Ask Susan: My Teen Struggles to Remember Her Schoolwork

Hello Susan

I have a problem with my 13-year-old who will soon be 14. She is an average child, but is struggling to multitask and her memory is poor. She is struggling with math, life sciences and history, and finds it very hard to learn dates.

She can read fluently, but when it comes to remembering, she struggles. She studies really hard. She is so frustrated.



Dear Alice

I can just imagine how frustrated your daughter must be when she studies hard yet fails to see the results on her school reports.

Based on the information you provided it seems that you have identified at least some of your daughter’s weaknesses. There may be others so you should consider having her cognitive skills assessed. You can start by letting her do our free online assessment. Below are practical advice:

Poor memory

Memory is the retention of information over time. There are many kinds of memory: short-term, long-term, and working memory; visual, auditory and sequential memory, to name but a few. These kinds of memory are foundational skills of learning and improving them is fundamental toward overcoming learning challenges. These kinds of memory can all be improved and Development Tutor aims at doing just that.

Multitasking or divided attention

When we use the word multitasking we are actually referring to a skill called divided attention. Divided attention is a higher-level skill where you have to perform two (or more) tasks at the same time, and attention is required for the performance of both (or all) the tasks.

Examples include driving a car while carrying on a conversation with a passenger, or eating dinner while watching the news. If the task is to write a story, a student must be able to think about their characters and plot, as well as spelling and punctuation rules that apply.

When people are required to do more than one task at a time, performance on at least one of the tasks often declines. It is generally agreed that humans have a limited capacity to process information. When several tasks must be performed at the same time, the demands of the tasks may exceed processing capacity.

Like memory, divided attention can be improved with practice. One exercise your daughter can do at home to improve this skill is called the ‘Stroop Test’. Images for the Stroop Test can be found by conducting an online search, an example of one is illustrated below.

The test is to look at the words and say the color of each word. Do NOT read the words – only say the color of the words. For example, if the word “PURPLE” is printed in a red color, you should say “RED”. The intention is to say the colors as fast as you can, and always strive to do it faster! Your daughter will struggle at first because she will be more likely to read the words.

stroop test_one

Use mnemonics to remember historical dates

Mnemonics (pronounced ne-mon-ics) are a variety of memory aids – people have used them for thousands of years – to facilitate retrieval. Number-sound mnemonics are especially effective to learn historical dates. To use them, a student must first learn the number-sound relationships:

0 = s
1 = t
2 = n
3 = m
4 = r
5 = l
6 = sh, ch, or soft g
7 = k, hard c, or hard g
8 = f or v
9 = p

To remember the date 1439, for example, the student uses the associated consonant sounds, t, r, m and p, and will insert vowels to create a meaningful word or words. In this case, the word “tramp” can be used.

Note that mnemonics are memory techniques and therefore their application is limited. When we address memory on a skill level, which is what Development Tutor aims at doing, one can apply one’s memory in any situation.

Best wishes,


Tips for sending questions

Send your questions to [email protected]. Skype name: susanpilot.

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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 25 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.