[22] 9 Reasons Why Your Child Isn’t Revising and What To Do About It

One of the most common concerns I hear from parents is that their children just won't start revising. It always comes as a cry for help with so much pent-up frustration. However, there are a number of reasons why your child might not be revising so it's not always easy to give the solution. In this article, I'm going to help you to understand the nine most common reasons that your child isn't revising and let you know what you can do about each of them.

Why your child isn't revising and what to do about it

1) They don't know how to revise

Back in the day, I remember being set the homework, ‘Revise for a test'. However, I had absolutely no idea how to revise for a test other than to read through the notes I had in my exercise book.

If your child doesn't know how to revise they may well be avoiding the issue of revision because they don't want to admit they don't know what they're doing.

What to do about it…

The first question you should ask your child is whether they actually know how to revise. Reassure them that it doesn't make you stupid if you don't know how to revise, it's a skill that you need to learn, just like any other skill.

You then need to help them to get to grips with how to revise. You have three alternatives to help with this:

  • Get them a copy of my Kindle book Revision Quickstart Guide: Get Revising and Learn How to Pass Exams in Just 30 minutes. This is a very quick and practical read designed to get your child confident about how to revise, and actually revising, in the shortest amount of time possible. If you don't have a Kindle, don't worry. You can read Kindle books through the Kindle app on a smartphone or tablet, or even through a laptop or desktop computer.
  • Join The Extraordinaries Club where you'll find three detailed Study Skills modules showing them how to revise in a smart, strategic way that works for them.
  • Or, join one of my very popular Revision Kickstarter Workshops. This is a two-hour online workshop during which I'll teach your child how to revise in the best way for them and they'll come away with a personalised revision plan that works, and can be easily repeated. Find out more here.

2) They're intimidated by the size of the task

Revision can be really overwhelming and intimidating simply because of the size of the task. When you look at piles of exercise books or reams of file paper that contain all of your class notes from one or two years of study anyone can get overwhelmed. In many ways it seems illogical that your child is putting off revising because the size of the task is too big, because you're thinking, the sooner they get started the better they will be able to manage the task. However, what your child is thinking is that they are almost certainly going to fail to get through the whole task and if they're destined to fail what's the point in even starting?

What to do about it…

How do you eat an elephant?

The answer here is to break revision down into bite-sized chunks and to help your child to focus on the areas that they need to revise the most. If you've already got a copy of my book The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Takeyou'll find detailed instructions on how to do this using the red, amber, green system in chapter 8. If you don't have the book you can download the relevant extract of this chapter for free.

In essence, this chapter tells you to download the subject content part of the specification for each subject that your child is studying. Then, go through each line of the specification with a red, amber and green pen marking each thing they need to know with:

  • Red – for things they don't understand or don't know
  • Amber – for things they need to improve on
  • Green – for things that they're very confident about

There is time and space to do this on a Revision Kickstarter Workshop, with my support.

Once they have done this they should focus on the things they've marked in red for their revision, ticking each item off as they go.This will enable them to chunk down the syllabus into smaller parts and also focus their revision on the areas that will make the biggest difference when they go into the exam hall.

3. They think it's too early to start revising

I'm writing/recording this in November. For students who don't take their mocks until January and their actual exams until May or June next year their exams will seem a very long way off. As adults, we know that the less than three whole months until January mocks will go by in the blink of an eye, but sixteen-year-olds still have a very different experience of the passage of time and it will seem like an age to them until their exams.

What to do about it…

You need to somehow persuade your son or daughter of the urgency behind their revision. One of the parents I have worked with did this by creating a colour-coded calendar of the rest of the year for her year 11 son.

She coloured mocks and exams in one colour, holidays in another colour and things like his Spanish exchange trip in a different colour again. When she showed it to her son he could see quite how little time was actually left – even though when you counted on your fingers it was still seven months until his actual GCSE exams began. This approach worked as it got this young man to start taking his revision seriously.

