Exam Study Tips and Memory Tips

Many children who are facing exams, especially final exams and, at senior secondary level, provincial exams, feel very anxious and don’t know how to study for them. I always provide email “reports” after each lesson for my tutoring students, explaining what I taught in the lesson and providing hints and tips for the student and parents to continue with at home. This is an example of such a “report” for an actual grade 10 student preparing for a Provincial Math exam, but it also includes hints for exams like English and other subjects.

Practising for Provincial Exams: A. had printed out sample math provincial exams and asked for advice on how to use them to study. Some suggestions I gave her:

Practising with the sample exam(s):
– Go through the printed-out exam, and do all the questions. Write the number of each question and the answer on a separate piece of paper.
– Then mark the answer sheet, using the provided correct answers.
– Go back and re-do the questions you got wrong the first time (again, on a separate piece of paper).
– Mark your 2nd effort.
– If you got it wrong the 2nd time, ask your math tutor or teacher for help.
– If you got it right the 2nd time, analyse what you did differently, and why you got it wrong the first time. For example: Did you read it incorrectly? Did you read it too fast? Did you get the answer right in your “figuring” but then mark the incorrect multiple choice answer? Did you remember how to do it the 2nd time, but didn’t remember the 1st time? Keep in mind, for the actual exam, what caused you problems with the practice exam, so you don’t make the same kinds of mistakes. (Watch for patterns–do you often just hurry too much? Slow down! Or whatever…)
– If the reason you got it wrong the 1st time, but right the 2nd time, was that you didn’t remember how to do it the first time, but then remembered the 2nd time, this means that you DO understand the process, but you need to practice it more so it is really memorized and automatic.

Now start studying:
– Now start studying. First focus on the questions you got wrong both times; get help, and practice, practice, practice. Then focus on the questions you got wrong only the first time and practice them too.
– When you feel you’ve got your “problems” figured out, take one of the practice “e-exams” (online practice exams–this is the format that will be used for the actual exam). If there are still areas you’re having problems with, focus on those areas again. Also use the e-exam practice to get used to the e-format, and the timing.
– If you finish well ahead of the given time and made quite a few mistakes, maybe you are in too much of a hurry. Slow down; read each question twice to be sure you understand it before answering it.
– If you aren’t sure of an answer, you can leave it blank, and go on to answer other questions; then, when you are done, go back to the questions you skipped. Often, doing the other questions will remind you of how to do the “skipped” questions. If you still have time left, go over all the questions again, to make sure you read each one correctly, and keyed in the correct answer (look out for “silly mistakes”! Type carefully!). On the other hand, if you had to “guess” at an answer, and still aren’t sure about it after re-reading it, it is usually best to leave your “first guess” as the answer.
– Especially for exams like English, where there are essay questions as well as multiple-choice questions, it is wise to skim through the test first, and note how much each section is worth; then make yourself a little “schedule.” If you are taking too long on one section, set it aside and do the other sections; then if you have time, go back and finish the “difficult” section. But this also applies to math and other subjects as well. Planning ahead only takes 10 minutes or so, and can make a big difference in your results.
– Also, when you are skimming through before you start the exam, look for sections for which you are sure you know the answers, and answer them first. Save the “tough” sections for if you still have time.
– Another hint for essay questions: make yourself a good outline before writing. Then stick to the outline as you write. If you run out of time, you can put a little note at the end, referring the person marking it to your outline. They will already know your writing style, organisational ability, and other writing skills, and they can quickly see, from the outline, your knowledge of the topic and where you are going with the essay.

Memory Tips:

The second thing we discussed is memory. A. feels she has a lot of trouble with memorising. I got out a couple of “Memory” booklets that I have written (available here – there are 3 booklets in the series: Memory and Learning Strategies 1: Overview and General Tips; Memory and Learning Strategies 2: Tips and Tricks; and Memory and Learning Strategies 3: In the Classroom ), and we used them to go through all different kinds of memory tricks and tips. I have given copies of the booklets to A. to use now, and to keep for future reference. As we went through the tips, we discussed them in terms of her personal learning and memory styles and experiences, and in terms of math particularly–though of

As we went through the tips, we discussed them in terms of her personal learning and her memory styles and experiences, and in terms of math particularly–though she can also use them for studying and memorising in any subject area. We talked about ways she can use her abilities in the fine arts and physical/sports, to help her memorise. I had her think about things in the past that she found easy to memorise, even if they weren’t “academic,” and then analyse why they were easy for her. Then I encouraged her to apply those same principles to her math and English and other exams.

