I can’t quite believe that the exams begin next week. When I started writing this blog, it was an opportunity to share ideas and experiences from my work and my family. Thank you for the positive feedback and kind comments that you have made. I really do hope that my thoughts have been helpful or reassuring in some way.
With only a few days to go before the exams begin, the key focus is on building confidence. Cramming last minute revision is not an effective way to use the next few days. It can be tempting for a student to go into over drive, and try and pack the days before the exam with lots of revision. In the last post, we thought of the analogy of the marathon runner who wouldn’t run marathons in the days before the event; they would trust that the training they had done means that they are ready and well prepared.
If you cram in the last few days, you are in danger of:
- Getting tired and stressed (because you are not getting good rest and recovery)
- Being ineffective (because a stressed brain is unsuccessful at storing information helpfully)
- Over focus on the idea that you are not ready (which is damaging to confidence and self belief)
So what could I do instead?
These last days are all about feeling good about the work that has been done and spending 30 minute chunks of time ‘waking up’ the knowledge that has been revised for the exams that are early next week. Quick fire recall and testing are really useful, and explaining ideas out loud is helpful too. If your child comes across something that they don’t understand, help them make a decision about whether there is enough benefit in spending revision time on it, or deciding to be even more secure on what they have already done. Try to avoid over fixating on small areas that pose difficulty.
- you can afford to make mistakes in an exam and still do really well
- you don’t need to score 100% on any paper
- Go into every exam expecting to find questions on the paper that will be tough. When you find them, smile because you found ‘where they were hiding’, and decide whether you are going to attempt part or all of the question- once you get going, if you are calm, you may recall information that you had forgotten. A stressed brain finds recall really difficult, so being calm always helps
- start the exam by doing a few questions that you find OK- this may mean starting a few questions in. This gets you into your swing, and builds confidence (and you release serotonin!) which are all helpful tools to have ready to tackle a more challenging question later on. I hope it goes without saying that you need to come back to any questions that you didn’t attempt earlier in the exam! Try not to leave any blanks- you may get marks for what you write even if you are unsure- chase every mark!
This idea of rehearsal is important. Our brains like familiarity, and so, if in an exam you recall explaining or talking about an idea, the brain has a sense of ‘being here before’. That’s why athletes go through the process of planning for the unexpected- so that whatever happens, the brain is not dealing with an issue for the first time. This is different to worrying about the ‘what if’s’- it’s more a controlled planning for different scenarios so that real responses are more considered than they would be if the challenge had never been imagined. Thinking about and talking about answers to different past questions means that your child will hear themselves being successful, can hear where they need to rephrase or give a clearer account, and then practice doing it.
This is not to say that if your child would feel better investing time in cracking something they have found difficult that you should stop them. It’s all about helping them to use time effectively, and feel positive and confident going into next week.
Sometimes the waiting is a tense time, so once the exams are underway, students just get into it. The other thing that happens is that the sense of ‘so many subjects’ to cope with seems more manageable, as they prepare for ‘the next exam’ rather than feel overwhelmed by the volume of work of ‘all the exams’ as one bulk. After each exam, another one is ticked off the list, and with fewer exams left, revision in between exams can be well focused.
A few people have asked me if I’ll continue to blog through the exams- I hope to, and do so by sharing how things are going for us, and in response to questions that you pose through the blog.
I really do wish you (and more importantly your child) every success over the coming weeks.