Are practice exams really worth doing?

One of the most common study tips for exam revision is for learners to do practice exams. These practice exams could be past papers that your school has used, past papers from the Department of Education or even practice exam questions such as the ones found in the Ace it! study guides.

We have recommended doing practice exams for all of the different learning styles, as they are a great way to get an understanding of what you can expect in the exams. For visual learners, they are a good way to write out what you know in a format that will suit the exam. For auditory learners, they present an opportunity to practise channelling what you know into an exam-appropriate format and, for kinaesthetic learners, they are a great way to revise because you’re actually doing something rather than just revising content. This can make the information stick in your mind more clearly.

Aside from this, what are the benefits of doing practice exams as part of your exam revision?

Well, first of all, they are a great way to familiarise yourself with the exam format. Each exam you write will have a predictable format. You need to know what this looks like before you walk into the exam room so that you feel less stressed and anxious. Doing practice exams will help you to understand how the exam will look when it is put in front of you, and it gives you an opportunity to practise answering the questions in a way that will score you the maximum number of marks. Most practice exams come with a memo, which you can use to mark your efforts – this will show you when you’ve answered too little, too much, too broadly or not broadly enough.

Secondly, practice exams can help you to understand the question words. So many learners know the content but fail to understand exactly what the question is asking them to do (this often applies to auditory learners in particular). Examiners are given a very clear marking memo, so it’s essential that you are answering the question correctly – not only in terms of the content but also in terms of what the examiner wants to see. For example, if the question asks you to “List…” you should not write a descriptive paragraph. Working with practice exams and their memos can help you refine this skill.

Lastly, practice exams can help to show up any gaps in your exam revision. You may think that you have covered all of your bases only to find that you actually don’t know enough about a particular topic in order to be able to answer questions on it in the exam. It’s essential that you build in time on your study timetable to do practice exams. Try to avoid doing this the day before the actual exam though, because that will not give you enough time to self-correct and go back to a particular section.

As you can see, practice exams are an essential part of exam revision. That’s why every Ace it! study guide contains practice exam questions.

Eating for success

High school can be a stressful time, which is why we have always advised that you take care of your overall wellbeing. There are plenty of study tips that we can give you to improve your exam revision, but those will only go so far. You also need to be taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing by eating well, exercising and finding time to relax.

Eating well is essential for good health. It’s unnecessary to overthink every bite you put into your mouth but you should understand some basic principles of healthy eating.

You can’t go wrong with plants

Most of your meals should consist of vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, baby marrow, carrots, beetroot, aubergine/eggplant/brinjal, cucumbers, etc. Vegetables are full of important vitamins and minerals to keep your body at optimal health. There are plenty of ways to cook and prepare vegetables, so do some experimenting.

Fruit is also a healthy addition to your diet. Some types of fruit are high in sugar so be careful not to overdo it. Try adding a piece of fruit to your breakfast meal, and one other during the day as a snack. It’s easy to overdo the dried fruit too so, even though it’s delicious, try not to have too often.

Protein: not only for meat-eaters

Protein is essential for the body. It helps to repair and build cells – including brain cells. Protein also tends to keep you fuller for longer, so adding it to meals can prevent hunger pangs, which can be distracting during classes and study sessions, and overeating.

Protein sources include meat, fish, chicken, eggs, dairy products like cottage cheese, and peanut and other nut butters.

If you are vegetarian or vegan (whether for religious, health or moral reasons), you should still be adding protein to your diet in some form. Sources include beans, nut butters, quinoa and lentils.

Carbs are not as evil as their reputation suggests

Carbohydrate-rich foods should be included in your diet in reasonable amounts. These include brown rice, potatoes, wholegrain bread and other wholegrain products and oats.

Avoid processed and sugary carb-heavy foods such as cereals, pastries, biscuits and white breads and pastas.

Healthy fats: Essential for a hardworking teenager

Don’t be afraid to add healthy fats to your meals, as these are essential for optimal brain function. These include avocados, olive oil, coconut oil and nuts.

Unhealthy fats, found in baked and fried foods, as well as sweets and desserts, should be limited and only eaten occasionally as a treat.

Don’t forget about your beverages

It’s important not to forget about what you are drinking on a daily basis. Sugary drinks like sodas should be avoided. Rather reach for clean, fresh water to quench your thirst.

If you feel like something warm, herbal teas are also a good option and better for you than coffees and hot chocolate.

Eating well doesn’t need to be difficult. You simply need to use your common sense and eat to nourish your mind and body.

What to do about those results

When the exams are over and the results are in, you may feel one of two ways about your child’s report card: thrilled or underwhelmed.

If you feel thrilled, then good for you! Clearly your child’s hard work is paying off. However, if you’re not satisfied with the results and can’t help feeling, well, a bit disappointed, it can be difficult to contain these emotions in front of your child.

Here are some tips on how to handle your child’s exam results, whether they are excellent or not so excellent.