The main thing is to DO WHAT HAS WORKED FOR YOU–if you’ve tried some of the methods in the past and they haven’t worked, go on to ones that have worked. And if you’re still having trouble, try some “new to you” methods.

What do you think? Do you have any tips, pointers, or questions about studying for exams, and for memory? Why not share them with us in the comments? Thanks!

Posted in exam tips, learning tips, math, memory, penandpapermama products, studying tips | Leave a comment

Punctuation Tips

Some children have a great deal of difficulty with punctuation. While there are all kinds of worksheets and workbooks available to help children practice using punctuation, for some children that format just doesn’t seem to work. Here are some alternative tips:

Sentence word and punctuation cards: Create sentences with correct punctuation and with the first word capitalised (as well as any proper nouns capitalised). Write the sentence in fairly large letters on paper and cut between all the words and the punctuation to make cards. Then dictate the sentence, one word (and punctuation marks) at a time, and have the child put the slips of paper in order. Later, you can dictate the whole sentence, have the child put the word cards in order, and then have them add the correct punctuation cards. At each stage, after the child has made the “card sentences,” have her write them correctly on a sheet of paper or on the blackboard.

Recognising punctuation during read-aloud: Some children have difficulty noticing punctuation marks and using them correctly while reading. Have such a child watch for commas, and before reading the next word, tap the table or book once with his finger or a pencil; for semi-colons and colons, two taps; and for end punctuation (periods, question marks, exclamation marks) three taps. If the child doesn’t notice the mark, instead of saying anything, simply do the taps yourself, which will remind him to watch for upcoming punctuation. If he stops reading when you do the taps, ask him to go back to the beginning of the sentence, re-read–and do the taps himself. Once he is regularly doing the taps, you can have him stop “tapping” and just pause–shorter pauses for commas, slightly longer ones for semi-colons and colons, and full stop pauses for end punctuation. Another thing you can try (perhaps after he has the tapping down pat), is to have the child stop and take a breath at each punctuation mark–light breaths for in-sentence punctuation, and big breaths for end punctuation.

Other ideas: What other methods have you used to help your child recognise and correctly use punctuation in writing and reading? Why not share your favourite ideas in the comments. Thank you!

Posted in punctuation, reading, writing | Leave a comment

Copy work

Copy work: Have you tried having your child “copy” from well-written materials? Even if the material contains some words that may seem too advanced, the child will be learning to spell correctly, handwrite neatly (manuscript or cursive), use correct punctuation, and use good grammar and writing styles. Copy-work is an “old-fashioned” method that people sometimes think is out of style, but it really does work.

Sources for good copy work: You can use story books, poetry, or non-fiction (such as recipes or other how-to’s). Some people like to use “proverbs” or “famous quotes” or “Bible verses.” If you prefer, you can google “copy work” (or “copywork”) and find lots of online sources for copy work worksheets–some of them even allow you to generate sheets with your choice of written material, and many are free or very low cost. When choosing materials for younger children, choose ones that have fairly large lettering and spaces between the lines; then use a sheet of blank paper with a “window” cut in it, and place it over the copy material so the child can focus on and copy one line at a time. Another method is to have the child trace the work (from a photocopy) first, and then write it on another paper.

Use materials with your child’s handwriting style: Look for materials, if possible, that use the letter style you have taught your child. For example, the “small a” in many books is different in shape than the “a” commonly taught to children, and that can be confusing. If you see this is a problem, you can look for other material, or you can explain that it is just a different way of writing the letter. Some children may be intrigued with the chance to learn alternate ways of printing a letter; others will be content to just write it the way they are used to doing.

