I remember well the feelings I had when heading into exam rooms for my GCSEs, A-levels and university. Exams are something we cannot get away from, they exist for a reason, whether we like them or not.
Often I hear people say, “I don’t like exams” or “they don’t suit me” or “I never do well in exams”. Today I look after many students who are taking exams, some will be GCSE resits, some as part of modules on their degree programme, others will be taking professional qualifications that might be the culmination of a year’s work or whose job or promotion depends on them passing.
The reality is that to do well in exams, and to get what you need out of them, you need to practise, practise, practise.
As with most things in life, whether it’s sport, or skills, practise builds confidence, reduces the stress and develops your ability to perform time and time again at a level you expect. Yes, things happen in life that appear to hinder you, like family, work, illness, but you need to spend the coming weeks as you head into the exams planning and preparing to perform to the very best of your ability.
Here’s my advice for you to pass on to the stressed young people in your family. Practise the learning. Everyone learns differently, so when you know what preparation methods work best for you, practise it. Any preparation you do is an investment of your time and effort; quite simply, the more you put in, the more you will benefit.
Complacency and procrastination are the biggest barriers to performing well in exams. Not stress. There have been many physiological tests that show short-term stress is actually good for you! This might not help you to relax now, but hopefully will help you recognise that it’s understandable. It’s also encouraging knowing you are not alone, thousands of people will be going through a very similar time right now.
Tell them to practise the exams. They will have seen past papers or mock exams. These are one of the best resources available to them, however, the best advice I can give is don’t focus on the grade. The most valuable information they have is the feedback, whether it’s from a tutor or if they self-marked. Unless they achieved 100 per cent in the exam they should be looking for improvement. Make sure that every time they do a paper they are replicating the exam conditions. Do them alone, in silence and over the same period.
Arguably, one of the most fundamental activities that is becoming more relevant is to practise the ‘mind-set’.
The way we think about situations, visualising and behaving, can make a real difference. Your ability to take control over your thoughts in regards to exams is powerful. This ability and discipline are transferable skills that as you progress to the next level of learning, as well as in the future workplace, will ensure you are both productive and successful. Planning your revision and study time is crucial, as is planning breaks. Students must include when they will and won’t be accompanied by their mobile devices and social media. They can be great distractions for changing focus and attention when you need a break, but can also be a real nuisance. When I was younger I found swimming was a great way to alleviate pressure and channel my thoughts, as well as preparing for my exams, now I use cycling. The stimulation of endorphins, the need to eat and make sure you’re hydrated as well as controlling your breathing are all helpful.
Here at the college we are fortunate to have a lecturer who is an expert in meditation and author of a book for beginners on the subject. She is now holding lunchtime sessions for students to give them relaxation techniques they can use to deal with exam stress and take into the rest of their lives.
So make sure they relax, prepare, practise and know they can do it. Good luck!
-- Andrew Adamson is Curriculum Director-Business Management, Accounting and Tourism Studies at West Suffolk College