’Tis the season to start studying and matric students all over the country are going into red-alert panic mode.
A registered counsellor and mother of three children who have all run the gauntlet of matric exams, Julie McFarlane conducts the Working with Adolescents module that forms part of SACAP’s series of counselling courses (Diploma, Advanced Certificate and Higher Certificate) and here provides her top 10 tips for ensuring that the next time you hit the books, they don’t hit back…
It’s never too late to start. As exam dates loom closer you may find yourself paralysed with fear, feeling, perhaps, that you’ve left it too late or that there is too much to learn. Know, however, that the more you avoid the situation the worse it becomes. You need to take back control. Even some studying at this late stage is guaranteed to score you better marks than no studying at all. Stress and panic can make you freeze and inactivity will rob you of any chance you have of succeeding in the exams. Take a realistic look at where you are now, and begin from there.
Start with a few non-threatening tasks. Gather together all your notes, textbooks and outlines for the subject. On a blank piece of paper, list the content areas you need to know: the table of contents in your textbook, or the list supplied by your educators. Once you have a clear idea of exactly what’s required, it will be easier to see where the gaps are. Check through the list – you may find there is quite a bit you already know – and circle things you don’t know. Formulate a plan of action for tackling these areas. Doing something constructive will break that feeling of paralysis.
The only remaining part of your school career is exams. Nothing else should occupy your time. You have no projects, no assignments, no lessons and no travelling to interrupt study time. Not going to school every day will give you at least an extra seven hours study time five days a week and there is plenty you can do with that!
Avoid ‘cramming’ and parrot-fashion learning, as this can fail you in an exam situation. Use study time to work at a variety of resources. Attend any revision classes offered by your school, join a study group (even if you just observe and listen), use Google and YouTube to find sites and videos explaining content in different ways. The more variety of content you are exposed to, the better chance you have of gaining understanding of the material. This understanding can work better in an exam where the questions invite discussion or opinions regarding the content. Make sure you are able to explain key terms and concepts in a subject.
For maths and science, practise is key. You need to allocate a few hours a day to physically work through problems. Make sure you have the solutions handy, but don’t cheat and look at them before you are finished!
Use mnemonics to help you remember. Some things can only be learnt by rote, like names and dates, for example. Stick the mnemonic on your mirror or fridge and make sure you review it a few times a day. Compete with yourself to see how quickly you can remember the list of items. You could even use a stopwatch to check your time.
Past papers can be your best friend. Papers can be downloaded at the Department of Basic Education site, or your teacher may be able to supply copies. Allow the time given on the paper to actually answer the questions – don’t just skim the paper and think about the answers. Afterwards, use the marking guide to grade yourself, and review all wrong answers with the aid of notes and textbooks – this important step really consolidates the material in your brain.
Find a study buddy and teach each other sections of content. When you teach someone something it consolidates the learning that you have already done. You could also critically evaluate your buddy’s explanations and content presentation and try to add to or better what is discussed.
Remember that exams are just exams – they are simply a means to an end. Keep your focus on what it is you want to do after the exams and see exams as the gateway to these new adventures. It’s necessary to go through the gateway, so you need to narrow your focus at this point, but it’s only for a few short weeks, and then school will be over forever!
For parents: Remember that this is the most stressful time your child will face in his or her academic schooling. Avoid adding to the stress by quantifying expectations – don’t tell your child, ‘I expect you to come home with distinctions’, no matter how encouraging you think this is being. Remind them that you value and care about them, and will still do so even after the exam outcomes. Use language that shows you recognise how stressful the time is for them and offer your support. Be a listening post, a practice-exam marker, a tea or coffee maker and an alarm clock. Provide regular light meals and be prepared to offer support at three in the morning if needs be! Knowing that they are not in this alone can be tremendously encouraging for students. Avoid offering critisicm. A student who is panicking about studying doesn’t need a parent to ask, ‘Shouldn’t you be studying?’. Offer to help draw up a study timetable, help keep track of their study progress or quiz them after a study session. But take the lead from them. Matric exams call on the adolescent to shoulder responsibility, and ultimately their success or failure depends on how they handle the situation. The best a parent can do is offer love, trust and physical support.
Interested in learning more about counselling? SACAP offers a range of courses, including part-time and full-time as well as distance learning options. For more information, enquire now.