Advanced copying with creative writing: An alternative to straight copying, especially for children whose skills are a bit more developed, is to use a good example as a “pattern” and have the child use alternative words to change the story a bit–or even use a different topic, but carefully follow the “writing pattern” of the original.

Tips for beginners: To encourage early reading and writing, have your child dictate a short story or letter to you. Write it in neat printing on interlined paper, and read it aloud to the child. Then cut apart the words. The child (with your help as needed), puts the words in order, and glues them in order on a piece of paper, and reads it aloud. Then have her copy it, also on interlined paper. (She may also first trace it on your copy; then write it herself). And of course encourage her to illustrate the piece, if she wishes.

Comments and questions: Have you used copy work with your children? Did you find it helpful? Were there poems, stories, or worksheets your children especially enjoyed? Do you have other copy work methods you’d like to share with us? Please comment! Thank you 🙂

Posted in children's writing, copy work, printing and handwriting, spelling | 2 Comments

Speech Issues

Speech Issues and Spelling: Do you notice that your child sometimes makes the same spelling error in many words? For example, for words with “th” your child may spell with an “f.” Or some children may leave out certain sounds, especially ones like “r.” If you see things like this happening, you will want to listen carefully to your child’s speech. Often the child is simply spelling the word the way he or she says it. If that is the case, you will want to do oral practice of words that contain the problem sound, and once the child is able to hear and say the sound correctly in words, try the spelling again.

Also, pay attention to yourself–are you pronouncing those sounds clearly and correctly? If you aren’t sure, ask someone else to listen to you. Also listen to others who the child spends a lot of time with and/or is particularly attached to (perhaps a younger sibling, or a grandparent, etc.). Children will sometimes imitate the speech of others in their writing, even though they themselves speak the sound properly.

F, TH, and V and other common speech issues: Some children have difficulty with confusing the following three sound/letter combinations: f, th, v. (Note that there are two “th” sounds: a “hard” sound as in “that” and a soft or “throat” sound as in “tooth” — it is the soft sound children are more likely to have trouble with).Here are some hints for ways to overcome these difficulties. (And you can also use the same kind of hints for other sounds you child may be confusing):

  • Ahead of time, make a list of words with each of these three sounds. You can do this over a period of 3 or 4 days, listening for words your child mispronounces and jotting them down. It is most effective if at least half your list are words your child has difficulty with already. If possible, include words in which each sound is found at the beginning, others in the middle of the word, and still others at the end of the word. Read each word aloud to the child (without the child looking at the word), and have him repeat the word (Do not “emphasize” the sound–just say the word normally). Make a note of words he has difficulty with, and jot down the sound he uses instead of the target sound (for example, he might say “toofbrush” instead of “toothbrush” or “ofen” instead of “oven”). If you can find or sketch pictures of the words, you can show the picture to the child, and have him name the picture; this way he isn’t copying you, and this may be an even more accurate way to discover his “problem words.”
  • You may also notice that your child may pronounce some words fine, while others he will mispronounce. It may be that the “mispronounced” words are commonly used ones he learned while very young, and the mispronunciations are not actually related to a “speech problems” but are long-time habits from early childhood. In that case, you can just focus on correcting the habits by gentle reminders and practice of the particular words.
  • If you notice that your child is mispronouncing a certain sound on a regular basis with most or all words that have that sound, it may come from holding his tongue and mouth incorrectly. You can make the sound correctly yourself, and note how you hold your tongue (top, middle or bottom of your mouth, close to your lips or pulled back, against your top teeth or bottom teeth or pulled away from your teeth); how you hold your lips (like a smile, or a pucker, or an “o”) and how you breathe as you say the sound. Then observe how your child is using his tongue, lips, and breath for the same sound. If you notice he is doing it differently than you do, explain and show him how you do it, and have him try it. Stretching the sound out will make it more obvious. To help him understand about the breathing, have him hold his hand in front of your lips as you say the word, so he can feel how you breathe as you make the sound. Then have him hold his hand in front of his lips and say the word in his usual way, so he can feel the difference. Have him try to copy your “correct” tongue and lip positions, and your “breath.” (Note that the “soft” and the “hard” “th” sounds are different, too!).
  • An activity specifically for the f/v/th confusion issues is to make four columns (f, v, soft th, hard th). Have your child say a given word, write the word in the correct column as he spells the letter sounds aloud (it is fine to have him copy the spelling–but saying the letter sounds rather than the letter names), and then repeat the word. By writing (touch) and speaking the sounds he is using different senses, always helpful.
  • If you have pictures for the words, you can cut them out, and again have your child say them, and place them in the different categories (in this case, do NOT spell the words–you only want to use graphics).
  • You can practice these “problem words” as a game with another player. For example, you can have your child play “Snakes and Ladders.” After rolling the dice, he picks up one of the pictures (or a word card), says the word correctly, and places it in the correct category on a piece of paper. (If you play with him, you can do the same–only sometimes you can purposely say the word incorrectly, or place it in the wrong column–and if he catches your “mistake,” he gets an extra turn and you lose a turn!)
  • Note that, as with any new learning (or correction of past “wrong” habits), the more ways you can “teach” and “practice” the concept, the more likely the child will “get it” and the more likely it will stay firmly in his long-term memory.
  • As with learning to read, “word families” are also useful for mispronunciation. So, if the child confuses “th” with “f” you can use a set of words (for example:  booth, tooth, Ruth) — and again make up amusing sentences (Ruth brushed her teeth with a toothbrush in the toll booth).
  • Also get a good book of tongue twisters (my “Easy to Learn” series of booklets has a good one!) and have your child practice certain sounds using tongue twisters! Most children really enjoy that!

