Exam Time: A How-To Revise Guide

Exam season is approaching... If you are a student about to take exams, here is some simple advice to get you through it - with A+s all the way. Article by WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Founding Consultant, Dr. Mike Biggs.
Exam Time: A How-To Revise Guide
By James Mullan
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Such is the competitive nature of most school systems that examination outcomes become the focus for many a student and parent. Understandably, high expectations and ambitions of parents for their children inadvertently reflect this and can add further pressure.

Are you locked into thinking that learning is solely determined by the examination results? Stop! Ask yourself, why create this pressure? You want to do well in the examinations but do ask why? Is this for you to create mental comparisons and league tables with peers? Examinations can have this effect on students - and their parents.

Success in examinations is just one indicator of learning having taken place. The reality, however, is that it is perceived as the only one by many, particularly in competitive school entry, tertiary education admissions and the job market. So, as the examination pressures start to build for your youngsters, here are a few tips to help you to support them during the coming months.

Schools are very good at preparing the students for examinations and once the syllabi are covered you will note an increasing focus on diagnostic and more targeted work to address specific examination needs. The teachers have good knowledge of students, your learning styles, your strengths and weaknesses and, therefore, your needs. Listen to them. Teachers often develop considered programmes with appropriate pace and timing, produce supporting resources and offer extra-time to prepare students. If you are a parent, and think it will be useful to get involved, discuss this with your son or daughter and become familiar with what’s on offer in the school.

A key aim here is to build your confidence as a person who will go into each examination comfortable with the content knowledge and well-practiced in the skills required to adapt and present this knowledge to answer the questions.

There is no right time to start revision as, in many ways, this is a continuous process that has been built on over time as the learner progresses. Recognise that you are not the same as your friends - every learner is different. Some of you will be very organised and methodical, others appear to be disorganised and haphazard in exam preparation - even if you know what you are doing. It is often the latter end of the continuum that concerns most people - and particularly parents.

Forward planning and time management strategies to create more scheduled organisation can help. Knowing a little about how to keep information stored in the memory and how to retrieve that information again will help. Basically, the more regularly the learning is reviewed the more likely it is remembered. Moving this learning from the short-term into the long-term memory can be achieved by revisiting course work after 10 minutes, after 24 hours, after one week, after one month.

Fundamentally, a little and often approach will help to store content knowledge. Regular practice will help to hone the skills. Discussing and thinking things through with others will also help in the application of these skills and knowledge.

Get to know your own concentration span: ten minutes, fifteen minutes, longer? Get to know what you like to do - or not. While there is not path that is going to be easy, going with the grain of how your mind works will help set you up for success. That said, best practice suggests always get some of the ‘not so nice’ out of the way early when you are fresh, leaving the ‘nice’ to be looked forward to rather than the converse.

Beware of falling into the trap of trying to do too much. Recognise the different concentration spans with breaks built in the revision process. These breaks could be a few minutes to make a drink or longer to take exercise, listen to a favourite piece of music or play a game. Just moving around from a sitting position could be sufficient to recharge the brain with a bit of oxygen. A healthy, exercised body and mind will be more effective in the exam room than one that has been cramped over books for hours on end with no light relief.

Keeping the body and brain well hydrated is also important both during revision and in the actual examination. That is, water not a can of soda!

Too much sensory stimulation in the revision environment may affect focus and deeper concentration. Establish a quiet, comfortable, well ventilated personal space, but, remember the young are a ‘connected’ generation and what works for you may not for your youngster!

The examination schedules will not be issued for several weeks yet. However, this should not delay establishing a review and revision programme. When the exams do arrive aim to be a candidate who is confident in the subject and practiced in the exam requirements; one who is rested after a good night’s sleep, sensibly fed, well hydrated and one who arrives early. There is nothing wrong with a little adrenalin, however, too much stress and worry will impact adversely. Teachers can help this by introducing strategies that address exam nerves but you’ll have to deal with your own exam nerves!

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