I wrote this article a few years ago and have tweaked it each year. Leading into the holiday period is so important to get you rested and prepared for the VCE exams…this year I have decided to re-post it earlier so hopefully you get some more time to put things into practice before the holiday period…cheers, Heath
It never ceases to amaze me that VCE students, despite the goodwill and good intentions of well meaning teachers, parents and friends do not know how to prepare appropriately for this all important September school “holiday” period.
I’ve written about the topics of holiday homework before in what is a working school holiday and during the mid-year break when I told you not to “drop the ball” during the VCE school holidays. This time around it is more important than ever to have a plan as soon as possible, even if you aren’t aiming for a high ATAR score this year.
Based on discussions with my students and students I tutor I have found the following issues students face during this September school holiday period:
1. Some teachers (and indeed some students) have an unrealistic expectation about what can be achieved during the September school holiday period.
Some well intentioned teachers can overload students to the point where students are forced to sacrifice one subjects study over all others. One of my students remarked that he had been told that he needed to complete 30 specialist maths practice exams before the exams (of which most had to be completed during these school holidays)!
When this unrealistic, and quite frankly absurd, workload is placed upon students across multiple subjects the end result is always a stressed out, burnt out and de-motivated student. Not exactly the ideal recipe for vce exam success, is it?
2. Should I relax or should I study?
Students, like teachers, … like everyone I know needs to have a break every now and again to refresh and recharge the batteries to continue to work hard and chase goals. The PE students and athletes amongst us should remember the concept of “over-training” or “burnout” which is experienced by athletes who try and do too much training without sufficient rest and recovery. The same can be said for the weary VCE student who continues on without allowing for sufficient rest and recovery time. Do so at your peril !
The student who does very little all holidays will lose 2 things over the next 2 weeks of school holiday:
1. self belief
2. and the desire to work hard for any goal when school resumes
Typically a student will feel that they are “too far behind” to catch up and give up within the first few weeks of Term 4.
3. Why can’t I motivate myself?
Part of the I can’t get motivated issue is due , in part, to “burnout” as described above, but it is largely an issue with goal setting. A major challenge for many students is that they still don’t know what they want to do next year and beyond – that’s seriously OK. I discussed the steps to VTAC success earlier but most students should have consolidated either in their mind or with their VTAC application, the desired course or path beyond their VCE.
So what is the solution to these 3 common issues?
Like avoiding overtraining in sport you need to set up an individualised training (study) program; find a compelling goal, make a plan and stick to the plan.
How to make a “holiday study plan”:
1. Get a study planner (of course!)
2. Determine how long you need to initially recharge the batteries.
For me, after a long term, if I don’t look at work for 2 days I am chomping at the bit ready to go again (typically after a weekend off). Each person is different and only you really know how long you really need off to take a breather. For some people it is a day, others it is 3. Depending upon how you felt in the last week of Term 3 it could be 3 or 4 days off. Once you have determined the appropriate length of time then block out that time on a study planner. I would suggest a maximum of no more than 5 days…otherwise you will struggle to get back into study!
3. Remind yourself of what you are aiming for by revisiting your goals.
The reason we need to revisit your goals is that setting up a study plan is contingent upon what you are aiming to achieve. Students who are aiming to pass their VCE will obviously have a different level of commitment than a student who is aiming for an ATAR score of 90.
4. Calculate your mental endurance for each study session and work that into your plan.
As you can see by the image your ability to recall information is the greatest at the very start and at the end of a study session. You need to try to find the optimum duration that you can study for, and effectively. For most people 45-50 minutes is a good starting point. If you were to try and study the same subject for 2 hours without a break you can see that the large majority of the time you would be absorbing/learning/revising very little.
50 minutes is usually the best. Add in 5 minutes for a quick review of what you have done (very important for memory consolidation) and then a 5 minute break you have slotted in some meaningful study into a 1 hour block.
