Improving your child's academic performance can be as simple as tuning into your child, finding the key to their motivation and engagement, then establishing good routines.
UNSW's Professor of Educational Psychology Andrew Martin is an expert in academic performance, specialising in student motivation, engagement and achievement. His approach simplifies for parents how to increase their child's academic performance.
"In broad terms, they need to separate a student's learning and achievement into their 'will' and their 'skill'," says Professor Martin. "If you take the 'will' part of the equation, you're referring to the student's motivation, which can include things such as self-confidence, persistence and how much they value that subject. On the flip side is anxiety or fear of failure as de-motivating factors."
To boost a student's motivation, he advises identifying the specific part of motivation that needs attention, then taking specific actions to help – for example, if they're having trouble with persistence, look at what roadblocks might be removed to stop them giving up.
He says the more specific you can be about the part of motivation that needs work, the more concrete your advice to them can be, which is more effective than just saying, "Mate, you need to be more motivated!"
On the other side is the "skill" of the student – things such as reading ability, capacity to organise themselves and subject specific skills. Again, focusing on the specific problem is the key to improvement.
"Take reading: if your child has trouble it might be that they don't live in an environment where books are valued, or it might be that they have an issue such as dyslexia – you always need to drill down," advises Professor Martin.
It's also important to have a set place and time to study, rather than an ad-hoc approach to study slotted in somewhere on the kitchen table in the middle of busy family life.
"Routine is a child and adolescent's best friend, it's where mental health lies, so the more you can develop a routine early in primary school the better," says Professor Martin.
Routine is also important when it comes to technology use, but we're still in uncharted territory when it comes to technology and its effects on academic performance.
"The implementation of technology has raced far ahead of research and evaluation," says Professor Martin, "but, the results are trickling in and excessive screen time is not – on the most part – conducive to learning."
Excessive screen use is hard to define and can vary from child to child and age to age. The general rule of thumb is that if screen use impairs healthy engagement and functioning, then it's excessive.
To deal with the stress of exams, create routines, build in good sleep habits, exercise and a healthy diet. The more predictability and structure to the study day, the less stress is caused.
Most important, though, is to define success in your child's terms and with a growth approach to achievement – aiming for personal bests and learning to view mistakes and failure as a window to improve.
"If parents define success in terms of personal best, rather than expecting perfect scores," says Professor Martin. "You watch those kids become motivated and their academic performance increase!"