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Ask Susan: Daughter Studies Hard BUT Does Poorly

Hello Susan

My 5th grade daughter is an above-average reader, her spelling is good, and she studies very hard for tests and exams. She also starts studying for her tests and exams long before the time. Yet, the results are nearly always disappointing. What can I do to help her?



Dear Maggie

I applaud your daughter for her efforts and hope to shed light on her struggles. If your daughter studies hard, has no reading or spelling problem, a poor memory seems like a very possible cause of her poor academic performance.

The brain is a large neural supercomputer that has neurons, firing information and tasks away to each other from one corner to the other. Memory, that was once considered to be like a stack of folders kept in a single place, is now attributed to function in many different parts of the brain.

The main categories of memory are short-term memory (or working memory) and long-term memory, based on the amount of time the memory is stored.

The distinction between short-term memory and working memory is an ongoing debate, and the terms are often used interchangeably. There are scholars who claim that some kind of manipulation of remembered information is needed in order to qualify the task as one of working memory. Repeating digits in the same order they were presented would thus be a short-term memory task, while repeating them backward would be a working memory task.

Long-term memory is our permanent memory storage. To learn and retain information for long periods of time, information must be transferred from our short-term and working memory to our long-term memory.

It is evident from neurological research and clinical experiences that memories remain in long-term storage for a very long time. The problem most people face with long-term memory is not storage, but retrieval; that is, how to recall (or remember) information stored in long-term memory. Before one can answer a question in an exam, the stored information must be retrieved from long-term memory and placed back into short-term or working memory (or consciousness).

When it comes to memory, one’s senses are involved too. Visual memory involves the ability to store and retrieve previously experienced visual sensations and perceptions when the stimuli that originally evoked them, are no longer present. Various researchers have stated that as much as eighty percent of all learning takes place through the eye – with visual memory existing as a crucial aspect of learning. Auditory memory, on the other hand, involves being able to take in information that is presented orally, to process that information, store it in one’s mind and then recall what one has heard. Basically, it involves the skills of attending, listening, processing, storing, and recalling. Sequential memory requires items to be recalled in a specific order. 

Sleep improves memory

There are a number of ways to improve and keep your daughter’s memory sharp. One simple way is to make sure that she gets enough sleep.

Children who do not get enough sleep have been shown to perform more poorly on memory and attention tests.

Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later. In one experiment 26 participants were trained to perform a simple motor task with the left hand; the task involved learning a sequence of five key presses. The participants were split into two groups; one group had an afternoon nap lasting between 60 and 90 minutes after learning the task, while the other remained awake.

The ability of all the participants to perform the task as quickly and as accurately as possible was then tested. In those who had taken a siesta, there was a significant improvement in performance of the task. By contrast, no significant improvement in task performance was observed in the participants who had remained awake.

Memory is not a gift, it’s a skill

The belief that memory can be trained is not new. The Greeks, and later the Romans, developed some of the most prodigious memories the civilized world has ever seen. Memory was ranked as one of the most important disciplines of oratory, a flourishing art at the time. They lived in an age with no paper, so people couldn’t readily refer to notes. Speeches were committed to memory; lawyers depended on their memory in court; and poets, whose role in society was paramount, regularly drew on their enormous powers of recall to recite long passages of verse.

Today, external aids supplant memory. We rely on calculators, cell phones, smart phones, computers and the Internet to assist memory recall, with the result that people get very little training in developing and improving their memory skills. In children, the result can be underachievement in school.

Train your daughter’s memory

Edublox’s Development Tutor is ideal to train you daughter’s memory: visual, auditory, sequential, short-term, working and long-term. As a supplement, and to specifically train her long-term memory, you can use predetermined sequences. She has to learn the sequences by heart. Start with easy ones and gradually make them more and more challenging. Below are three examples.


Nine planets that orbit the sun (in order from the sun):
Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.


NATO phonetic alphabet (International radiotelephony spelling alphabet):
Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu.


U.S. states in alphabetical order:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.



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More about Susan

Susan is an educational specialist in the field of learning problems and dyslexia and has a B.A. Honors in Psychology and B.D. degree from the University of Pretoria. Early in her professional career Susan was instrumental in training over 3000 teachers and tutors, providing them with the foundational and practical understanding to facilitate cognitive development amongst children who struggle to read and write. With over 25 years of research to her name Susan conceptualized the Edublox teaching and learning methods that have helped thousands of children who were struggling academically to read, learn and achieve. In 2007, Susan opened the first Edublox reading and learning clinic and now there are 40 Edublox clinics internationally. Her proudest moments are when she sees a child who had severe learning difficulties come top of their class after one or two years at Edublox. Susan always takes time to collect the ‘hero’ stories of learners whose self-esteem is lifted as their marks improve.