The Ultimate Guide to the Academic Year: What Parents Should Expect When and Why
When you're supporting your child to achieve their full potential at school it's really helpful to understand the shape and dynamics of the academic year. It's really all about long-term time-management – knowing what they should be doing and focusing on in each season of the school year. In this episode of The School Success Formula I'm going to take you through each term and holiday of the academic year so that you've got a good idea about what your child should be doing and when.
At the end, I'll also be telling you about something new that will help you with everything I talk about today.
We're going to start at the beginning of the academic year, in September, taking each half-term and holiday in turn, ending up with the summer holidays.
Please note, not every school's academic year is going to the be same. Some academies and free schools have completely moved away from the traditional structure of the academic year, whilst other schools will do some things at slightly different times from what is laid out below. However, this is a guide to what most schools do most of the time. To get your child's schools' specifics, you'll have to ask them for a calendar.
The Ultimate Guide to the Academic Year: What Parents Should Expect When and Why
Term 1 – September-October
Term one is all about settling into a new routine and setting up systems and processes that will serve your child for the rest of the school year. This is the best time in the school year to set new intentions and start implementing the behaviours that will support their long-term goals.
The thing that will be really helpful at this time of year is making sure that your child has clarity about why they're studying and what their studies are leading towards. Particularly at GCSE there can be a disconnect between the subjects your child is having to study in the broad programme of education everyone has to undertake at this level and what they want to do in the future.
For example, one of my coaching clients loves physics, maths, electronics and product design. He has a keen interest in coding. However, he's also studying Russian and struggles with it. If your son or daughter is studying a subject like this they need to understand that getting a set of consistent grades at the end of their courses is important, no matter whether they hate some of their subjects. There are some universities that will automatically discount you if have one or two suspect grades at GCSE.
Action steps in Term 1
- Review chapter 1 of my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take and work through the exercises. This will ensure that your child is clear about their motivation for studying.
- Start putting systems and process into place. Things like having a consistent organisation system, such as using a planner or the calendar tool on a smartphone, setting intentions about how much time they will set aside for studying and establishing some good study habits are essential at this stage. You can get more on all of this in Chapaters 4, 5 and 6 of my book.
Of all the holidays in the school year, October half-term, in my opinion, is the best time to really relax and take a break from school work. If you want to book a family holiday during the academic year (outside the summer holidays), this is the best time to do it.
In order to really enjoy this half-term and take a break students should make sure they're fully on top of their work before this half-term starts. This shouldn't be a problem as there won't be a back-log of work by this stage in the school year.
Term 2 – November-December
In this term your son or daughter should really be into the swing of things for the academic year. They should have established their routines and work schedules, formed good relationships with their teachers and just be getting their head down and getting on with the work.
Of course, Christmas happens in December and this can be a bit disruptive to work routines and habits. However, if your son or daughter has mocks after the Christmas holiday, they should really be turning their minds towards revision during December. Some schools might even hold mocks for GCSEs in this term. You will have to check with your child's school on their specific calendar.
Action steps in Term 2
- Consistently use the routines and good study habits established in term 1 (from chapters 4, 5 and 6 of my book).
- During December, start revision for mocks after Christmas.
Of course, as a family you'll want to enjoy the festive season together. However, if you child has mocks in January or February then they will need to be using the freedom of the holiday to do some concentrated revision for each of their subjects.
Action step for the Christmas holiday
- Revise for mocks if you have them after Christmas
- Work on any homework or coursework that has been set
- Eat lots of mince pies!
Term 3 – January-February
For year 11s and year 13s there will be a huge focus on mocks during this term. For students in year 10 and year 12 they should continue to work hard through this term using their established routines and habits.
Mocks, and the feedback students get as result of taking the mocks, are a great way to re-ignite good intentions as well as to shine a light on the areas where students really need to focus in the coming months – the danger areas.
I always found this term the hardest of the academic year to get through. With dark mornings and evenings and no longer having Christmas to look forward to, as well as exams still being four or five months away, it's tough to keep the motivation and energy levels up at this time of year. I haven't really come up with a solution to this, but being aware of it I think is helpful, because you know you're not alone if you're experiencing a lull in energy and motivation.
Action steps in Term 3
- Revise for (and take) mocks, if applicable.
- Get detailed feedback on performance in mocks and use it to create a targetted revision strategy going forwards.
- Keep focused on the work routines and good habits already established, or re-establish them after Christmas if they slipped in December.
February half-term is the time when revision for exams should begin in earnest. It may seem like May and June are still a very long way away. However, now that most schools offer very limited exam leave to their students, there is very little time in the school year when students can set their own schedule for revision and really explore the way they work independently.
Action steps for February half-term
- During this half-term it would be a great idea to focus revision on the areas of weakness identified during mock exams.
- Students should also relax and take a break to a certain extent, as the pressure, particularly for students in exam years, is only going to increase from this point forwards.
Check out my blog post 11 Things Wise Students Do At Half-Term to Boost Their Grades for more information.
