Can I really help my son through A levels?
The first real examinations for year 13
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
In Living a Focused Life last week, I touched on the subject of our children and how my course would benefit them all. I’ve since borrowed the very powerful point about developing habits which I’ve shared with Fin, who’s sitting his A levels this academic year.
Over time small actions lead to big change
It doesn’t take much imagination to workout what the conversation was about. If he was prepared to do a bit extra every school day, imagine how beneficial that would be by the time of his first exam. I’m trying to provide support. So far it’s frustrating and I feel helpless, unable to intervene or really affect change, but still forced to watch the car crash unfold in slow motion from the uncomfortable position of a front row seat.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh? This year’s race has barely started so there’s plenty of time to avert an accident.
Why do we worry?
As parents we seem programmed to worry. For some like me, that might be because we are forced to remember our own less than pleasant experiences. I still have regret surrounding my two unhappy years which largely ended in failure. My mother’s well meaning act of support was to ask Radio Rentals to remove our TV after Christmas. As soon as the bumper 2-week edition of the Radio Times (a paper based TV schedule) was in the bin, the men came with their van. It left an ugly space in the corner of the lounge, like a tooth had suddenly gone missing. Our only phone, on the hall table was hardly a distraction, all you could do was talk, a regular reminder that I didn’t have enough friends either. My sister continued to be an exemplary swot studying for her O levels and I thought my life was crap.
Year 13 virgins
The current year 13, is the year which didn’t sit their GCSE’s which makes the toughest of tests even more demanding. Is there a way to make this bitter pill sweeter without causing resentment? Is that even an appropriate question? Isn’t the rite of passage from school to whatever comes next all about doing the hard yards which everyone is expected to endure? This does seem somewhat outmoded, unless of course you think examination and A’ Levels in particular are perfectly fine. I flit, depending on which of my children we’re talking about. Having one daughter with a work ethic which puts me to shame and another with the uncanny knack of scraping good grades, I’ve been entirely comfortable with the system, up until now.
The truth is, whatever support I try and give, there is still a lonely walk to be walked. He has to want to do it; to be prepared to make some sacrifice, reducing the do-what-I-like part of his life temporarily, in order to serenely move on.
How to revise for A levels?
When I searched, how to revise for A levels? I laughed at the worthy list of results which came back.
#1 Be organised and make a revision timetable.
#2 Give yourself plenty of time.
#3 Understand the assessment objectives.
#4 Try different learning methods.
The list was long and ironic for several reasons. Next to it were popular links which included a Guide to UCAS Clearing, 2021 (the universities and colleges admissions service), a reference for students who haven’t made their required grades.
Who do they think reads these lists?
The target audience of sixth-formers have already been given the low-down at school and have mostly ignored it because that’s only for would be medics, engineers and vets who need top grades. The would be’s, who also attended the same school session, are already onboard doing the work, unconcerned about starting because they’re buried in revision from now until final exam day.
Parents are the most likely to be reading it because we’re invested. We don’t need to be converted. The list makes perfect sense but we shouldn’t be daft enough to try and share it. You might get an acknowledged grunt but deviation from current course is unlikely.
Repetition doesn’t work here
Any site which purports to help sixth-formers would do well to assume that most of their intended audience are very much aware of good practice because of school and concerned parents drumming it in. The same message from another source will quickly be dismissed as exactly that.
Flexing personal integrity
Persuasion is a far more useful place to begin. But first of all, I need to ask myself a question. Who is Fin revising for? It’s important to remember that it’s certainly not me or Mum. Our focus is better spent on encouraging him to take control. This means flexing his personal integrity, an internal muscle underdeveloped in many adults, never mind sixth-formers, which alleviates a classic symptom - procrastination.
Change of scene
I loved my Fridays when all my kids were at school. Once I’d dropped them off, I would go to my favourite cafe in Bristol and work all day until it was time to pick them up. The change of scene was great and these were often some of my most productive days. A bedroom begins to feel like a prison cell when its only purpose is sleep and revision. The local library would have been another option, but the one he can walk to no longer has school friendly opening hours, shutting at 5.00pm, just when a quality hour could be done before tea.
Sharing is important which is why I explained the power of a good habit and whether it might be helpful to him as well. I must tell him about my TV loss and why that didn’t help me. I also need to listen. I’m familiar with the short responses sometimes on offer. I know there’s more. It just takes a bit more patience and persuasion.