help your teen fulfil their potential
MyTutor for Parents

5 expert-led learning hacks to help your teen fulfil their potential

All teens learn differently and at different speeds. But, there are some techniques that will help information stick and solidify their learning.

Here, we ask Professor Barbara Oakley, a world-renowned educator, for her top 5 learning hacks to help your teen fulfil their potential.

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1. Help knowledge stick with ‘retrieval practices’

The best way for teens to learn a new topic is by ‘retrieving’ that information. ‘When you’re first learning something, links are forming between the neurons in your brain,’ Barbara explains. ‘The more you retrieve that learning – the stronger the links become.’ 

So, if your teen has just learned about an important scientific process in Biology, they can make that information stick with memory activities. These could include flashcards, practice tests, or quick-fire quizzes, and they can do these with someone else or alone. Repeating these study techniques helps make the links even stronger.

2. Don’t skip the breaks

Breaks are important in making learning stick. ‘Short study breaks are actually vital for the part of the brain that stores new information,’ says Barbara, ‘The best way to organise study time is by using the Pomodoro technique.’

It’s really simple: you turn off all distractions, set a timer for 25 minutes of focused study, and have a 5-minute break once the timer goes off. That makes one Pomodoro round. Barbara recommends doing three over the course of a study session. 

And during their breaks, try to encourage your teen to avoid scrolling on their phones. It doesn’t give their brain a rest. Instead, petting the cat/dog, having a snack or stretching works best.

3. Encourage them to study in different places

‘This can help refresh your teen’s brain and boost their memory,’ explains Barbara. If they normally study in their room, help them set up in the kitchen or a quiet corner of the house. 

They could also use different places for different types of learning, and this can boost learning connections in their brain. For example, they could create their mind maps at the kitchen table, and keep the school library for focused past paper practice. These types of hacks will help your teen fulfil their potential.

4. Try small rewards for learning milestones

Rewarding your teen for learning might sound counterintuitive but if they’re struggling it may help. ‘My daughter wasn’t a big reader in school. To encourage her along, I’d give her little rewards every time she finished reading a book. 

‘Over time, it was easier for her to read and get into a book. She eventually became internally motivated,’ says Barbara. 

Starting with small rewards – like pocket money or a treat on the weekend – can help them get over their fear of difficult subjects and become more self-motivated in the long run.

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5. Use breathing to stay calm in stressful moments

As we all know, exams can bring on stress. If your teen feels panic when they’re revising or during an exam, Barbara recommends they try ‘box breathing.’ Breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, and breathe out for five seconds. 

‘When you get very nervous you do shallow, panicked breathing. And it doesn’t give you the oxygen you need.’ Practising this deep breathing technique a few days or even weeks before exams will help your teen relax. 

If they feel panicked in the exam hall, using this technique can help them refocus and remember what they’ve revised too.   

Feeling inspired by these learning hacks? You can watch our full webinar with Prof Barbara Oakley here.

And if you think your teen might benefit from the support of a tutor, find the right tutor for them here.

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