There are two common scenarios when it comes to getting teenager to study for their exams. Either they just don’t study. At all. Or they leave their revision until the last minute.

In this post I will cover how you can work with your teenager, to help them create a study plan and timetable they can actually stick to.

Your teenager just won’t study

Did you spend last year telling your teenager they need to study, only to watch them dedicate their free time to their phone, gaming, socialising, sports and work?

It becomes really frustrating knowing there is no way you can force a teenager to study.

Sure, you can send them to their room with their books, and without their phone. The problem is, this is not going to result in anything productive.

When it has been years since you studied these subjects, it’s hard to take an active role in their studies. If they tell you they don’t need to study you have no easy way to check; unless you have time to learn 6 NCEA subjects alongside working and raising your family.

Your teenager leaves all of their study to the last minute

More commonly, teenagers leave their study until the last minute and then they start cramming.

Unfortunately, this results in them becoming stressed and overwhelmed. It is not possible to revise a year’s worth of learning in a few days.

However, every year students sacrifice sleep, eating properly and fresh air in an attempt to do so. This leaves them feeling like NCEA is just a test of how many facts they can memorise and of no use in their future.

The lack of sleep also impacts on how their brain functions. A lack of sleep makes it harder for them to remember what they have learned throughout the year.

Cramming can result in them memorising enough facts to pass their exam but they will not understand the content. Another downside of cramming is that everything they stuffed into their head is lost as soon as they walk out of the exam. This reinforces the belief that they should leave revising until last minute, otherwise they will forget what they have revised.

Why do New Zealand teenagers have poor study habits?

The problem is that very few teenagers have been taught how to revise or create a study timetable.

The curriculum is already packed with content. Teachers have to get through up to three internals and three externals in one year. This does not leave a lot of time to teach other things, like study skills. If teachers decide to cover study strategies, they may not be able to get through the curriculum before exams.

High school students have multiple teachers who can fall into the trap of believing they don’t need to cover study skills with their class, as it will have been done somewhere else. It now becomes a lucky dip whether or not students have one teacher that does cover these vital skills.

Unfortunately, when students are left to figure out how to study, they usually just read over their notes. Or they may choose a topic they remember finding confusing and read the relevant pages in their workbook. This is not going to help them understand the subject they are studying. This study strategy also doesn’t move the information to their long term memory.

Trying to study without a plan means teenagers are sitting down to study a subject and topic they have chosen at random. They are not considering how the lesson fits into the rest of the Achievement Standard. The outcome is lots of wasted time and very little results for their effort.

Teenagers become deflated when they realise they have forgotten half of what they revised the night before.

What you can do to help

It is so important that you help your teenager create a study plan and timetable. An effective study plan will help them recall what they have learned and get the grades they want.

Teenagers need to have a plan in place so that they are not overwhelmed by how much they have to study.

This plan should include what they want to achieve, what they need to study and how. If you would like more information about how your teenager can create goals for the year you can read the SMART goals blog here.

5 tips to help your teenager create a study timetable

Tip #1: Get clear on what there is to revise

The reason telling your teenager to “go study” never works is because this statement is so broad.

Imagine being sent into a garage that is crammed, floor to ceiling, with stuff and being told to clean and organise it. It would be completely overwhelming. What do you need to keep? What can be thrown out? Where do you start? You are likely to avoid this job for as long as possible! Maybe you do give it a good hour before you realise you are making zero progress in the grand scheme of things. It is at this point you give up.

This is the same as telling a teenager to go study. They take six subjects and are taught up to six different Achievement Standards in each subject.

This is an overwhelming amount of content!

Trying to work out what to study is daunting for a lot of students. Just like cleaning that garage full of stuff, even when they do study it can feel like they are not making any progress.

Students need a clear picture of what each Achievement Standard includes so they can plan what to study and when. They should only make this plan once they have covered the content in class. If they try to do this before learning the content, the information won’t make sense. This is likely to leave them worried about whether they will be able to understand it in class.

Resources to help your teenager determine what is covered in each Achievement Standard.

There are lots of resources available to help NCECA students figure out the key content in each Achievement Standard. They can use the notes they took in class, their workbook, a class textbook and the NZQA Subject Resources page. This page has a PDF for every Achievement Standard that lists what can be assessed in an assessment. Using these resources they should write a list of the key points that make up each standard.

A resource to help your teenager create their study plan and timetable.

Students can sign up for my free ‘The Ultimate Study Planner’ workshop here.

This free workshop will help your teenager create a study timetable. I walk them through the process of creating a study plan and timetable in a video tutorial. It also includes a useful template for organising the key points in each subject and a study timetable template.

Tip #2: Prioritise

The next step is to sit down with your teenager and look at their current commitments. I speak with so many students who struggle to keep on top of their school work and study. When we look at their daily routines, they have multiple extra-curricular activities and a part-time job. In some cases they have activities or work everyday after school and both days on the weekend.