Listening, read-aloud, and other tips: If your child’s speech shows difficulty with a certain issue, such as using incorrect tenses, or pronouncing “th” as “f,” keep your ear open during everyday talking and general conversation, listening for that particular issue and reminding him gently when he does it incorrectly. It is better to choose one issue at a time to work on, rather than try to “fix” everything at once. Also watch to see if he transfers the issue to his writing and if so, work with him on it there. Your child might find it fun if you copy a story, or read it aloud to him, and make the same “error” he makes–with the goal of “catching” your errors. When he hears and corrects others making the error, he is more likely to become aware of his own errors. If your child makes a consistent kind of error in his writing, have him read his work aloud. Ask him to read slowly and carefully, pronouncing each word as it is written; or you can slowly read it aloud to him; either way, reading or listening, he may well become more aware of his issue and work on correcting it.

“Baby talk” errors with simple frequently used words: Note that your child might make a certain kind of error frequently with 4 or 5 really simple words, yet almost never make it with other more complex words. This often goes back to speaking habits he developed when learning to speak (such as: I think I will use this new toothbrush to brush my teef!” — think, this, and even toothbrush are pronounced properly, but teeth is said as teef, a habit from early speech). You might put a picture of a small child on a piece of posterboard, and when your child makes one of these errors, just quietly point to the picture. Most children don’t want to “talk baby talk” (unless they are playing babies), and this may be enough to make the child aware and avoid those errors.

The nasal “n” sound: Some children have difficulty with the nasal “n” sound when it is combined with a following consonant or blend (for example with: trunk, munch, crunch, lunch, length, etc.). You can try this: have your child sound the first part of the word normally (tr-u), then have him pinch his nose to sound the n+consonant/blend (nk)–and it’s very likely the “n” in the combination will sound quite clearly. In fact, it may even sound exaggerated. A lot of children think this is very funny, so they enjoy doing it… and at the same time they get the feel for making that nasal sound, and can soon do it without pinching their nose! It also helps them remember the “n” when they spell the word.

If these simple ideas don’t work, your child may need some professional help from a speech therapist. Your school or your family doctor will likely be able to help you find this help. It is also possible that your child may have a hearing issue, so it is well worth having her ears checked.

