Updated: Jul 24, 2020
The below are some humble ruminations on whether or not it is a good idea to get ahead over the long and well-deserved summer break.
Ultimately, I believe it is a personal decision to be made together between student and parent, but I hope this will offer a starting point for a conversation.
I believe that there are three compelling reasons to go ahead over summer:
1) Deepening understanding
There's a significant difference between (a) managing to cram information into your head by hook or by crook, and (b) actually understanding concepts. Understandably, (a) is sometimes a necessary evil in the lead-up to exams, and, at certain levels (like GCSE), it can sometimes be enough to achieve mediocre grades.
But the beauty of summer-study is...*drum roll*... it doesn't have to be like that! Yes, summer is the perfect opportunity to sit down calmly and really get acquainted with your subjects. Ultimately, this can lead to a greater enjoyment of the subject in hand (because, let's face it, no-one enjoys cramming) and allow for a chance to develop real, transferable skills that will help with success in later life (as opposed to exam-fuelled cramming!)
2) The opportunity to learn in a more relaxed environment
All year long students have the words 'GRADES' and 'EXAMS' looming ominously in capital letters in the back of their mind. This can lead to students conflating two very different things—pressure and learning—which, in turn, can lead to a loss of the love of learning.
Not many people like dealing with pressure and stress, and, sadly, even the most seemingly-relaxed students will undergo some. Studying over summer—a period in which exams are a far-off and distant worry—is the perfect opportunity for everyone to remind themselves that it's nice to learn things simply because... well, it's fun!
3) Easing pressure on the upcoming year
Some students will be fine to keep up with the pace of school throughout the academic year; others may find it a constant battle just to tread water. If there is a risk of a student falling into the latter case, that student should see the summer as an incredibly opportunity to distribute the workload of the hard, academic challenges set to face them in the upcoming year.
Note: Students entering year 13 should think particularly carefully about the above: University (particularly to the US) applications can be incredibly time-consuming. As such, it is very possible that at some point during this year you studies may take a backseat. That's quite a big deal seeing as year-13 will involve the hardest and most important exams to date. So, it goes without saying that being ahead of the game is a clear advantage for the year-13 group.
For those who are undertaking the IB, I would hasten to point out the copious amount of essays you will be expected to finish in the final year. Just remember: There's a difference between knocking up a first draft and actually perfecting, finishing, and handing in an essay. This will, without a doubt, be the biggest year in terms of workload you will face... spreading it out across the summer is no bad idea here.
I believe that there are two evident (albeit small) disadvantages to getting ahead over the summer:
1) Summer is to be enjoyed
You're only young once right!? And if you've worked yourself to the bone across the year you deserve a break don't you?
Yes, you do... you really do! And as they say: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
But just remember there is absolutely space to enjoy yourself over the summer and still learn something on the side, in a fun a and relaxed way. Just see Schroedinger's Squirrel for proof:
2) Risk of boredom in following academic year
I think this is an important aspect to consider for some students and some situations.
For example, I don't consider it a necessarily worthwhile venture teaching the next year's maths curriculum to a very capable year 9. I mean, to what end? They're going to learn it in school next year anyway, and if they're capable then they shouldn't find it too difficult!
In my opinion, it is far more beneficial for such a student to use the summer to look at more difficult problems on topics they've already covered (e.g. UKMT-style questions which require very little 'maths knowledge' but still prove extremely challenging). Consequently, they may finally have the opportunity to develop true problem-solving abilities (rather than a copy-and-repeat style of learning that lots of early maths curriculums tend toward).
In conclusion, I think there is always a place for summer-study, and, with the correct guidance, it can prove incredibly valuable. The opportunity to learn in a more relaxed environment across this period should not be underestimated—it is an incredible opportunity to encourage a love of learning and really deepen a student's understanding.
I don't always believe that soaring ahead with next year's material is the wisest way to cash in on the summer, though there are certainly cases in which I do: students heading into year-13; students heading into their first year of university; students feeing swamped by the previous year's workload.
Whatever decision you make, summer should be enjoyed! There's no reason why learning/studying can't turn be an enriching element of that enjoyment.