Consider how your child is feeling about their poor results

Before you react to your child’s poor exam results, consider how they are feeling. It’s no use piling on the negative sentiment if they’re already a bit down in the dumps. Tell your child that you will need to have a discussion about the results but put it off for one more day. Then spend the day commiserating and just being there for your child. One more day won’t make a difference, and right now your child needs to know that they have your support.

Have a meeting

Set a time and date to meet with your child in a neutral spot, such as the kitchen or dining room table. A coffee shop or restaurant is even better. Once you and your child are settled, ask them to explain to you how they approached their exam revision and where they feel they went wrong. Try not to interrupt and certainly don’t interject with disparaging or negative comments.

If it seems clear that your child put no effort into their exam revision, then you will need to find a way to motivate them to do better. Perhaps this is where trying to find a different approach to studying is a good idea. Explore the possibility that your child is unmotivated because they are struggling to keep up or bored… Investigate study techniques that are suited to different learning styles.

If your child tells you that they tried the best they could, believe them. In a case like this small tweaks to a study routine might be the answer. Ask how the actual exams went – many children do just fine throughout the school year only to find the high-stress exam days challenging. Writing exams is a skill that anyone can learn.

The Ace it! study guides includes information and study tips that can help your child find a study method that works best for them.

Don’t have tunnel vision

Getting a solid education is absolutely essential, there’s no doubt about that. However, it’s not the only marker of success. A child’s self-esteem is sensitive – be proud of the things that your child is good at, and try not to be overly critical about the things that they aren’t so good at.

A child with a good self-esteem can do much better than a child with a low self-esteem.

Your child may be good at sports, have artistic flair or be excellent at working with their hands. Focus on your child’s loyalty, kind heart and good manners. Don’t be so easily frustrated with them; rather focus on how hard they try and how they continue to persevere.

You clearly have big dreams for your child, and this makes you a good parent. Try not to impose your own wishes and dreams onto your child, and to rather help them achieve their own.

Where to find music for studying

The word ‘auditory’ relates to the sense of hearing. We know that people have different learning styles and that people with an auditory learning style learn best through hearing. This means that you’re able to absorb information by listening to it – this works great in a classroom environment where your teacher is explaining the content.

The downside to being an auditory learner is that silence can be distracting! It is almost impossible for an auditory learner to absorb information by sitting in a silent room and reading notes.

Have a look at this blog post with study tips for auditory learners, including starting a study club and studying somewhere where you’re able to make a bit of noise.

If neither of those are options for you, then consider studying with music. Because you’re an auditory learner, you’re bound to be distracted by lyrics and complicated musical compositions so it’s important to find the right music to study to. Think background noise, rather than the main act at a concert.

With a good library of studying music, you can pop your headphones on in a quiet library or room and make it easier to focus. You could even experiment with reserving certain playlists for specific subjects: the familiar music might jog your memory the next time you pick up where you left off.

Here are some tips for choosing the right music to study to (as well as where to look):

  • Choose instrumental music, rather than music that contains vocals.
  • The music should verge on boring. In other words, if you would be unable to listen to the musical piece when you’re not studying, then it’s probably a good bet.
  • That said, you shouldn’t hate the music. Don’t choose something that is completely off-putting – it should make you feel relaxed, not on edge.
  • Classical music by maestros like Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart and Tchaikovsky are a good place to start. If you can’t bear these compositions and want something instrumental but modern, then try musical scores from movies by composers like Hans Zimmer and Thomas Newman.
  • Don’t play it too loud. The music should fade into the background, rather than dominate your thoughts.
  • If you find music distracting then try nature sounds such as the sound of the ocean, whale and dolphin calls, etc. The idea is for the music or the sound to provide white noise so that you aren’t distracted by silence. These nature sounds (often used for meditation) can be very calming and non-intrusive.

Try searching for ‘Study Music’, ‘Meditation Music’, ‘Meditation Sounds’, etc. on Apple Music or YouTube. If you’d prefer music scores, try Hans Zimmer, Thomas Newman, Danny Elfman, Howard Shore and Alexandre Desplat. These are the most famous movie score composers but there are plenty more. Find a few that you like and enjoy!

You’re well on your way to understanding your own unique learning style. Keep experimenting until you find what works for you and there’s no doubt that you’ll ace your exams!

How to ensure your child is using the Internet safely

Your first instinct as a parent is to protect your child from harm. While restricting your child’s screen time (and, most especially, their time on the Internet) makes perfect sense when your child is in pre-primary or primary school, it may not be that easy when they’re in high school.

For one thing, your child needs the Internet to do research. They may also be in a school that encourages the use of technology, including chat groups, social media, email and Internet research in class and at home.

The use of the Internet – including social media – can be a powerful educational tool for your child, especially if they have auditory learning style or a kinaesthetic learning style. In previous blog posts, we have included study tips that require the use of the Internet and, in a future blog post, we will give your child more information on how to use technology for this purpose.