Let’s help each other! Do your children have difficulty with particular speech sounds and/or transfer their spoken errors to their writing? What solutions have you found? Or can I give you some advice? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

Posted in Phonics, speech, spelling, word families | Leave a comment

Solutions for Tracking Troubles when Reading

Grandfather reading with granddaughter

Tracking trouble when reading: Does your child seem to have trouble staying on the same line when he is reading? There are a number of ways to deal with this:

  • Finger tracking: The traditional way is for the child to run his finger under the words as he reads, or if this is difficult for him, you can run your finger under the words for him. Some children seem to do better with a finger run along above the words–you can do this for the child (hopefully, you are able to read upsidedown!).
  • Pointer tracking: Similar to finger tracking, but use a pen tip or other pointer. If you do this, use a pointer in a plain, dark color. Bright colors and patterns can be very distracting.
  • Ruler, bookmark, or piece of paper: Use one of these items, and move it down line by line. Again, avoid items that are distracting.
  • Framing: Make a “frame” that is the width and height of the lines (you can easily cut it out of a piece of paper); this will blank out the rest of the lines and focus the child’s eyes on the line being read.
  • Lightly tinted plastic: Use a sheet of lightly tinted plastic laid over a page (amber is often a good colour choice); this really helps for some children, especially for pages that have a very white background. The colour of the plastic sheet also dims bright, distracting pictures on the page.

When you are a distraction: Some children who are unsure of themselves will constantly look at you for confirmation of each word they read or write. Some suggestions:

  • Seating arrangement: Sit beside the child but slightly back so you are looking over her shoulder and she can’t easily see you. Or have the child sit on your lap, facing forward.
  • Book placement: If necessary, hold the book in such a way that it is between your face and the child’s face.

If these methods do not work, your child may have a focusing (convergence) problem with his eyes and need medical intervention, including special glasses and/or vision therapy. For more information check out this article on Eye Teaming, Focusing, and Tracking.

What methods have you used to overcome problems with tracking? Please share them in the comments below. Thank you!

Posted in reading | Leave a comment

Learning Together With Other Children

Sibling fun, small groups, and playdates: Often children have more fun learning if they have a partner or small group to learn with. You can make part of a “play date” with a friend a learning time. You might have them do one or two worksheets together, “helping each other,” but for the most part, try to use more of a “game approach,” in which they put concepts in practice. This is a good time to read a “how-to” and put it into action, or play a “learning game.” However, if one child already knows the concept well and would easily “win,” look for cooperative games (in which they work together to solve a puzzle or build something, etc.) or “games of luck” (such as rolling the dice in Snakes and Ladders) rather than competitive games.

Children teaching children: Is your child disliking her learning time? Often, children will respond much better if their learning time is shared with another child. If both children are having the same difficulty with a concept, they will feel better than they aren’t “the only one.” On the other hand, if one child already understands the concept, she can “teach” it to the other child–this works especially well if the “teacher” child is slightly older than the “learner” so the learner does not feel she is “behind.” Children sometimes actually learn better from another child, and teaching a “just-learned” concept to another child really enforces the concept in long-term memory.

Posted in learning tips | Leave a comment

Follow Your Child’s Passions and Interests

Do you feel like your child hates learning? Is every lesson a battle? Does it seem like no matter how much time and money you spend on your child’s education, it isn’t working out? Do those wonderful curriculums (whether from your child’s school, or purchased curriculum if you are homeschooling) seem to work well for other families, but are a total failure for your family–or for one child in your family? Do you feel like maybe it’s your fault? Or worry that there is something seriously wrong with your child? Before you throw up your arms in despair, read on…

Follow your child’s interests and passions! Think about your own life. When you were a child, did you enjoy exactly the same school subjects as your best friend? When you grew up, did you follow the career your parents hoped for, or did you choose something else? When it’s hockey season, are you there in front of the TV cheering with all your friends and family, or would you rather be out for a hike or curled up in an easy chair reading a book? We are all different in so many ways–and one of the best ways to encourage a child who is unhappy with learning, or struggles with learning, is to match learning experiences to other things he or she is passionate about.