5. How many study sessions per day, per week and over the holiday?
This again will be dependant upon what you want to get through over the holidays and how much break you need/want to have. Some students like the routine of working a normal school day and having nights and weekends off. The fact is you must have time off at nights and the better part of the weekends. Memory consolidation (ie – the ability to remember what you have just learnt) is best when you have some time off to “process” what you have learned.
I would recommend at least one hour per day for each subject per weekday. If you have 5 subjects that’s 5 sessions of course. If you are a super high achiever or wanted to do more you could do a 6th or 7th session per day or add in a whole day on the weekend (or a half day). No more! Re-reading of English texts I usually don’t include in this time, so read at night or on weekends.
Here’s what I would recommend based on having a 3 day break at the start of the holidays, studying 5 subjects and wanting to have some time off during the days for exercise etc.
Depending on how much you procrastinate will determine how you structure the session – some people will choose not to have the break after lunch because they won’t be able to “get back into it” after such a long break. Structure the session as you see best.
8.30am – 9.30am: Easy subject (1) (something which is relatively enjoyable/favourite to get you into the “mood” for studying).
9.30am – 10.30am: Harder subject (2)
10.30am – 11 am = break
11am – 12 noon: easy subject (3)
12 noon – 1pm: hard subject (4)
1pm – 1.30: lunch
1.30 to 3.30: training / down time, reading etc.
3.30 – 4.30pm: easy subject (5)
4.30 – 5.30pm: hard subject (6)
Night – off
If you repeat this session from Tues – Fri (1st week) and Mon-Fri (2nd week) you will have a total of:
9 days of study totalling 54 sessions (hours). This equates to roughly 11 hours per subject.
I know what you’re thinking…how can I do this many sessions when I have catch up classes at school and practice exams. Easy! Simply allocate the time from the study sessions to the practice exam or revision class. For example: 11 hours for English – 3 hours of practice exam = 8 hours at home revision. Also what if you want to do something during the day with friends when you would normally be studying? Simply block out some time that night to complete the sessions that you would have missed – that way you are still keeping up with your quota.
6. Where should you start your revision?
Some people subscribe to the theory that you need to go back to page 1 of Chapter 1 and begin re-reading your text book. Others subscribe to the theory that you need to start completing practice exams right now. I disagree with both strategies for the following reasons. 1. You won’t have time to review the entire text in preparation for the exam and 2. You can complete practice exams but if there are gaps in your knowledge then it won’t be an accurate reflection on what you do and do not know. Better off spending most of your holidays reviewing and revising your knowledge before you begin practice exams.
What I recommend is as follows:
Either A) Use your text book as the basis for each of your revision sessions (ie – 12 chapters = 12 x 1 hour sessions to review the content within) or B) use the examination criteria as the basis for your revision plan. You can find the exam criteria in the assessment handbook at the VCAA website for each respective subject. Any good textbook will have an outline of the key knowledge and key skills that are assessable on any end of year exam so review that as well to assist.
What you might do is spend 1 hour on reviewing the Chapter 1 SAC prep notes, sac review sheets, summary books/text guides, powerpoints etc which have already summarised the content for you. DON’T REINVENT THE WHEEL. The SAC’s are designed to help you prepare for the end of year exam so use the preparation resources you have created as well as the feedback to improve your knowledge and performance.
Additionally you could spend another 30 mins to an hour practicing the application of your understanding by completing end of chapter questions or re-attempting challenging SAC questions etc.
So where to from here?
Your challenge now your on your extended weekend break is to plan out what needs to be done these holidays according to the schedule you have set out. This balanced approach WILL WORK. Don’t wait for the mood to strike you before you start studying – you and I both know it simply will not happen.
Find a quiet place to study with natural light and good air flow, set up the study plan for the 2 week holidays and then get started. You may also want to add a reminder/goals above your desk so you can remind yourself what you are aiming to achieve and why you should be sticking to the timetable these school holidays.
Remember – hard work always pays off in the end! I wish you the best of good luck and good management.
To your VCE success and beyond,
Please leave your thoughts, comments and questions below.