With the summer months come a June breeze and a wave of stress for many teenagers as they prepare for summer exams. To prevent the last minute questions, all night cramming and tears, here are a few ways to help you or your child get the most out of their exam preparation.
First and foremost get organized. This includes finding out the exact date, time and location of any exams that take place at the end of the year. If post-secondary schooling is an option in the future, remember that most final exams take place in huge gymnasiums or lecture halls, and most of them are filled with students writing multiple exams. Exam schedules are often available at the beginning of the semester or at least at the start of the exam season. It is also a great practice to gather all necessary material before starting any actual studying, such as compiling all syllabus, notes, textbooks and materials needed for one course. A great way to sort out all of these necessities is to colour code them by class, so that everything’s together. For example, use a yellow highlighter, duo tang and notebook to keep everything for English in one spot. This way your books are easy to follow and the colour blocking system helps to “restart” your brain every time you begin studying for a new format, because the new colour signals a fresh start.
With organizing also comes planning a study schedule that, when started early enough, should be able to compile a few subjects in short bursts a day. This way, the brain is not overwhelmed with the amount of content it has to retain but it can also remember information in chunks together. By doing this, you also can see which subjects need more attention and then divide up the remaining days as necessary, rather than realizing the need to cram everything in closer to the actual exam date. When organizing study sessions remember to schedule in breaks at a reasonable pace. A good schedule is every 40 minutes give your self a 10-minute break, with 10 minutes to get yourself back organized. 40 minutes is a good amount of time to process information at a rate where it can still be absorbed and not dragged out. For a break time, choose an activity that is productive in some way, such as walking around the block, making a meal, organizing a room or reading something completely non-related to what is being studied. Some activities to avoid would be anything that will drain concentration, focus or desire to continue studying. Logging onto social media may seem like a good idea to unwind, but 10 minutes can turn into half an hour faster than you’d think; similarly, watching an episode of a show could be a beneficial break, but it could also trigger binge-watching habits or turn the body into relaxation mode, making it harder to regain focus during the scheduled “on” time.
When it comes to getting back to studying, one of the most overlooked aspects is maintaining an organized workspace. It may be tempting to read over notes while outside, on the couch or even in bed, but really this tells the brain to study while the body relaxes. If possible, a separate room for studying is ideal, one with minimal distractions that has a clean, open feeling. Keeping a near-empty desktop also allows a student to spread out their work and will not feel confined to a smaller space. In most universities, colleges or even libraries, you can often find students of any age sprawled out amongst big tables, giving them tons of room to access their materials and focus on what’s literally in front of them. Keeping a stash of highlighters, writing utensils and extra paper is also a good idea. The only “extra” things that should be on the desk are a big class of water to stay hydrated, a clock and, if necessary, a sensory item, such as play-dough or a stress ball. These are good to keep within reach because the mindless act of playing with something can help reduce stress levels and provide smaller, built in breaks when needed.
Touching base with the teachers is also a great way to understand what is expected on the exam. They will also likely offer extra help to students who are struggling or need communication. In my experience, a teacher is more likely to get through to students who show a willingness to work. Attitude can truly affect program success or retention ability. Teachers likely have exams prepared from previous years and may be able to share an old copy for studying purposes. Knowing exactly, or close to, what will be asked can keep anxiety at bay and give a student specific topics, strategies and questions to focus on.
Group studying is also a great way to share resources and idea, but only when it is set up for success. To get the most out of your group experience, follow the same outlines listed for an individual study: gather materials, set out break schedule, keep a clean space and stay hydrated.
Another way to prepare for exam season is to get into the habit of a good sleeping schedule and keep a relatively good diet. A good rule for both of these domains- as well as most things in life- is to treat it 80/20; 80 percent of the time, be as healthy and well rested as possible. The other 20 percent of the time, it’s okay to indulge in treats or activities that are only for fun- they feed your soul. Moderation is key in any aspect of life, but especially during exam season.
Lastly, remember that exams are not final markers of a child’s intelligence; rather they are simply the way a certain kind of their learning can be assessed. Their marks are not a reflection of who they are as a person, what they are capable of or how they treat other people. It is important to remember that these exams should not stress out children to the point of where they are not happy. In the long run, what will benefit these children most is the study habits they form at this most crucial time in there development, as they will bring them into the rest of their future academic endeavors.