On your marks, get set, write exams!

Here are a few keys to success in developing effective exam prep habits.

By Efterpi Sotiriou

There are hints of green on the trees… the jacarandas are readying to burst into lilac splendour… another year has tumbled forward. Thoughts have begun to turn to end-of-year matters: grade promotion, subject choices, uni-requirements, post-school prospects… and before all that… EXAMS!

How to navigate this trickiest of challenges: as parents, caregivers, students? Most of us harbour memories of nervous cramming, careless errors, frustrating outcomes. On a general level of exam anticipation, you are ‘invited’ to engage with some personally developed observations emanating from the educational ‘front line’.

At the outset, consider the trending view that the exam-focused education system encourages “Teaching to the Test”, focusing solely on the content that is likely to appear in exams. This approach may undermine the broader educational gains of the students and may not adequately reflect the students’ overall abilities or potential. Exams often prioritise subject-specific knowledge over crucial personal development. This mis-alignment can lead to a gap between what students learn in school and what they need in order to thrive beyond it.

Although exams inescapably occupy a gateway position to academic progression, they need to be seen within the wider context of education. Important stepping stones but not perfect! Also – not the sole indicators of capacity or academic application. Educational gains cannot be reflected only within the narrow confines of that notorious maths / biology test! Operating beyond the ‘exam fence’, one may gain a fairer representation of the varying levels of learnt or integrated skills. Here, one may acknowledge related elements of learning outside the exam results, percentages and averages; build on improvements in study organisation and preparation, self-awareness and regulation in testing situations, projections of curious interest and application, language development or creative extrapolation.

Simply stated, work within the system to optimise educational growth but also seek out a balance in personal pursuits within the school ambit – don’t be restricted by it!

A reference point of interest within this review is that provided by Finland; a top educational performer. Finland prioritises learning over passing tests. Schools strive for less stress, unneeded regimentation and more caring approaches for their students. The school environment promotes co-operation not competition. Elements of this individualised and non-regimented approach are well-represented within the pedagogic structure of Think Digital Academy.

In the anticipation of the ‘exam season’ and taking a page out of the above perspectives, let us adopt a ‘softer’ approach to the examination system – driven by sensitive, individualised levels of support, a compassionate engagement, inclusive of on-going, open communication with the students. Banish the fear of failure and the fear of trying. Help build a reservoir of perseverance and willpower. And, while broadening the levels of insight and assessment remember that the ‘fundamentals still apply’ too – strive to provide a safe, stable learning space and don’t forget that a hug, a snack or late night cup of tea retain top position in the strategy of exam preparation.

That being said, here are a few keys to success in developing effective habits for independent learning.

Create a study space at home

Creating a study space at home is key when you study independently from home. Here are some tips for creating a successful study space:

  • Choose a quiet location. Finding a place in your home where you can concentrate and not be distracted by noise or other activities is important.
  • Make sure the space is well-lit and comfortable. You’ll spend a lot of time in your study space. Good lighting is crucial for reducing eye strain.
  • Stock the space with supplies. Ensure all your supplies are within easy reach, including paper, pens, pencils, highlighters, etc. See our online school stationery list.
  • Keep the space clean and organised. Keep the area neat and tidy to help yourself stay calm and focused while working.

Time management strategies for independent study

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to time management for studying independently from home. But, some general strategies can help you maximise your time and get the most out of your independent learning experience.

  • Create a schedule and stick to it. This will help you ensure you spend enough time on each subject and can also help prevent procrastination. It is also important to break down tasks into smaller, manageable pieces so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Set deadlines for yourself. This can help keep you on track and motivated and give you a sense of achievement when you reach your goals.
  • Remember to take breaks! Studying for long periods can be mentally and physically exhausting, so giving yourself time to relax and rejuvenate is essential.

Effective study habits for independent learning

There are some general tricks that can help anyone study independently from home.

  • Take effective notes. Taking effective notes can be a powerful tool to help you retain information and stay engaged with the material. Make sure to jot down important concepts, ideas, and key terms as you go along.
  • Active reading. This means not skimming through texts but also highlighting key points, making notes in the margins, and even writing summaries after each chapter.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice. Regular practice quizzes and/or past exam papers are essential for solidifying your understanding of the material. By testing yourself, you can identify any areas that need further review.

Overcoming challenges and staying motivated

In any journey towards success, there will be challenges and obstacles to overcome. Here are a few tips for overcoming challenges and staying motivated:

  • Set realistic goals for yourself, and break them down into small, manageable steps. This will help you stay on track and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Stay positive and focus on your long-term goals. Remember that setbacks are temporary and that you are in control of your success.
  • Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Get enough rest, exercise, and eat healthy foods to maintain energy levels.
  • Ask for help. There is no shame in admitting that you need assistance to achieve your goals.
  • Celebrate your successes. This will help keep you motivated and remind you of why you are working so hard in the first place.

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