AS many households are finding that anxiety levels are rising at the moment as we enter exam season, here are a few revision tips to cut down on stress.
This summer, 850,000 UK schoolchildren are going to take the most important exams of their lives so far with around 250,000 pupils doing A-Levels and 600,000 sitting GCSEs.
And even the most organised of students, whether they’re taking GCSEs, A-Levels or university exams, will need a good support network around to help them cope with the added pressure.
Which often means that family members have to step up and help out with everything from revision timetables and stocking up on stationary essentials to offering words of encouragement when things get tough.
Studies show that students will gain far better results if they are calm, well rested, take regular exercise and eat healthily.
So what can you do to help reduce stress levels within the home and hopefully help to maximise marks? Here are some revision tips to cut down stress.
View the bigger picture
Knowledge is often tightly rolled up inside your head so when revising you need to step back and look at the overall panoramic picture to identify both what you know as well as what you don’t know.
Buy large sheets of paper and write out the entire exam timetable on one page and stick it on your wall. Then create an at-a-glance overview of any given topic; if you’re revising Jane Austen’s Emma, for example, make one column for the heroine’s good points (kind-heartedness, etc) and one for her bad points (bossy, overactive imagination). Or if it’s history, devote one column to the Social Advances brought about by the French Revolution and another to the Human Costs.
When you’re revising, don’t just read, make notes as well. Sitting there, passively flicking through pages is a bit like self-hypnosis; after a while, you just tune out. Making notes is a positive act of fact-selection, like picking fruit, especially if you use your own shorthand language.
This is a huge help when it comes to marshalling your thoughts and your revision notes. The great thing about colours is that they work as a visual mnemonic; so underline Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads in drab brown, while allocating a flamboyant purple to Charles I and the Cavaliers, and highlight the dates of military encounters (Battle of Naseby, 1645) in blood-red. It helps to make boring facts just that little bit easier to remember.
Give yourself a break…
Of at least 10 minutes every hour. And don’t do more than three hours at a time; the brain can’t take it. Best to make a plan of how many hours’ revision you intend to do – say six hours a day for 10 days – and then allocate how many of those 60 hours you’re going to give each subject (allow more for the ones you find hard).
Ask George Turnbull
Who’s he? The super-sensible, online “exams doctor”, to be found on the website run by exams ombudsbody Ofqual (www.ofqual.gov.uk). You can either watch a video of the professor answering anxious pupils’ questions, or, if you have revision to get on with, you can read the transcript in a tenth of the time.
Work your parents
Preparing for an exam is a bit like being pregnant, in that you’re perceived as being in a delicate condition. You can take considerable advantage of this attitude to ask your parents for all your favourite meals and edible treats.
Exercise is good for you in almost every way. It will help your brain to concentrate because when you exercise your heart is going faster, and you are breathing faster and taking more oxygen to your brain. To keep up with exercise you need a good amount of energy providing food such as simple sugars and starches. You need carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice. Remember this should be part of a balanced diet where one third of your diet consists of carbs, one third of your diet should be fruit/veg – this gives you your vitamins and minerals, and then a small amount of proteins, and a very small amount of fats.
Learn what revision techniques work for you – mind mapping, flash cards, making notes, drawing flow charts and diagrams. Also test your knowledge – get your parents to do a Q&A with you or try to speak for two minutes on a certain topic.
Go to sleep….
Not over your books (dribble smudges the ink), but at your normal bedtime and definitely no late-night, eve-of exam cramming. Try a warm bath and a small carbohydrates snack and maybe a biscuit and hot chocolate before you go to bed. Set your alarm, and have a family member agree to wake you so you don’t worry. Have a small breakfast, your brain will work better with food.
Keep it in
Before the exam begins, try to keep your mind focused on the six things you’ve got to remember about the conductivity of metals or the Treaty of Versailles, rather than chatting to your friends about what happened over the weekend. And after the exam is over, don’t stand around comparing notes about how you all did as it will only depress you to realise that you’ve written three pages about Pitt the Elder when the question was on Pitt the Younger.
Make sure you have fresh batteries in your calculator and plenty of coloured pencils (you have no idea how happy a nice bit of shading on your diagrams makes the marker).
Read….and read again
In the exam itself, you need to take some deep breaths, read the questions and then read them again. One of the commonest mistakes is to misread the question. If your mind goes blank, write some notes in the side or on a spare sheet of paper, in a word association manner to jog your memory about topics related to the question. If you really can’t focus and you have the option, change to a different question and then come back to that one.
Manage your time
If you have four essays to write and a two-hour exam, don’t spend an hour on the first one. Also look at how many marks the question is worth and write an appropriate amount – there is no point in writing a whole page for a two-mark question.
Don’t panic and remember to breathe
Most of us manage to stay alive by snatching gulps of air through our mouths. But to ensure maximum levels of oxygen to the brain, thereby allowing access to the most hard-to-reach irregular verbs, it is essential for the exam candidate to sit down and take six deep breaths in through the nose (both nostrils) and out through the mouth. Imagine you’re inhaling knowledge and expelling doubt.
If you feel your stress levels rising, take a sip of water, put your head on your desk for two minutes and take deep breaths. There’s almost always something you can put down so pick up your pen and make your parents proud.
You’ve got a friend
Sources of online pre-exam assistance
www.ofqual.gov.uk Sympathetic advice from exam doctor Professor George Turnbull
www.bbc.co.uk/schools/revision Auntie Beeb offers bitesized, subject-specific help
www.cambridgestudents.org.uk Tips on exam and revision techniques from Cambridge students
www.s-cool.co.uk As in s-chool! Detailed revision prompts on set texts and subjects
www.parentlineplus.org.uk How mum and dad can do their bit. Don’t nag is the main message.