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The Comprehensive Guide to Exam Success:
Whether you're a school pupil taking GCSEs, a sixth former taking A-Levels, a university student taking finals or a driven individual looking to improve their qualifications, knowing how to excel in exams can make a huge difference. This article compiles and summarises the best possible advice taken from educational professionals, dealing with long term preparation and learning, revision strategy, pre-exam preparations and exam psychology. With this information at your fingertips you stand the best possible chance of achieving everything you're capable of.
Long term preparation and learning:
Without a shadow of a doubt the best possible way to feel confident for your exams is to be properly prepared for them. This doesn't mean working hard the week or the month before, this means planning a long term strategy to learn and consolidate all the information you need in order to succeed. If you're in school this means attending every lesson on time. Taking holidays and having excess days off for illnesses that aren't really illnesses simply isn't going to cut it. This also means completing every piece of homework and every assignment, and where possible trying to read extra on each subject. If you're in higher education or you're taking a self-study course, however, you're going to need to be much more proactive with your learning. This means allocating set times to work each week in order to fulfil the aims of your course, this also means allocating additional time to recap modules and consolidate what you have learnt. The best way to do this is with a weekly schedule.
The Weekly Schedule:
This is, as its name would imply, a schedule of your entire week. The best way to format this is to break down your waking hours into one hour slots. You can then fill in these slots with essentials such as food and prior commitments such as employment hours. When this is done you can add in positive recreational activities such as exercise (which is brilliant for reducing stress, especially if the exercise is outdoors, group based and friendly). After you've done this you'll likely find that you have a number of hours free each day in which you would usually, let's be honest, engage in less than productive activities. You can then allocate some of these hours for extra work or activities that will supplement your main goals. For example, say you find that on Tuesdays and Thursdays you have from six until nine free in the evening. You could then allocate working time from six until seven, leaving you a further two hours for rest and relaxation. The key with creating any timetable is to create a good work-life balance that allows you to succeed in your goals whilst maintaining a happy, healthy state of mind crucial for long term success. Two key tips for this are:
· Be honest with yourself, if you lie to the timetable you're only lying to yourself and inhibiting your success in the long run.
· Resist the temptation to allocate too much work to yourself in an unsustainable manner. Be sensible and work reasonable amounts. You'll soon find that thirty minutes extra each day adds up to an extra two and a half hours a week, which over a year equals one hundred and thirty extra hours of work. Consistency is key.
The problem with consistency, though, is that it can become a little boring, and for those who lack motivation, this is often a place to come unstuck. Here are two quick tips to help keep those feelings of boredom at bay.
· Break up your work with periods of rest. The rest doesn't have to be long it just needs to give your brain a break.
· Reward yourself. After each successful revision period do something you enjoy, whether it's watching your favourite television programme or eating your favourite food. You're essentially looking to give positive reinforcement to the act of studying.
Ultimately, though, there will still be moments when you don't want to work and there will be moments when you feel like giving up, these feelings are completely natural. What matters here is your sense of determination, and that sense of determination must be firmly rooted in your long term goals. When you think about quitting it's time to look back to the reasons you began studying in the first place, and then to look forward to what you'll gain by continuing to study. If these wishes are strong enough, motivation will fall into place.
If you've followed the steps above and committed to long term consistent learning, then revision is realistically just an extension of this mindset. The main difference is that as a student you may be given study leave, which frees up more hours in your timetable that need to be allocated appropriately. If you suddenly find yourself with four extra hours a day then you need to make sure you're still working for these four hours. It's an all too common mistake for people to actually drop off their work in the few crucial weeks leading up to the exam, don't be one of those people. Think of top-level athletes and competitive sportspeople. They follow carefully laid out programmes that have them 'peaking', i.e. reaching their best possible performance, just in time for their competitive season. You should be trying to emulate this pattern. Three top tips to follow in your last few weeks are as follows:
· Summarise your information; mindmaps or revision cards using key words, facts and figures are going to be much more efficient than re-reading two hundred pages of notes. For a good balance you could use the summarized information in the week and have a more thorough look through your notes at the weekend.
· Don't forget to look at all your modules; some of the things you studied at the start of your learning might have gotten a little rusty. A good way to check this is to have a look over the subject specification if one is available. By doing so you can highlight any areas that need work.
· Include mock-exam practice and practice papers. These will give you the best possible idea of what to expect in the actual exam. Crucially, though, make sure you take the time to mark each paper and analyse where you can improve.
The day (or days) has finally arrived, but there are still some things you can do, and avoid doing, in order to maximize your chances of a top quality performance.
· Try to remain calm (see below for exam psychology)
· Drink a glass of water to aid hydration
· Have a small bite to eat to aid energy levels
· Arrive in plenty of time and be fully aware of how everything will work
· Make sure to get at least eight hours sleep the night before.
· Try to cram in last minute revision an hour before the exam
· Talk to other people if they are very stressed
· Arrive hungry or thirsty or tired
· Arrive drunk (You laugh but some people have done it!)
It may sound like some kind of new age mumbo-jumbo at first, but numerous studies have shown that mental state can have a hugely significant impact on an individual's performance. Typically the best results tend to come from individuals who remain calm and have high levels of self-belief. Do you think it's a co-incidence that some of the top performing athletes and wealthiest entrepreneurs have a tendency towards arrogance? Absolutely not, these people have that tendency because they believe in themselves; they might not be much fun to be around at times, but they never doubt themselves, they never second guess their own decisions, they attack each challenge they face head on and they very rarely panic. Now whilst no-one is suggesting you become an egomaniac, it certainly can't hurt to embrace a confident persona in the build up to examinations.
One way to embrace this confidence is to change the way you think on a daily basis by actively challenging your negative thoughts. For example, every time you think 'I can't do this' or 'I'm going to fail', stop yourself. You can do this simply by saying 'STOP' loudly in your head. You can then make an effort to change that thought into a more positive one. For example, 'I CAN do this' or 'I am going to succeed'. If you keep doing this on a regular basis your brain begins to register it as true, and your perceived anxiety about the exam itself greatly diminishes, which in turn allows you to perform better. This is a perfect example of positive thinking directly linking to positive outcomes.
· As a note of caution, though, certain sentence phrasings should be avoided if they include negative words. For example do not use the sentence 'I will not fail my exams'. The reason for this is that the brain only registers the part of the sentence that counts as an action, so it will only register 'fail my exams', which is certainly what you don't want to happen. To give an example of this in action, say out loud 'Don't think about a pink Elephant,' and it's quite a safe bet that you'll now be thinking about a pink elephant.
Exam Psychology can also be applied during the exam itself in order to alter mood and help maintain calmness. The key three elements to remember are posture, breathing and smile. This sounds silly but think about it for a moment, do you think you'll feel more relaxed and confident whilst hunched over, breathing quickly and frowning, or with an upright posture, taking in deep breaths and smiling? Hopefully you're thinking that the second option is seems more relaxing. If you're still not convinced then try both options now. Sit and think about your exam using the first set of attributes, then sit and think about your exam with the second set. Most people feel a significant difference between the two, and that could be the difference that matters in your exam.
There you have it, then, a comprehensive guide covering exam preparation all the way from establishing weekly goals through to practical tips that you can use in the middle of an exam. If you've paid attention you should know how to keep yourself motivated, how to utilise a long term revision strategy and how to use psychology to remain calm. All that's left is for you to follow the advice and get started on your road to success. Good Luck.