By Jennifer Simmons
Exam season is here and there will be many family homes in which not only the children are stressed, but also the parents. Some stress is a good thing – it’s distress you want to avoid. We asked Mr Ian Paterson, Assistant Head for Student Wellbeing in Secondary at British School Jakarta, for some tips on thriving as a family through what can be a difficult time.
- Exam success starts at day one. Students who get the best exam results are those who are rarely absent from school, who are actively interested when material is first introduced, and who ask questions when they don’t understand. Engagement, exposure to their teachers’ expertise and positive interactions with others all help with their learning and recall.
- Understand what is meant by revision. Revision is the process of moving information from the short-term to long-term memory. It is not note-taking, nor even the learning of material – this has to happen beforehand. Exams have changed and are no longer as dependent on fact recall. Today’s students need to manipulate ideas, recognise patterns, draw conclusions and analyse processes – skills which must be applied and practised.
- Befriend the syllabus. A great starting point when revising is for students to “traffic-light” their syllabuses – green for topics they feel confident about, yellow for “a bit unsure”, and red for “not at all”. Start by revising the red topics, as they require the most time and effort. Don’t procrastinate by focusing on the greens.
- Keep to a strict timetable. Learning, just like any other activity, works best once it has become a habit. Work in chunks of time. The ideal chunk is 45 minutes, followed by a short break of 15 minutes. Brains function best in the first minutes of a task and then again at 30 to 45 minutes. Working longer than this actually slows learning down. After a break, get back to it quickly.
- Create the ideal environment (and then leave it alone). Students should have a comfortable, well-organised and quiet working space. Picturing it in an exam can help with recall. Don’t let them waste time perfecting their study area, however, and ensure they have all the necessary equipment, to avoid them going to look for things.
- Lose the distractions. Listening to music while working does not improve learning. Turn off all digital notifications too. Scientists have proven that anticipating a social media message is actually more distracting than getting one – so ensure it’s out of sight, out of mind while working.
- Remember that everybody learns in a different way. The most effective revision will involve a mix of techniques, including mind-mapping, rewriting notes, watching videos, making and listening to audio recordings or turning information into drawings or diagrams. Students should work out what works for them individually, trying out new things and varying their approach as much as possible. Don’t rely on reading alone.
- Practice makes perfect. Reviewing old exam papers and practising completing them under timed conditions is an excellent revision strategy and absolutely vital for success. Students need to make sure they are doing the right ones however, as there are lots of exam boards and syllabuses out there. They should check with their teacher if they aren’t sure.
- Learn best by teaching others. Working with a friend or even in a small group in an organised and focused way can actually be more effective than working alone. Writing quizzes for peers and then correcting their answers and giving feedback is an excellent way of embedding knowledge – provided students have the willpower to study rather than party.
- Connect through colour. Colour plays a very important role in learning and retaining information. Highlighting notes in a varied palette will help with the memorisation process. Often in an exam, recalling the colours used on revision notes is a student’s first step in recalling the information itself.
- Know how the memory works. The short-term memory is quickly crowded, but the long-term memory has infinite space. Information must be revisited several times before it moves deeper. Leaving too long between reviews will make it harder, if not impossible, to remember. Students should therefore date all their notes, and come back to the material after a few days, then a couple of weeks, and again after a month.
- Stay healthy. Ensure students eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Provide healthy snacks and make them break for meals. A slice of chocolate cake as an occasional motivator is OK, but sugar is not brain food. Too much encourages sleepiness, rather than an alert brain which is ready to remember. Reassure your desk-bound student that their neurons continue to make synapses even after their work has subsided for a break.
- Support from the sidelines. Be encouraging without intruding. Students appreciate being asked how things are going and being offered help, especially with things that they might not have time to do because of revision. But they won’t work effectively with you sitting next to them – trust that their school has prepared them well and let them get on with it.
- Put your best foot forward. On the day of an exam, students must try to arrive in a relaxed and positive frame of mind. Practise some breathing techniques, so it feels comfortable rather than awkward doing them. Planting feet firmly on the floor and focusing on sounds whilst breathing slowly and counting to ten is an excellent way to ground and refocus.
- Put the past behind you. It’s easily said but avoid meticulously analysing exams once they are over. People naturally focus on what went wrong and this isn’t at all helpful. A positive mind and thinking ahead are very important factors in success.
To all students taking exams in the next few weeks, we wish you the very best. Parents and families, armed with these hints and tips, focus on uniting as a family, and try to enjoy the ride!