4. They don't believe they need to revise

One parent recently came to me saying that her daughter found exams, revision and all academic work so easy that she didn't believe she needed to revise. Another parent told me that her son has very lofty goals about where he wants to go, but because everyone in his family has achieved similar things, he almost believes it's his birthright and that he won't have to work for it.

These are very dangerous attitudes and symptoms of what is called a fixed mindset. These young people think that because they've been told that they're bright all their lives, got good marks in their work and the people around them are high achievers that it will always be easy for them. It may be the case that things will be easier for longer for these students than for the vast majority, but at some stage, they will need to start putting in some effort and it will be a real shock to them when this happens.

What to do about it

If your child believes that their intelligence will always carry them through then you need to talk to them about the difference between fixed and growth mindsets. A growth mindset is when you believe that you can always improve on your current performance by applying effort in the right way. A fixed mindset is when you believe that it's your destiny to achieve at a certain level and that effort won't make any difference to the outcome. You can find out more about growth mindset in my blog post on the subject.

In a more practical way, you can prove to your child that they don't know what they need to know for their upcoming exams. For example, most English Literature specifications now require students to memorise quotations rather than take a copy of the text into the exam. Most essays will require you to use at least five different quotations (one per paragraph, excluding the introduction and the conclusion). If you have to write three essays in the exam, if it's an A-Level exam, then you'll use a minimum of fifteen quotations in the exam. However, you won't be able to predict which quotations you will need. My guess is that the minimum number of quotations you need per text is fifteen. Multiply this by the number of texts your child is studying and you'll get an idea of how many quotations they need to learn off by heart.

Unless they're used to learning lots of lines for drama I don't think it's possible to learn this number of quotations in the final couple of weeks before an exam. Instead, students need to start early, learning between three and five per week from as early as possible in their course e.g. the beginning of year ten. I have a detailed blog post about how to learn these quotations and it always receives a spike in web traffic about five days before the GCSE English Literature exams – these students are leaving learning the quotes far too late. Read that blog post and get your child learning their quotations as early as possible.

This also goes for definitions and other factual information that your child will just need to memorise. This might come to them more easily in some subjects than others. For example, I always found it easy to remember dates in history but couldn't for the life of me remember the equations I needed to know for trigonometry in maths.

Go through the specification for each subject and help your child to identify the factual information that they just need to know and start helping them to learn it now, rather than trying to unsuccessfully cram it right at the very last minute.

5. They don't believe that revising will make any difference

In contrast to the students who believe that they're destined to great things and they, therefore, don't need to revise, some students believe that there's no point in revising because whatever they do they'll get a terrible grade anyway.

I saw this with a coaching client that I worked with last year. She was a second-year university student and had come to believe that there was no point in studying because it would reflect even more badly on her if she had tried and still failed.

It took a year to get her to change her thinking on this but she did start to see that if she studied in the right way she would see better results.

What to do about this

Help your child understand how they need to revise to make a real difference to their grades. What I'd suggest here is that they think hard about how they learn most successfully. There's an exercise to help them do this in chapter eight of my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take. You can get the relevant exercise for free when you download the free extract of the book that I mentioned earlier on.

The other thing I would recommend is getting your child to do revision power hours so that they are practicing their exam technique and really beginning to understand how examiners want to see them answering questions. This technique is transformational for many students.

6. Your child is too easily distracted

As one parent wrote on Facebook, “[My son] rushes his homework and watches YouTube videos for hours. It’s a matter of chasing him round the room to get him off it. At other times he pretends he is working but playing a game on his laptop.” One of the students on my study skills course that I worked with, admitted that he gets home from school and instead of getting on with his homework, watches Netflix for hours. Other students I've met in schools say they spend hours on their phones before starting homework or revision.

What to do about it

The first thing you need to do is draw up a study schedule and decide on routines that make this happen for your child. We think in detail about how to make this work, particularly for less motivated students, in Module 3 of The Extraordinaries Club.

