How to help your dyslexic teen do their best in exams

Today it’s thought that 1 in 10 people suffer from dyslexia. When a dyslexic child hits their teens, and therefore exams, it’s normally an extra challenge for them to keep up with their peers (who are also being pushed) while also working through the learning difficulties it presents. Many successful people have dyslexia, and chef Jamie Oliver even claims it’s a superpower. But for kids trying to keep up at school, those with dyslexia are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and low motivation than their peers.

It has no bearing on intelligence, but without the right help and support, kids with dyslexia can fall behind and convince themselves that they’re destined to fail. They often just need to explore different ways of learning – perhaps more so than other kids – until they find something that works best.

With the right help, dyslexic teens can excel just as well as their peers. It takes extra organisation and extra effort though, which can feel unfair to them. By celebrating everything else that they’re good at – whether it’s sport, art, music, cooking – you can help them enjoy learning and stay motivated all the way through exams.

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If your teen’s struggling with dyslexia, it can be hard to know what to do

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is understood as a reading disorder, where people struggle with reading irrespective of their intelligence. It also comes in many different forms and affects people in hugely varying degrees. Someone with dyslexia will tend to struggle with “sounding out” words in their head or out loud, with spelling, and they can often read letters and numbers the wrong way around. People with dyslexia can still excel in academic subjects, given the right help. They’re are also often very strong in other areas – creative, physical, musical and social. If your teen needs some encouragement, here’s a list of some of the most successful people who have dyslexia (spoiler: one of them’s Einstein!)

Signs of dyslexia in teens

Here are some of the effects of dyslexia, and its tell-tale signs:

  • They find it difficult to read aloud or copy out text
  • They have particularly bad spelling, with some letters or numbers written the wrong way around
  • They find it hard to concentrate when reading or doing homework
  • They write slowly, and struggle to finish tests in the time set
  • They get very anxious about studying, and avoid it as much as possible
  • They get in trouble at school for not listening or falling behind
  • They struggle to finish tests and exams in the set time
  • They struggle with short-term memory

It’s also possible to have one or several of these symptoms and not have dyslexia, so don’t jump to a conclusion without getting a professional diagnosis. It can also have the same symptoms as long-sightedness, short-sightedness, or ADHD, so pinpointing the source of the issue before taking action is really important.

If you think your child might have dyslexia, the first thing to do is ask their school to test them. Every school is legally required to have a “SENCO” or a Special Educational Needs Coordinator, and they will be the one best placed to help. It can often be a huge relief for kids to be diagnosed as dyslexic – they’ll often feel “I always thought I was stupid, but my brain just works in a different way”.

It can be a huge relief for kids to be diagnosed as dyslexic – they’ll often feel “I always thought I was stupid, but my brain just works in a different way”.

School support

If your child gets diagnosed with dyslexia, this means their teachers can be told that they need extra help. They will also be eligible for extra support outside class (if the school has the resources) and extra time in exams. If you’re concerned about making sure your child gets the right level of support, it’s a good idea to arrange a meeting with your child’s Head of Year or guidance teacher – as well as raising it with individual subject teachers at parents’ evening.

Home study for teens with dyslexia

Throughout the academic year, your teen should take extra care to make sure that they’re keeping up with classroom learning. No one wants to get to exam time and have to catch up on months’ worth of learning, and especially not if they need to put extra time in.

As a parent, encouraging organisation and keeping a keen eye on how they’re doing can stop them from burying their head in the sand if they are struggling at all.

While classroom learning needs to be one-size-fits-all to an extent, the way your child studies at home can be personalised to them. No matter how challenging school gets, if home is a safe space where they feel comfortable and encouraged, they’re much more likely to keep a positive association with learning and stay on-track. Here are some tricks for making your home a dyslexia-friendly environment:

  1. Find reading they enjoy
  2. Personalise their learning
  3. Keep a dedicated study space

1. Find reading they enjoy

Even for teens without reading problems, the books on the school syllabus don’t always strike up passion. If your child can find books they find exciting, they can spark enthusiasm and help them improve their reading skills. Whether it’s crime fiction, graphic novels, books about artists or a book of jokes, encouraging them to find books they’re excited to pick up can be a big help.

2. Personalise their learning

People with writing dyslexia often learn best by using learning styles other than staring at a book and copying things out. For example, visual learning is remembering information better by creating mind maps and illustrations.

