Help your teen identify and prioritise the best thing for them to work on, at a particular time, and then to do it in the optimal way.
This week, I'll help you in supporting your teen to become more strategic in their study, so they get more bang for their buck, with higher results and less hours slaving over their assignments, homework and revision.
You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 62. I'm talking about STRATEGIC study and how to get your teen the most reward for their effort by considering their priorities, actions and intentionally planning and executing each of their tasks in a particular way.
Hello my very important parents. How’s things? Really good I hope. Things are good here, but pretty busy. So I’m keeping on top of life by getting things done a little in advance. It’s early Friday morning, before I deliver the teacher PD day all about how to integrate more study skills and exam technique into the everyday classroom, and we’re just over a week ahead of the Next Level event next Sunday, but we’ll have done the event by the time you hear this on the Tuesday after it. I’ve been spending the majority of the past month dedicated to the planning and delivery of it, so I want to share with you one of the key themes underpinning what we’re going to be working on in that Next Level event.
The title of the training is Maximise Your Exam Technique and I’ve based the whole thing - all of the practise, examples, activities and content within it on STRATEGY.
Exam strategy, exam prep strategy, in the exam hall strategy, short response question strategy, extended and essay response strategy. And the more I’ve been thinking about it all, the more and more I think that getting strategic is a really important skill for students. Especially as they move up through the year groups and build their skills and techniques. And to get specific about it, I think that when it comes to your teen’s study, being strategic is a mix of knowledge and understanding AND action and application.
I believe that students need to be able to figure out for themselves, based on having at least a basic knowledge and understanding of how exams and assessment works, what is the best thing for them to work on at a particular time, to do it at the optimal time for them or according to the type of task it is, (basically task and time management) AND importantly for them to have the ability and skills to be able to DO whatever that is, in the most effective way.
So, let’s talk about the word strategy and what being strategic really means in relation to your teen and their study.
I know I use the word A LOT, but I know it can be a bit of a vague word that just sounds good. Like yeah, I want to be strategic. But that’s a bit like the phrase of ‘work smarter, not harder’. It gets told to students all the time. And I know that most of that time, it’s just frustrating for students to hear. Because, yes, sounds good, but most students don’t know HOW. How to actually work smarter. It’s said as if that’s the solution. Oh, I just need to work smarter. Okay, problem solved. And so I try to put a lot of time and energy into delivering the HOW of that for you and your teen - HOW your teen can actually work smarter- with practical and tangible actions. So I want to do the same today for being strategic.
So, What is strategy? What does it mean to be strategic?
Sometimes, with concepts in general, it can be helpful to consider the opposite. Sometimes that can just feel more obvious or clear. And also though it might be hard for your teen to define what strategic study is, I bet they could describe what it’s not.
It’s not just doing more, working harder, without the outcomes or results to show for it.
It’s not doing things without a clear idea of why we’re doing it or how it will help.
We’re not just half-doing something. We’re not just dabbling or tip-toeing around. And we’re not GUESSING at things. Remember, episode 41 - Hope is not a strategy?
We don’t want to do things and just be hoping they work. It’s not doing things that have little impact, are not the most effective thing we could be doing, OR we’re doing something that could be effective but we’re not doing it very efficiently. And so now we can flip each of those to help truly know, on a practical level, what study strategy and being strategic IS.
It’s that we’re intentionally executing actions, tasks or activities, that have been carefully considered and chosen in terms of the outcomes they’ll give. We’re absolutely clear on what those tasks are and how to do them and why we’re doing them. And we’re doing them to completion and to the best of our ability.
Now, I did go and look up the definition of strategy and it said: Combining, planning and directing movements and operations. And I like that. I think that definition of STRATEGY definitely works here in this context. But for me, BEING strategic is more than that. The focus is on that planning part. Where we’re selecting the actions or operations that are going to give ‘most bang for buck’. It’s about identifying all the things we COULD do and then making an INFORMED decision about what thing or things need to be done, in what way, at what times, to produce the most impact and maximise results.
And that word INFORMED is also important here. So many students are limited by what they don’t know, they don’t know.And there’s a useful distinction to make here.
If your teen is feeling lost and hopeless in their study, it’s likely because they don’t know what to do. They just don’t have or can’t come up with options of what they could do, or how to do something. Maybe they don’t even know what a task or question is really asking. Maybe they have no idea what the marker will actually be looking for. Maybe they don’t really know how to revise for their exam. Or they don’t know what evidence they should even be looking for in their research. In which case, they might feel blank and they may feel like they’re not so smart. They feel stuck, maybe despondent. Because they don’t actually know what’s needed, so they can’t go get it or do it.
