Revising-GCSE-A-level-in-the-Library-how effective?

Teenagers Revising for GCSE and A-level in the Library – how effective?

For the first time in three years the exam season is here – I mean proper GCSE and A-level examinations.

We all know the importance of hard work, and teachers and parents stress this all the time in their quest to get the teenager to focus on his or her studies. Hard work is important, and it is used a lot in the wider society beyond the academic environment. We’ve all heard it recently from politicians about hard working civil servants and all that.

As a teacher, when I write reports, I try as much as I can to avoid the phrase “hard work” but to use other words and phrases such as focus, level-headedness, perseverance, conducive environment and so on. All these include hard work, as there is no getting away from doing what has to be done. The words that I am keener on are effectiveness and productivity, and not even efficiency most of the time. This is because doing something effectively is about getting the desired result, not being efficient in ticking the box just to say it’s done, irrespective of the result achieved.

Before I get back to the main issues of this blogpost, which is teenagers’ studying and revising effectively for their GCSEs and A-levels, let me tell you a short story about my encounter with a few teenagers at a local library in West Sussex, where I live, this week.

It was a Monday afternoon this week and I was in one of my favourite places – the Crawley Library. It is a 15 minute drive for me, and I prefer it to my local library in Horsham; it is not quite like the rather grand British Library in St Pancras, where I spend a lot of my time, but nevertheless usually a conducive environment to work or study.

As I arrived in the library, I noticed there were teenagers who were there to study for their GCSE and A-level exams. Some were not actually doing much studying but chatting about other things mostly. There were many teenagers in the library at that time but more than half of them were not doing much studying. About a third were really studious and getting on with their studies without distracting others or being allowed to be distracted by others. Another third or so were trying hard but couldn’t help being distracted by the last third, who were not that interested in using the time they were spending in the library to do any productive studying.

After about 15 minutes or so, I just could not bear the noise level anymore, as this was in a part of the library that was supposed to be quiet. I went to the admin desk and asked the librarian to ask the teenagers to be quiet and she did, but the temporary lull only lasted for about 4 minutes, before the noise level rose again.

In the end, I decided to go and have a quiet word with these teenagers – not knowing if I was being brave or stupid. I must confess that, despite my irritation, I could relate to them a little, as I did exactly what they were doing a few decades ago when I was doing my O-levels. I still had to do something, if only to share with them, may own failings at that age, on how I could have obtained higher grades if I had actually spent the time at the library to study in my teenage years.

When I approached the teenagers, I was very polite and asked if it was okay to have a chat with them and they accepted – largely. I started speaking to them about how good they had been good in deciding to come to the library in the first place. I praised them for giving themselves an advantage by making the attempt to study, when, due to Covid disruption, some other young people have already given up and all that. I then went on to stress the importance of making the best of their time in the library by actually studying. To their credit, they were very polite and thanked me for the unsolicited advice that I had provided! I must say that the calculation I made before approaching these young people turned out to be correct, as I deemed them to be from homes where education is valued and not the type who were likely to tell me where to go, as it was none of my business to ask them not to chat in the library.

The point I’m making here is that it is naïve for us parents to assume that, if our teenagers are in the library, they are there studying diligently. Two thirds of the students in this particular library were not really focusing on their studies. Some of them would perhaps have been better off staying at home and might have got more tangible work done and absorbed more.

There is no guarantee that one particular studying environment will be better than the other – call it home, school or the library. Effective  studying depends first on how motivated the teenager is, and secondly the dynamics of their company or environment at the time they are studying. I suppose the two are related, as, if the child is well-motivated, they will find a way to create a conducive learning environment for themselves.

I suppose you could argue that we parents can play a part in helping to creating that conducive learning environment. I must say that, in most cases, at about the age of about 15, the child likes to take control largely of what, when, how and where they study. We parents can try and help to influence them, but we are not always successful.

With my own son, who is currently doing his GCSEs, he listens to my advice sometimes but not always.

Yes, the exams are now here, but there are still about three weeks to go before most students finish their summer exams and what they do during the exam period matters and can still make a significant difference to the outcome of the examination – the grade they get. Just getting a little bit more out of the time they put into revision can allow them to pick up the extra 5 to 10 or so marks in the exams. Yes, even this late into the exam period.

Study environment is one of those things on which we parents often struggle mightily, as we try to influence our children positively. I have written extensively about the notion of what constitutes a conducive studying environment in the past – from the distraction caused by electronic devices to actual physical place of study.  This is a big topic and when we look at studying at home, that in itself can be broken into more detail – like the child’s bedroom or the family area, like the kitchen table and so on. To read more, you may want to   check out a two-series blogpost that I wrote a couple of years ago. Below are links to those.