”Why the hell am I learning this”?
Staring at my high school revision on crude oil distillation, I’m sure this is chemistry at its most anecdotal. It’s so hard to force information into your brain when learning it feels useless!
Since there is often no direct motivation for learning something at school, passing exams becomes a ‘second-order’ problem. You learn information, so you can obtain a piece of paper, which is either the merit of an awarded grade or an access pass to something else, e.g. college. This is what happens later, not as a direct and immediate benefit to learning it. Feeling close to the results of diligent revision is then, often removed.
This is a problem. How do you create some urgency, so that there is a direct consequence for the learning you need to do today? Let’s introduce some social approaches to creating accountability.
Why does this type of accountability work?
We’re scared of loss, it’s wired into us to give more weight to it than any similar gains.
Scientists call it ‘loss aversion’. We can use this to manufacture ways of jolting your teenager so they feel an immediate consequence of not revising. Equally, revision can be a lonely activity. The methods below will help you to work socially but without goofing off together.
1 - Gofuckingdoit
Gofuckingdoit is a website that allows you to pledge an amount of £25,£50,£100,£250 or £1000 as a penalty for not reaching a target on an agreed date.
Losing money activates an area of the brain involved in responding to fear and pain, so it accesses the very deep level of emotion we need to leverage to create action. If you’re the typical teenager without a trust fund, this makes it even more painful and acts as a strong incentive. Say you’ve made summer plans that are at stake because you won’t be able to afford to pay for that holiday with your friends, risking this is a concrete reason to start revising today.
WARNING: Don’t try this for grade attainment. Train your teenager to feel rewarded for following processes, i.e. how much revision they do. Outcomes are variable, but we can always create focus around where we actually have control!
2 - Social accountability
Teenagers are biologically tuned to care more about what their friends think. By simply putting yourself out there publicly with your revision, it makes our primitive brain release a primary hormone, Serotonin, which is released when we get respect from others. How do you use this to create accountability? Here are some ideas:
1. Send snippets of your revision to your friends on Snapchat.
This also makes you use active recall. You’re on the spot when on camera, so your brain has to work harder to recall the memory of your learning while being conscious that this is being shared. Swap with your friend so they send you a Snap of what they’re revising, and keep alternating.
A good friend will go the extra mile and ask you a few questions back on your Snap to help you test your learning!
2. Make a friendly bet with your best friend.
If you don’t get your target grade in a key subject, they get to choose your Instagram profile photo for a whole month. Or, who is the football team you hate with a passion? You have to wear their shirt and publicly declare your allegiance to them on Snapchat.
You clearly must have a lot of trust with this friend so that they won’t abuse it, but good friends can be healthily competitive with you.
3 - Focusmate
Focusmate is a platform with an open calendar where professionals can connect, share what they are working on, and then leave their cameras open, so that they know someone is there with them for the time they really need to focus on a task.
I use this app and it’s fantastic for creating accountability, since you’ll be talking to the person at the end of the session to share how you have got on. While you’re unlikely to use this as a teenager, it would be really easy to share your email calendar, or set up a shared one with a small group of your friends?
Save this for a topic that is a grind to get through and see how effective it is for getting you through the boredom.
4 - A coach
Coaching is great for a couple of reasons:
1) Getting you to a deeper ‘why’ for doing something.
If you’re looking for some motivation, this is the best possible way to create a burst of it in time or exam season.
By the time exam periods come around and ask any teenager, they’re done with the constant nagging from teachers to buckle down. An alternative voice is useful, especially when it helps you come back to your bigger reason for being in the world rather than banging the same drum about revision.
Ultimately, whether you’re going through school, or a different phase in your life, this is something to always weave into daily life. Finding your north star helps you recognise that school is part of the journey to a bright future.
2) Metacognition skills
If your school is up-to-date on modern learning techniques, they will teach you this, but it’s not something all teachers know about. I work with students to find personalised approaches that work for them. Studies show that this can add up to 16% performance improvement over the general methods school teach your child, i.e. the difference between an A or B, B or C, etc.
Motivation really sucks
Motivation is one of the poorest ways to get yourself through the revision period.
Dealing with boredom and bridging first to second-order thinking in life are actually high-level adult skills. Exam periods are the first major challenges that a lot of teenagers go through, and there is no reason you shouldn’t gamify or create variety in how you go about handling the situation.
As you’re not in the thick of it, use the upcoming exam period to train your teenager’s skill development. It will benefit them massively in the future.
Help your teenager take the pain out of exams - Let’s talk!