Exam Prep 101: Good Logistics Equal Great Performance

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Exam season can be a very stressful time for students. In addition to the actual work of preparing for each paper, stress and anxiety can create additional hurdles, which can lead to mental blocks and a drop in performance unrelated to how prepared a student is.

However, by sorting out the logistics of writing, much of this stress can be removed, to ensure that students perform to the best of their ability.

Mignonne Gerli, Principal: Abbotts College Pretoria East has compiled a list of helpful guidelines for students to prepare beyond subject revision to ensure they are positioned well to perform on exam day.

She advises the following:
Before the exam
  • Most people fear missing an exam because they get the day or time wrong. Truly the stuff of literal nightmares! To avoid this, stick a copy of your exam somewhere you can’t miss it, and have a photo of the timetable on your phone for quick reference.
  • Ensure that you know what is tested in the various papers, e.g. what must you study for English Paper I and what must you study for English Paper II?
  • Make sure that you have at least 3 blue pens on hand for the exam, preferably the same type of pen to avoid your handwriting looking different if you change pens.
  • Make sure that you have the required stationery and gadgets, e.g. a non-programmable calculator for Mathematics and a protractor and compass for Mathematics or Geography.
  • Have a ruler to draw your right-hand marker’s margin.
  • Be sure to get enough sleep and get up early enough to ensure that you are not late for your exam. Have everything you will need ready the night before.
  • Be at school at least 15 minutes before the start of your exam. This will help you relax and enter the exam venue with a clear head.
  • Avoid contact with fellow students who cause stress before an exam – those who ask if you’ve studied this section and who talk about how difficult the exam is going to be (they don’t have a crystal ball and you’ve studied so you’ve got this!).
  • Do not talk about the exam or cram just before writing the exam. You have studied, so when you get to school talk about other things, like what you are planning to do during the holiday, a series you are really enjoying, your hobby that is sucking you in… anything but the exam! You need to be as relaxed as possible when you enter the exam venue.
  • You need to be as comfortable as can be when you are writing so ensure that you eat something healthy and drink water before the exam, also go to the bathroom before you enter the exam venue.
  • Avoid energy drinks and energy supplements, as they will give you energy for a brief period of time and then you will experience an energy crash, leaving you tired and without energy. Rather take a good vitamin B supplement that will get your nerve endings firing properly and help you to relax and sleep well.
During the exam

Our brains are amazing but can be easily fooled. When we go down a spiral of self-doubt our brains go into panic mode and prepare for “fight or flight” mode. This is when some students experience a mental block and suddenly, they can recall nothing of what they have studied. This must be avoided at all costs.

  • To avoid panic and mental blocks during the exam try the following: Start by answering all the questions you know the answer to and skip over the questions you are unsure of. This helps you in two ways:
  • Firstly, you are not wasting time on the questions you do not know the answers to so you are able to get to the end of the paper and answer questions you are guaranteed marks for – which you would not have got to answer if you ran out of time because you sat too long on questions you could not answer at the time.
  • Secondly, you will avoid panic and mental block by moving on and gaining positive momentum as your brain starts sending the signal that you’ve got this. This builds confidence and, once you have worked through all the questions you could answer with ease, you then go back to the ones you were unsure of. Most likely you will now find that you are able to answer most of them.
  • If there are still questions you do not know how to answer, take an educated guess. Think of what makes sense to you based on what you know and can recall. Leaving the answer blank guarantees a zero but writing an answer could give you a mark or three.
  • Be aware of the time and allow enough time for each section of the paper. If the paper contains an essay type question, allow enough time to write the essay. Remember that getting half-way through an essay may get you 60% of the essay mark but not starting will get you zero.
  • Read the questions carefully and, where the question is scaffolded, be sure to answer each part of the question. If you are one of those people who tends to only answer part of a question, tick off each part you have answered to ensure that you give the full answer.
  • Look at the mark allocation, this will act as a guide as to how much detail your answer needs to contain. Don’t overwrite or underwrite – a 1-mark question will usually not require a 4-line answer and a 4-mark question will usually require more than a 2-line answer.

“Some solid advice – try to enjoy each paper you are writing, keeping in mind that you are testing your knowledge and skills,” says Gerli.

“Exams help you determine which areas need more attention for future exams and confirm which knowledge you have firmly under your belt. And remember, where there are exams, holidays follow. Work hard for now and look forward to the restful holiday period that is just around the corner.”