Parents know the story. They could write the story. In the final weeks before summer break, their little ones start talking about exam week. Then the thick, dog-eared review packets come home. Students set up camp at the dinner table. Tutors are hired. There may be tears. And, depending on your child’s age, finals can affect their grades a little or a lot.
Final exams are more than just a rite of passage to summer and the next grade. Typically covering material from the entire semester, finals allow schools to determine what students have internalized.
There are concrete steps parents can take to set their child up for success, no matter the grade level. These involve figuring out what will be covered, learning about the test structure and helping children study smart. So parents, here is a to-do list to help your child excel during exam week.
Communicate with your child’s teachers. If they are avid email users, this will be simple. If they prefer face-to-face meetings, get one scheduled. This is your opportunity to ask for detailed information about the exams. Here’s what you want to ask for:
- The course outline. This comprehensive course guide outlines everything that is supposed to be taught and in what order. Usually, these aren’t sent home with all of the welcome to my class handouts at the beginning of the year because they are mainly a tool for teachers to plan their lessons. All classes have one, and you should ask for it because it details exactly what is fair game on the exam.
- Ask for information about the test itself. How many questions? How long will your child have? Is it multiple-choice, fill in the blank, short answer or essay? Will the test cover the entire semester? What percent of your child’s grade is it?
- Ask teachers the best way to help your child prepare for the test. You’ll almost always get review packet, with sample exam questions, making them almost as good as having the exam. Ask teachers if they will be reviewing the packet in class, if it will be assigned as homework and checked or if it’s just being sent home as a resource for students.
Set the Stage
Every student can benefit from structured study. This is key when preparing for finals in multiple classes.
- Help your child gather everything she will need (textbook, binder, folders, notebook, syllabus/course guide, and review packet). Sort any loose papers by date and place them in the proper binder or folder.
- Take the course outline and start finding the work that was done when learning each section. For example, if your 6th grade science course says, Week 1: Photosynthesis, find any papers or projects about photosynthesis. Also find the section about photosynthesis in the textbook and mark it with a sticky note or tab. Put a check next to that item on the course guide and move on.
- Discuss the exam review packet or review the course outlines. Ask your child about each topic. For younger ones, a green light (I remember), yellow light (I sort of know that), and red light (I don’t know that) type of questioning usually works well. Highlight any sections your child struggles with, doesn’t remember or may have missed. These are your study focus areas.
Once you have an idea of what your youngster knows, set up a study schedule and be sure to leave time for last-minute review.
- If your child seems unprepared, consider hiring a tutor or ask teachers if they’re offering study sessions. Popular online matching services, such as WyzAnt or TutorMatch, allow you to screen tutors. When interviewing, don’t be afraid to ask tutors about their experience and whether they create custom lessons. Depending on your needs and budget, you may want to consider a college student. A good first session task for the tutor is to create a study plan, leading up to test week.
- Tutoring or not, in the weeks before the test your little one needs to dig in and do the work. One of the best things you can do is make sure they have a quiet, distraction free area to study. Ask questions related to the study topic. If studying pre-algebra, have your student rework two or three problems from several homework assignments. Seek help from a teacher or tutor or online source when necessary.
- In the home stretch, have your child focus on the areas in which he is weakest. (Questions missed during a review or a challenging homework assignments.) Creating flash cards is an easy way to review emphasis areas.
There’s not a whole lot left to do other than make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep and a solid breakfast. Tell them you know they’re going to do great, and congratulate them when they get home. If they broke down a semester’s worth of material and took the time to shore up weak spots, they’ve put in far more work than many students and deserve to be praised.
Dawn Nies, a Hillsborough County math teacher, launched Grade Squad Virtual Math Tutoring, which provides online tutoring services. Visit www.gradesquad.com to learn more.