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Auditory learning is where students pick up information by listening – if they have speech dyslexia then this sort of learning can be especially helpful for them. For example, they’ll respond well to having things explained to them by a person in front of them; in their own time they can also use audiobooks or watch videos to help them learn.

illustration-auditory-learner

Physical learning is when their body is engaged, not just their mind. This could mean writing out equations in the air, or using repeated actions to signify acronyms or key dates. Get your child to try a few different methods out and find what works best for them. Read more about different learning styles here.

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3. Keep a dedicated study space

It goes for all teens when they hit their exam years, but especially for kids with dyslexia, keeping an organised desk space in a quiet corner of the house is key. This is the place they’ll keep their books, notepads, timetable and pens – everything they use to learn. Especially if they suffer with anxiety at all, having a space at home where they know they can sit down and concentrate can make a big difference to how well they can study. Read more about how to make your home a revision-friendly environment here

Exam prep for teens with dyslexia

Exam time can be especially scary for teens with dyslexia. As well as the pressure that all teens feel to get good results, dyslexic kids have an extra challenge. But with a systematic approach that’s tailored to them, they can do just as well (or better!) than their peers. If they’ve been officially diagnosed and got everything sorted with the school, they should have extra time to finish their exams, and possibly the use of a laptop in the exam too. For revision time, here are some tips to help dyslexic teens make it through so they can nail their exams:

  1. Study with someone
  2. Get organised
  3. Take regular breaks
  4. Boost their confidence
  5. Celebrate what they’re good at
  6. Get some extra help

1. Study with someone

Often kids with dyslexia work best in a social setting i.e. not sitting on their own with their books. You could help them organise different study buddies a couple of days a week. This gives teens the chance to test each other and help each other out with tricky topics. If their school offers afternoon or holiday study clubs, this can be another effective way to learn in small groups. If they’ve got an older sibling, cousin or family friend who sat the same exams, see if they’re able to help with revision too.

2. Get organised

Avoid any last-minute panics by helping your teen be as well-organised as possible. Start with an exam timetable, a revision timetable and folders with all of their subject syllabuses printed and sorted. This will help them make sure they pace themselves and go over every topic they need to for exams.

3. Take regular breaks

If your child is working extra hard to revise their course material and push through their reading difficulties, it can be tiring. By weaving in regular breaks to their studying – every 45 mins (more or less depending on what works for them), they’ll feel less daunted when they sit down to start, and more likely to get through everything they need to work on that day.

4. Boost their confidence

Even with the tricks and tools up their sleeve, teens with dyslexia are more likely to suffer from low confidence and anxiety at exam time. As a parent, by regularly reminding them that dyslexia has nothing to do with their intelligence, and that you’re proud of them no matter what results they get, you can help reverse some of these fears. Reminding them of the many high achievers who have dyslexia can also do a lot to reassure them.

5. Celebrate what they’re good at

It’s also worth reminding your teen that reading and academic study are only one part of life, and there are lots of other things they can be good at. Your child might be really good at sport, at art, building things, cooking – whatever they’re good at and enjoy will help them feel proud of themselves. This can do a lot to undo the attack on confidence that dyslexia can have in school. If they don’t have a passion yet, be on the lookout and let them try new things out from time to time until they find something that sparks excitement.

6. Get some extra help

With the extra organisation and work that gets asked of teens, a one-to-one tutor can be the best way to provide the support they need – especially for those kids who need a little extra help. A tutor can be a lifeline for kids with topics they’re behind on. If they struggle with something in class that day, a tutor can go over everything they need at their own pace. They can focus specifically on boosting confidence, and they can also help out with making a revision timetable and revision notes that fit their learning style. With MyTutor, all tutors are from top UK universities, so they’re young role models to teens. Because they sat the same exams as your teen just a few years ago, they’re also really good at explaining things in a way that kids understand.

We’ve seen lots of success stories with dyslexic teens using MyTutor ahead of exams. One parent, Vicky, told us,

“My daughter is very dyslexic and has processing difficulties. She was predicted an E at A level and got a C. The one-to-one tutor is what gave her the time to explore the things she didn’t quite get first time, to go over stuff that was covered quickly at school, and most importantly it gave her the belief she could do it.”

If you’d like to find a one-to-one tutor to help your dyslexic child, book in a call with one of our tutor experts – they will listen to your needs and help you find the perfect tutor.  

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