Once you've created the routine, read my blog post 7 Smart Strategies to Turn Distractions into Incentives and Get Your Revision Done.

The principle behind this post is that you turn distractions into incentives. So, for example, if your son loves Xbox, let them know that they have to get two hours of homework and 30 minutes of revision done before they're allowed an hour on their Xbox at the end of the day. Effectively, they're earning a reward for their hard work.

When I explain this change in psychology to students when I'm speaking in schools I usually get an ‘Ahhh!' from the room as the penny drops!

7. They're too busy doing other things

Your child might have a packed weekly schedule full of things like DofE, flute lessons, band practice, dance club, drama, rugby practise etc. etc. Or, they might just be too busy procrastinating by taking too long creating their revision timetable. In either case, they simply haven't got enough time left in their week to start revising.

What to do about it

My advice is that every GCSE student should be doing 1.5 hours of out of class study (homework + revision) every week. A Level students should be doing 5-6 hours per subject per week outside of class. If your child isn't doing this then you need to help them to make a weekly schedule.  Check out my blog post on the subject, refer to chapter 4 of The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take or sign-up to The Extraordinaries Club to get my support with this.

If it is simply impossible to fit all the hours into their week that I recommend then some difficult choices need to be made about their out of school activites. I strongly believe that it's healthy to keep going with some sport and social activities throughout revision and exam season, but if it's literally impossible to fit all the necessary study time in then something will have to give.

If your child is a master procrastinator you need to give them a reality check. Overly detailed planning of revision is a waste of time in my view, and anything beyond having a weekly routine and RAGging their specification (see above) is too much planning in my view. Ultimately, they need to understand that procrastination is a choice and probably a symptom of one of the other things I've discussed here today e.g. believing that the task of revision is just too big and daunting to even start. For more on procrastination see chapter 4 of The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Takeand page 52.

8. They don't know why they're taking these exams anyway

For some students, they won't see the point in expending effort on revision because they don't see where it's going to take them in life. These students are usually the ones who haven't identified a goal or dream for the next step, where or what they want to study at university or what career they'd like to pursue.

What to do about it

Motivation is a very deep subject. It really starts at an early age when you, as a parent, start to expose your child to the different possibilities for them in their life. However, at this point in time you can check out my blog post on motivation or read chapter 1 of my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take, and do the exercises related to this chapter.

9. They're spiting you

Now, this really isn't a very nice reason to end on, but I have come across students who simply refuse to revise because they want to spite you. When you break this down a bit further it usually turns out there's been both a breakdown in communication between parent (or teacher) and child and there are too many strong personalities involved who simply refuse to give in.

What to do about it

As a parent, you need to be a grown up if you suspect that this is what's going on. If you know you've got a very strong and stubborn personality and have a tendency to be a bit authoritarian in your approach you need to think about how you can change your ways, open up communication with your child so that it's more productive and make steps forward. This might mean that you have to swallow your pride. I often find that the first step in this approach is to have a deep and meaningful with you child explaining exactly why you want them to study – that it's not for your own glory when they get amazing results – but that you care about them making the best of the opportunities in front of them so they can lead a happy and fulfilling life. You maybe even need to apologise for your approach in the past and talk to your child about how you plan to change and what they'd like to see from you in the future.

You can rebuild your relationship and help your child to succeed in their studies at the same time. The key is to make sure that, first and foremost, your child knows that you love them and that anything like exam results come second for you, after your love for them.

In conclusion

I hope this podcast/blog post has helped you to see that the reasons that your child isn't revising aren't necessarily straightforward. However, it gives you something to work with so that you (and they) can start breaking down the barriers to revision.

If you know you need some support from outside the family to get your son or daughter over the initial hurdle of starting to revise, my Revision Kickstarter Workshops are a great place to start. Find out more here. If there isn't one happening right now, there are recordings of previous ones inside The Extraordinaries Club which you can watch at any time if you're a member.

Useful links

My book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take.

Ten Steps to Exam Success download.

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