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For others it becomes a life long battle of wills – should I study, should I sleep, should I study…… until the day arrives the words are written and one can live again!

Exams need not be a stressful time provided the right mindset and preparation is taken into account. The secret lies in consistency and the belief that this too can be conquered. 

The first thing to remember is that writing an exam is merely a question of have you understood and learned fro the experience of learning. Having enjoyed a section of work means you will not have a problem answering the questions posed. The biggest stumbling block is not that of having absorbed enough but rather one self belief. If you know the work there is no reason not to do well. Most people do not do well in exams because they believe that they will not do well. The self-fulfilling prophecy kicks in and one goes all out to prove that you are as bad as you believe you are. Many exam battles are lost, not due to a lack of preparation and training, but due to nerves and poor self perception. To sit in an exam and tell yourself that you do not remember, that you haven’t worked well, that you left out or can’t remember work – these are the traps that panic and upset the mind – bad marks will surely follow. Self confidence, constant positive self affirmations and the sure knowledge of just doing your best will take you a long way down the road to success.

How to do this then. There are many fancy methods of studying out there. Mind maps, flow charts, workbooks, exam aids, long written summaries, key words, tape aids, music, parrot fashion learning. All these work – you wouldn’t be where you are today if they didn’t. Sometimes however, the best methods are also the simplest – your exam represents your notes and course material in question format – so turn your study material into a set of questions. Then find the best answers, write them down and practice answering the questions. Better still build up the program day by day. A few questions and answers today, practice the answers tomorrow, more questions, practice answering all the questions for the last two days before moving on to the next section, etc. This simple method of progressive learning means that you will always be keeping previous work fresh in the mind while adding to new knowledge day by day. View the exam as a normal extension of this learning. Plan for all studying to be finished a week before the exam due date. Use the remaining week to revise and to consolidate rather than learn work for the first time. The night before an exam. – stop studying by 9, relax, have a long hot bath, listen to some good music, be in bed by 11. Take to bed the message which says – I know my work, I am confident I will do well – and go to sleep!. Morning of the exam, DO NOT touch your study notes. The time for learning has passed, so why panic yourself into believing that you do not know your work. It’s too late –let it be. Go to the exam venue well ahead of time, do not talk to anyone – especially, do not talk about the exam to be written. Make sure you have had an adequate breakfast, avoid coffee and fizzy drinks, take bottled water with you, make sure you pens and calculator work and that you have all the necessary equipment and …. Relax. Start the exam by scan reading the paper, pick out questions in three categories – easy, challenging, difficult and start with the easy questions (NOT number 1 unless it falls into the easy category), Work your way through easy, quick marks, move onto the challenging questions and leave the difficult ones to last – it gives your brain a chance to find answers. Also watch the time, easy questions must have short, pithy answers otherwise you will ramble and loose the advantage of quick, easy marks. Secret to exam success – have fun, enjoys the challenge and leave the exam behind you when you have finished. It’s too late to change anything, so why agonize over lost marks. Have fun, enjoy, move on to new challenges.

Terry Wilke
Educational Psychologist

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