Here are some examples (and surprises!):

Use materials that are related to your child’s interests–even if they are “too hard.” One of my children had a “severe learning disability” (SLD) and at age 9 was still unable to read. Then he discovered Pokemon. He wanted to play Pokemon cards with his friends, but he needed to know about each Pokemon’s abilities, so he asked for a Pokemon handbook for Christmas. Now a Pokemon handbook is NOT “easy reading”–in fact, not only does it have a lot of technical language, it also has a lot of strange, complicated names for the characters. But my son loved Pokemon and was determined to read that book, no matter how hard it was. And that book, along with Pokemon novels, became his curriculum for the next couple years. Did it cure his SLD? No. But he learned to read. When he was 12, he still struggled mightily with writing even the simplest sentences. But he became interested in rockets. A friend gave him a book on physics, and how to make homemade rockets. He read the book, took notes, designed and made rockets, and wrote detailed reports about them! When he went to high school (grades 9 to 12), he took an academic program, with just a little help from a Learning Assistance teacher (mostly for math), and was on the honour roll the entire 4 years. Was it easy? No, he still had to work really hard to read and write, but he was successful! Oh… and at 26 years old, he still keeps all his Pokemon books and cards–the “curriculum” that got him going.

So … if your child has a special interest, such as dinosaurs or princesses or skateboarding or whatever, it is fine to use books, magazines, articles, etc., that are above the child’s reading level. You can look at the pictures, and the child can orally use vocabulary related to the picture–and then you can together think of the “sounds” that would be in those words, and search for them on the page. If the print is too small or there is so much print that it is overwhelming, you can write the key words on a piece of paper or a whiteboard. Photocopy the picture(s) accompanying the text, and have the child “label” the picture(s) with the words you have written down, and then write a sentence or paragraph below the picture. If there are several pictures, the child can make her own “book” of several pages.

Keep your child’s attention span and learning styles in mind. Remember that children have shorter attention spans than adults. So you might want to change learning activities often–even every 10 minutes or so, unless the child is really “into” an activity. Then you’ll want to let him run with it until he wants to stop. Forget your carefully laid out time schedule! And remember–use learning activities that are on topics of particular interest to your child. Pay attention to what intrigues and interests your child, and let him suggest activities. If he’s a bouncy, energetic child, don’t force him to spend hours reading and writing. If soccer is his passion, go with it. Let him join a team. Spend lots of time in backyard practice (physical education). Follow the sports news in newspapers (reading). Have him keep records of the scores of the different teams (math) and graph those scores and determine the possibility of which team will come first based on the scores. Do research together to find out the physics behind the longest kicks, and the ideal nutrition for soccer athletes (science).  Follow the annual FIFA world cup; map the countries where the teams comes from, and learn about their training methods, customs, etc. (Social Studies). Film and paint pictures of soccer games and players (art). Listen to the songs played at soccer games, and maybe learn to play some (music). Research on the internet, at the library, in books, on documentaries, watching games (live and on TV), play soccer video games, and make creative reports and projects. Almost any topic can be developed to become a broad-ranging curriculum that develops all the learning skills in a traditional curriculum!

Follow your passions at any age! I once observed a group of teenagers, ages 15 to 17, who were in a “resource room program” because they were still unable to read. But the entire group had one goal they were passionate about: they wanted to get their driver’s licences. Their new teacher went to the provincial service centre and got a stack of driver’s manuals–and suddenly each student in the group was poring over the manual. They had been attending school since they were 5 years old, and in 10 years or more still hadn’t learned to read. But every one of them, within 3 or 4 months, learned to read well enough to pass their learner’s licence–and to fill in job application forms, and read books and magazines and more. When a child–or an adult–encounters something of great interest to him, his motivation will lead him to WANT to develop the necessary skills…

In fact, why not model this for your child by following your own passions and interests? Almost every adult has some interest they’ve always wanted to develop and learn more about. “Show the way” for your children by letting them see you follow your own passions. Explore as many aspects as possible of your chosen topic or hobby or career interest. Let your child see you read and write, draw, do physical activities, explore the history and geography and culture connected with the topic, do experiments, use the “real-life” math connected with it, build things, and more. If your children become interested in your explorations, invite them to help you learn more–as you also help them learn more their interests. Learn together–one of the most motivating and exciting ways to learn!


Posted in home learning, learning games, learning styles, passions and interests | Leave a comment