Term 4 February-Easter holidays
This is when the academic year starts getting really serious. Students in exam years should be doing some revision everyday from this point forwards. Their priority should still be the homework set in class, as courses will still be being taught at this point in time, but revision must also be a part of every students' study time if they're serious about getting decent grades.
Action steps for term 4
- Prioritise homework.
- Do some revision everyday. Check out this blog post on The Five Minute Revision Challenge to see how you can fit even a tiny amount of revision into the busiest of days.
The Easter holidays are the longest stretch of time students get in the entire school year for concentrated independent study. This is time when they can set their own priorities based on the weaknesses they've identified in their knowledge and understanding (use chapter 8 of my book The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Every Take, you can download an extract of this chapter for free here) to help you to identify weaknesses and do revision activities specifically targetted at strengthening these weaknesses.
During these two weeks it's very important to set a sustainable study routine. It's common for highly motivated students to work too hard in the first few days so that they're then exhausted and beat themselves up about not being able to maintain that work rate. For less motivated students, they should aim to do a consistent about every day but not so much that they're frightened or resistant to starting. Everyone should be aiming for consistency.
You can get more detail on Easter holiday revision in my blog post on the topic.
Action steps for the Easter Holidays
- Clear focus on independent revision.
- Complete any homework tasks set by school.
- Start working on past papers in earnest, using the revision power hour technique.
- Set a sustainable and consistent work routine so students don't burn themselves out or turn themselves off the revision process.
- Take some time out to rest and increase energy levels for the exam period to come.
Term 5 – April-May
During this term students will start to sit written exams. Some oral and practical exams may have taken place before the Easter holiday. GCSE exams will start slightly earlier than A Level exams.
This term is all about revision, and also prioritising what to revise based on which exams are when. It's heads down time.
Action steps for term 5
- You get it… revise!
You can get more detail on how to plan revision and how to keep going with it in steps 8 and 9 of my book. Step 10 shows you how to prepare in the last few days before an exam.
This is much like the Easter holidays. Students will undoubtedly be getting both very tired and very bored of revision by this point in time. Therefore, at the beginning of the week it is a good idea to take one or two whole days off. After that they need to get back to the revision so that they can finish exam season strong. They will have learned a lot about how they work indepdently during the Easter holidays – use those learnings now to have a successful week of revision.
Action steps for May half-term
- Take one or two whole days off.
- Revise, much as you did during the Easter holidays.
Term 6 – June-July
This term, for years 11 and 13, will be about finishing their formal external exams. Students in year 10 may well have internal exams to assess their progress at this point in the year. Students in year 12 may be taking AS exams.
For students in year 12, once they've taken any AS exams their attention should be focused on UCAS personal statements. This is a great time to audit all the things they've done up until now for their personal statement and to make plans to fill in any missing gaps over the summer holidays. This will ensure that they're in a very strong position to write their personal statement and submit it in the early weeks of year 13, so it isn't a distraction from actually achieving the grades they need to get into the courses they're applying for. You can download a UCAS checklist here.
Action Steps for term 6
- Take exams.
- Do an exam season review (see chapter 10 of my book).
- For year 12 students, and even highly motivated and organised year 11 students, do a UCAS audit and make plans for things like further reading, work experience and summer schools during the summer holidays.
The summer holidays are really about resting and having fun. I talked in detail about this in podcast episode 5, What should your teen do in the summer holidays? However, students in year 12 will need to be working on their EPQ and putting the final pieces in place for writing their personal statement. Students in year 10 will maybe need to work on coursework or homework set over the summer holidays. Highly motivated year 11s who know what they want to study at university should also be taking steps towards their UCAS personal statement.
- Year 10s: coursework and homework
- Year 11s: getting ahead with their UCAS personal statement e.g. work experience, further reading, summer schools etc.
- Year 12s: EPQ, work experience, further reading, summer schools etc.
- Year 13: chill out, relax and prepare for going to university.
- Collect exam results.
Well, that summarises the shape of the academic year and what you should expect to be doing and when. In essense, the year starts with a complete focus on learning new content and as the year progresses the focus shifts gradually from learning new things to revising things you've already learned.
If you feel that you and your child need support with any of this in any way then I'm here to help. There are lots of ways that you can get my help.
- By getting a copy of my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take and working through the exercises.
- By signing up to one of my study skills coaching packages where I work one to one with students to make sure they've got the right study skills and attitude to get the grades they're capable of.
- By joining my eight week course for students and parents, The Exam Success Formula. This is a more affordable option that working one-to-one with me. It also fulfills a need for families where parents want to work very closely with their children and want to support them themselves. This course will be running for the first time from 16th September 2017. You can get all the details on the course page and either sign-up if it's open for enrollment or leave your email address to be notified when it next opens for enrollment.
Comments or questions?
I hope you've found this episode helpful. If you've got any comments or questions about everything I've talked about today, please leave them in the comments below, tweet me or ask in my facebook group for parents, the Supportive Parents, Successful Students community.
Thank you for listening (or reading).
Lucy on twitter: @LucyCParsons
Contact Lucy by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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