, but you do want them to know you’ll be checking up with them every evening at a specific time.  This sets deadlines and a routine.  Routines help kids keep on track.  They’ll complain now and them, but they rely on and need these routines.

  3. Help them organize.  Help kids make the most of their time by insisting they keep a planner – electronic or on paper, doesn’t matter – and regularly refer to it.  Look over it with them periodically.  Show them how to break up big, intimidating assignments into smaller, piece-of-cake ones.  Show them how studying a little bit every day is efficient and confidence-building, and how cramming is just the opposite.  Help them to estimate how long assignments will take to complete, so they can budget their time effectively.  Mark the family calendar so everyone knows what’s due when.  Nag when they show they need nagging.

  4. Set goals.  With them, set goals for the short term and long term.  Keep the pressure low but steady.  Determine what rewards would be fair and reasonable.  Extra curfew time for a special occasion?  Some personal alone-time with you and no siblings?  A reasonable monetary reward?  (I’m not opposed to earned money as long as it’s reasonable.  Some people are.  You follow your conscience.)  Also, determine together what appropriate consequences should be.  Loss of curfew time?  Temporary lowering of privileges?

  5. Give them the essentials.  Provide a quiet, comfortable place for them to do their work.  Doesn’t have to be a fancy set-up, but it should be conducive to study, with supplies, materials, books, and other necessities nearby.  Help them decide on a workable routine that’s efficient for learning and for the family activities.  Help them see what time of day is the best for studying.  We all learn differently, so what’s good for one child may not be the best for another.  Stick with the routines.

  6. Sleep and eat.  Insist, especially on days before major tests, performances, or projects, that they get plenty of restful sleep.  I’m always amazed at the number of kids who can barely keep their eyes open on important test days.  These are invariably the same kids who have exuberant energy on any other day.  Also, insist that they eat a good breakfast and avoid foods that make them groggy just before a test.  Again, I can’t tell you how many students I’ve seen at test times who are off their game because their stomachs are grumbling.

  7. Talk.  Regular conversations about school and school activities let students know not only that you’re interested in their daily lives but that you’re up-to-date on projects, tests, and report cards.  This avoids anguished comments from you like, “Report cards are tomorrow?  Why didn’t you tell me?” 

  8. Get help.  You’ve read my blogs.  You know I encourage parents and students to get help early when they need it.  Don’t put it off.  Fix small academic problems early before they turn into big ones.

  9. Learn from mistakes.  You went over all the assignments before your children turned them in.  Now, go over tests, book reports, projects, and the like after they’ve been graded.  Review any mistakes they made, areas where they could have been stronger, and all the red-ink comments the teacher made.  Talk about how they can improve next time.  We all make mistakes, but only the wisest of us learn from them.

  10. Stay positive.  It’s difficult sometimes, but keep your spirits up.  Kids pick up on our moods and emotions, so stay encouraging and supportive.  Share stories of times in your life when you’ve made mistakes or errors of judgment and what you’ve learned from those times.

Teens want independence, they want to take control of their lives, but they surely need our guidance, perhaps at this time of life more than ever.  Be there for them, show them the way, lead them, and give them increasing amounts of independence along the way when they show they’re ready for it.


They’ll rise to our expectations.


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