But, first, let’s discuss how you can protect your child and ensure that they grow up to be responsible consumers of online media.

Don’t overestimate your child’s maturity

You have spent many years considering every aspect of your child’s upbringing and education. You worry about their table manners, their willingness to serve their community, their sportsmanship on the field… So why do so many parents neglect to teach their children basic Internet etiquette?

The Internet is a permanent feature in modern life. It’s your responsibility to teach your child some simple rules to ensure that they use it to their advantage in a responsible way. Just like you wouldn’t expect a one-year-old child to understand table manners, you cannot expect a 13-year-old to understand how to use the Internet responsibly without guidance.

Here are some points to discuss with your child:

  • Remember that what you post online becomes public, and is permanent. Think ahead and never post something that could compromise your reputation.
  • Never divulge personal details to anyone online. Personal details include your name, your address, your school, your parents’ names, your pets’ names, your birthday, any banking information or passwords and even what you look like.
  • Don’t use passwords that are too easy to figure out (i.e. passwords that use birthdays, parents’ names, surnames, pets’ names, etc.).

  • Ensure that all of your social media accounts are set to “Private” and that you carefully screen any friend or follow requests.
  • Never – under any circumstances – send a picture or video to anyone of any part of your body: naked or clothed.
  • Report abusive behaviour immediately. Online bullying is a serious problem and is just as, if not more, damaging than playground bullying.
  • On that note, don’t send nasty messages or post malicious rumours or half-truths about anyone online. This is unacceptable behaviour and can have tragic consequences.
  • Remember that what you see on social media is not an accurate reflection of someone’s life – it’s a carefully curated snapshot. Try not to compare yourself to the people you admire online. It’s much more important to live a full and happy life in the real world than to worry about your online persona!

It’s important for this to be an on-going conversation in your family. Allow your children to teach you about new and exciting technologies, apps and social media sites so that you are engaging with these and up-to-date with the latest trends. Build trust so that your child does not feel the need to hide anything from you. If you want to, you can insist that all Internet browsing is done in the family’s study, kitchen or lounge (in other words, no browsing allowed in bedrooms with closed doors).

Lastly, open an account on every platform that your child frequents (even if yours lies dormant) and insist that your child connect, friend, follow or link up with you on those platforms. However (and this is the hard part), resist the urge to snoop too much or too often.

Set all the settings

You have probably activated parental control on your television. Likewise, ensure that all of the Internet browsers at home (on every device) have safety settings activated. Go through the privacy and security settings with your child to check that their email accounts, social media accounts and cloud accounts have the appropriate settings activated.

Make sure that your WIFI at home is protected with a password and that you know how to change it. This can be an effective way to restrict Internet usage, if necessary.

Lastly, ensure that the devices and laptops owned and used by the adults in the house have all of these settings activated too. Resist the urge to allow your Internet browser to save your password for you, or for sites requiring log in details to ‘remember’ you. Make a habit of logging out of your accounts once you are done, and encourage your child to do the same.

Create a list of ‘approved’ sites

Work with your child to create and bookmark a list of ‘approved’ websites. These can include educational sites, YouTube channels and certain social media sites. If you or your child come across or hear about a new website and would like to add it to the list, check it out together and then make a decision.

The point is to teach your child how to be a discerning consumer of online media and information. There is a lot of information on the Internet and it’s not always clear what is true and what isn’t. Encourage your child to think critically about information and its source.

Here is a list to get you started:

YouTube channels worth checking out:

  • Study with Jess
  • CGP Grey
  • MinutePhysics
  • SciShow
  • Numberphile

(A note on Wikipedia: Even though there is evidence to suggest that the information on Wikipedia is reliable because it is crowd-sourced and, therefore, constantly updated and corrected, many teachers are opposed to learners using it as a source for their assignments and will mark them down if it’s cited in their bibliographies. However, your child can still use it to quickly check concepts and facts. They can use the sources cited in the footnotes to point them towards more ‘acceptable’ sources for assignments.)

Technology is more than the web – don’t forget about apps!

There are many applications (apps) available for both Apple and Android devices. Some apps are useful, most are harmless, but some are downright scary. Your child’s device should be linked to your credit card or email account so they should not be downloading apps without your knowledge.

There are many apps on the market that can be very useful for your child (and you), for example planning and scheduling apps like todoist ( and Trello ( Encourage your child to do their research before downloading a paid-for app. Also encourage your child to ‘declutter’ their devices often to avoid sluggish operating systems and a screen full of apps that aren’t being used. Again, caution your child against divulging private information when using apps.

Every family is different. Some are more comfortable with the idea of the Internet as a source of information, while others are still concerned about their children using it unsupervised. The rules and limits you set are up to you and your family. Bear in mind that you have an opportunity to shape your child’s approach to the Internet and their online presence, and that is something that should not be taken lightly.