Students also need to find time to relax. Multiple studies into how we learn show that sleep and relaxation are needed for the brain to process new information and store it in our long-term memory.

Some students do not leave time for studying in their schedule. This is where you need to have a discussion with them about what they may be prepared to give up. Perhaps they could drop one work shift each week or not sign up for a new sports team.

So many parents have said to me they did not realise how busy their teen is. It was only after they looked at their teenager’s commitments that they realised.

The earlier your teenager starts revising, the less they will have to do.

A big consideration is when in the year you are sitting down to have this discussion.

Ideally it should be at the start of the year. Students can then revise throughout the year, so they can dedicate less time to studying each week.

If it is two months out from exams, more time will need to be dedicated to revision each week. Some tough decisions may need to be made too. For example, students who have struggled with NCEA Chemistry all year, and have not started revising, are not going to be able to study for all three externals in eight weeks. If it is near the end of the year, they will need to choose one external to focus on. I strongly suggest they pick the external they are most confident with.

Tip #3 Make the study timetable realistic

As parents, wanting your children to do well in school, it can be tempting to expect teenagers to revise everyday. However, this is never going to happen if teenagers currently don’t have any study habits. Studies show that on average, habits take 66 days to form. Students are also more motivated to carry out a range of activities if they are achievable, gradually increasing in difficulty.

If your teenager doesn’t revise at all, then suggest they start with 20 minutes three or four times a week. Once they are doing this consistently they can increase their study time to 25 minutes, 5 days a week, and so on.

Starting small will help them stick to their plan and achieve their goals. These achievements will give them the motivation to keep going.

Shorter periods of study are also more effective than an hour study session. This is because regular breaks give the brain time to relax. During this relaxation time, the brain processes the new information and makes connections between this and prior learning. This is essential in the new learning being moved to their long term memory.

Tip #4 Include details

People are far more likely to carry out a task if they understand how to do it.

Let’s go back to that garage. If someone now said “go through the stuff on the left hand side and put newspapers, clothes and blankets in the bin, power tools in one container, old toys in a second container and gardening tools in a third”, you are far more likely to do this. Why? Because you have clear instructions. You are not spending time trying to figure out what to do and how.

Your teenager’s plan must include which key points they will study and how they will study them. A common mistake they make is to highlight a block of time and write study on it. If 30 minutes has been blocked out for study, your teenager will spend the first 10-15 minutes going through their books trying to decide what to study. They are then far more likely to end up just reading their notes, which is not very effective. Get your teenager to write down what key point they will study, for how long and what study strategy will they use. This could be quizzes, teaching someone else or answering NCEA questions, as examples.

Everyone has their own learning preferences and some methods of study will be more effective than others.

Successful Study Strategies Suited to YOU is an online workshop that introduces students to a range of study methods. It is interactive and helps students find the study strategies that are most effective for them.

However, any method of study is better than no study at all!

Tip #5 Set rewards

Providing motivation can help your teenager make consistent study habits.

One way to do this is to decide on a reward when they achieve a certain goal. This could be a number of small rewards, like a favourite dinner, for small goals, or going to the movies if they achieved a number of small goals. Or it could be a big reward if they study for a longer period of time and are awarded a certain grade in an assessment.

However, it is important to reward the right behaviour. This means that the reward should be linked to the learning not the study itself.

A teenager may sit down at their desk for 20 minutes and read over their notes, whilst also texting their friends or thinking about what they will do on the weekend. They are not going to learn anything during this time.

Set goals based on the key point they want to learn and make sure you have a method for determining whether they have achieved this goal. This could be the result of an assessment, answering 20 cue cards correctly, or completing an NCEA question without notes. These are all outcomes that can be measured and will reward the desired outcome of studying.

A final note before you help your teenager create a study timetable

The most important thing is that you work with your teenager to help them create a plan and study timetable. They need to be on board with it and feel like they have control over their study. Otherwise they will not have the motivation to stick to this plan and create good study habits.

However, I get it, convincing your teenager to do what you say isn’t exactly smooth sailing. So, if you think your teenager is more likely to listen to this advice if it comes from someone else, they can sign up for the free Ultimate Study Planner workshop here. This will give them the tools and templates needed to create a study timetable they will actually stick to.

If you want to equip them with the skills to make every minute they spend studying valuable, enroll them in the Successful Study Strategies Suited to YOU workshop. This will teach them study strategies that actually work and stop them using strategies that just waste their time. They will also learn which strategies are most effective for them, so they can learn more in less time. Click here for more information about what this online workshop covers.

If you have any questions about how you can help your teenager set a realistic study timetable, please leave them in the comments below and I will answer them.