Whereas, if they’re feeling more like they’re overwhelmed, confused or stressed, it’s more likely that they KNOW or have some ideas about what is missing or what they need to be doing or could do? They just don’t have time to do it all, or they don’t know which option is BEST.
So, if being strategic means doing the most impactful thing at the optimal time, that means they need all of the possible options and they need to understand how each of those options will impact their study and results. How will it serve them, and to what extent? And they also need awareness around what skills they need and which ones are their current strengths and weaknesses.
This is what I mean about students being limited by what they don’t know they don’t know.
Once they have all of the information, then they can make strategic choices, make strategic moves. Just like a leader in a battle would need to make a strategy, a plan of what to do to get the best outcome, they need all of the info and intel in order to make the most effective decisions and best plan.
A simple, surface level example of this would be for your teen to make a strategic decision about where to put their time and energy in their independent study using the Study Success Formula. I explain this formula in detail in Episode 1 - it’s what everything I train and teach hinges on.
The formula is: Knowledge + Application = Success.
So, what is limiting them most right now in their study. Maybe even in a specific subject? Lets say, in English. Is it their knowledge, or is it their application? Is it their knowledge of the plot of Macbeth for example, or their understanding of poetic devices, or their ability to identify the three types of persuasion? Those would all be subject knowledge issues. Or is it that they are pretty good with their subject knowledge, but their ability to put that across in an essay is lacking, or to be able to write in enough detail, or be able to craft a strong thesis statement ABOUT any of those topics. Is it their skills of application that are the weak link?
If it’s their knowledge and understanding of the topic that’s holding them back, then the strategic move would be to use study guides, perhaps sit down with their teacher or a tutor, use online explainer videos, to help build and solidify that.
If it’s their application of that knowledge that’s currently letting them down, then the strategic move would be to learn things like the 3 steps of analysis, use the Topic and Focus system to dissect an essay question, or they need to learn how to extend an explanation, to go into more detail, but without waffling or repeating themselves.
Now, I know that there are some things they have no choice about doing.
For example, if they know the most strategic way for them to revise a topic would be to create a mind map with links and connections and layers of info, but they’ve been told to write an extended paragraph for it for homework, they can’t just say - “I’m not doing that. I’m doing it the more strategic way”. And of course, they have to use the exact format and stick to the deadlines given for assessments and homework - but they DO have a choice about when they will do them. How they will do the research - there are definitely strategic ways to google and research information. How long they will allocate, at what time of day, on which day.
For example, I’ve talked before, it might not have been on the podcast though, I can’t remember, about the optimal time to do a task. It might be best to do the 6 Maths homework questions the night they get them, while the concepts and processes are fresh. Or, if it’s prep for an exam, it might be better to use spaced repetition and do 2 of the questions over three nights. Or, the time to actually leave something - I won’t say ‘til the last minute’ - but I will say closer to the deadline - would be for rehearsing a presentation or speech. Not necessarily writing it, (though that can be the case as well) but your teen will be much better off rehearsing closer to the time they will actually be presenting. There’s a reason the final dress rehearsal for a production is the day before, not a week before a performance.
So, there’s strategic choice on what to do, how to do it and when to do it.
We want to allocate your teen’s limited resources (i.e. their time and energy) against what are unlimited options (an infinite number of things they COULD be doing in their study). We want them to cut the stuff that isn’t making a big difference (or sometimes, I would go so far as to say ANY difference) and prioritise the things that really move the needle. And we want them to be informed so that they can make their own strategic choices and decisions and plans, where they know how assessment works and what’s going to get them most bang for their buck.
Maximum results for effort.
And that’s exactly what I’ve done in the Maximise Your Exam Technique event for our Next Level students. I’ve determined what skills and techniques I believe, in my experience, students will most benefit from honing, practising and building and have created new and strategic activities, exercises and examples to work with in real time to help make that happen in the most efficient and effective way.
So, have a chat with your teen and go through everything they’re currently doing in their study and consider - is this the most strategic thing, is it being done in the most strategic way, and at the most strategic time? And if there are things that could be optimised further, or prioritised differently, cut out or just tweaked, it could make a huge difference to their study-life balance, their results and their confidence in their study. No more just aimlessly doing things, but being intentional and pro-active to create best possible outcomes with less stress and time spent in the process.
Thanks so much for listening, please share the podcast with any friends or family who you think might also get some benefit for them and their teen. I really want to help as many parents as possible with this podcast and rely on your help to make that happen.
Have a great rest of your day and I’ll meet you back here next week!