Last minute cramming is exactly that, last minute and not a substitute for a well thought out and supervised revision schedule. That is not to say that even the most organized of students won’t indulge in this most time honoured of pre-exam rituals, they will. Indeed, perhaps they should as a little extra at the end never does any harm.
To really do one's best, however, young men and women need to sit down with their schools some months in advance of the start of the examinations and set some realistic goals. Generally it's best to start with a lighter load and work up to a full-time revision schedule that is synchronized with the examinations and/or the students confidence in each subject.
It is vitally important, though, not to miss out subjects in which the student feels strong. It is not unheard of for a student to find themselves slipping a grade in a subject in which they excel simply because they have spent time revising other subjects to the detriment of their stronger areas.
Students who are in the midst of, or about to start their exams might benefit from some simple rules;
1) You don’t actually revise better with music on. This is a myth and has been disproven by research.
2) Take regular breaks. 45 minutes of study followed by 15 minute breaks is considered best. Use your breaks to walk around, move, run, be active and also to eat.
3) Breaks are 15 minutes, work is 45 minutes not the other way around!
4) Get started. Don’t spend ages re-arranging your desk, sharpening pencils…just get started.
5) If your house is noisy, ask to revise at school.
6) Set a timeline and stick to it. Check with your exams officer or tutor on the dates of the exams and set your schedule to them.
7) Know what you’re revising, check with your teacher who will be only too happy to help.
8) Drink water.
9) Take an hour for lunch. Not 15 minutes for a quick snack. Take an hour and be active where you can. It is far better for you.
10) Work from 7am to about 8pm on revision days and then, after 8 take a rest and enjoy yourself. On the night before an exam try to be asleep by 10pm (yes teenagers, this means you).
11) Revision tapes played in your sleep don’t work but 'Post Its' around the house do (if you make a point of reading them)
Exams are in some ways entirely false - they don’t reflect the real world and its demands in terms of having to recall knowledge. What they do reflect is the ability to prepare and concentrate on the job at hand over a period of time which is a vital skill.
If you do find yourself, “last minute” then all of the above applies…but mostly number 4.
Mike Embley is the former Principal of Nord Anglia International School, Dubai. He is now helping a new generation of students as the Regional Managing Director of Nord Anglia's schools in China.