Adolescents are timid creatures of habit who are easily stressed out. Exams, albeit academic rights of passage, induce levels of fear, anxiety, and stress comparable to those experienced when being audited as adults. However, with some hard work, diligence, and concrete study skills, even the most sour-faced student can breathe a little bit easier at test time.
There is no sugarcoating it – studying for exams is painful. For most teens, these “monstrous” tests are what stand between them and their absolute happiness, whether it be through increased independence, special rewards, or simple creature comforts. Formal exam periods, seen as the bane of their existence by most students, really should be viewed a time of great focus where results should reflect the hard work put into classes thus far that year.
With that in mind, we’d like to share some strategies on when to begin studying, how to know when it’s time to stop, what to do the morning of an exam, and test-taking tips as well.
Understand your goals & prioritize what matters most.
Students always want to know why, especially when it comes to school:
Students follow a series of requirements, and it becomes very easy to feel like you’re simply jumping through a series of hoops as opposed to understanding why that class and that test are relevant to you,” says Colin Gruenwald of Kaplan Test Prep. “You have to ask why you’re going to invest the time and energy to do well on a test. Why do you intend to be the student who gets an A?”
Consequently, not all exams are created equal either:
“It’s a mistake to consider all of your [exams] equal if you’re materially better at one subject than another,” says Gruenwald. “Some students think that they should commit equal time to studying for each test. They’re taking away from their opportunity to really commit time where they need it.”
The bottom line: students must understand the relevance of what they are doing and that they should want to do well on exams because they want to, and not because of the exorbitant expectations of others. Furthermore, teens have aptitudes for certain subjects, and should adjust their study time accordingly – placing more time & emphasis on subject(s) which are problematic, and scaling back on others where unneeded.
Clarify the content & format of your exams.
More often than not, students create and exacerbate unwarranted stress and anxiety over exams because they simply do not know what they are going to be tested on or what format the test will take. Make sure to ask not only what topics will be covered on the exam, but what format (multiple choice, essay, conversational, etc.) it will take. Once students do begin studying, they should bring any questions they have to their subject teacher immediately. Most teachers have extended office hours during exam periods or can easily be reached by email and/or text message as well.
Aim to begin studying at least one week in advance.
Everyone knows that studying a subject a little bit every day over a long period of time is absolutely and undeniably the most effective way to prepare for an exam – yet why do the majority of people have such a difficult time trying to put this type of plan into effect?
Sit down and create a schedule where you plan out the following:
- specific study times for each subject
- specific time to go over notes, examples, and practice questions
- specific times when you will not be able to study due to prior commitments (sports, hobbies, work, job, etc.)
While it would be ideal to set up this kind of schedule at the beginning of the school year, you really do not want to begin studying for an exam with less than a week to go – cramming is toxic.
Learn how you study best.
Knowing what type of learner you are can greatly improve your studying experience because everyone learns differently. Whether it be through mind maps, flashcards, web lessons, changing the lyrics of a song, creating a story on your topic, or actual physical practice, any studying is good studying – why not do it in a way that works best for you?
Take snack breaks.
When you study, your brain consumes glucose (sugar). Take a five-minute break every hour to let your body relax, refocus, and refuel. Take a walk, have a healthy snack (almonds, fruit, and yogurt are good choices), and stretch. Taking breaks will actually improve your studying.
And stay away from junk food & watching TV during breaks – science has proven that processed foods high in fats contribute to increased confusion and decrease long-term retention levels. And that show on Netflix you have to watch? – it’ll only contribute to the increased disorganization of information and facts in your head. Your brain needs ample time to process new information before it can commit it to long-term memory.
Get a good night’s sleep.
Eight hours is ideal for the night before an exam. You may be tempted to pull an “all-nighter”, but your body needs the rest to focus properly and the energy to make it through the exam.
Naturally energize yourself the morning of the exam
Do something stimulating the morning of the test. Don’t sit down and watch a back-to-back marathon of The Bachelor; that’s just going to zap your energy level. Instead, read a book, do a crossword puzzle, take your dog for a walk, or get some exercise. Do something that’s going to make you feel alive and positive, and will build up your energy level and confidence in the 24 hours before the test.
Please, stay away from caffeine and energy drinks! Your hands will shake so much that you will not be able to write properly, and you may crash in the middle of the test, resulting in m moderate to severe headaches that will contribute to a lack of concentration. Bring a water bottle to the exam – staying hydrated is really important to doing your best.
You’ve survived exams before, and you’ll survive them this time too. If you’re feeling nervous when you sit down to take the test, take three slow, steady breaths.
- Remember to bring all of your necessary equipment for the exam (calculator, dictionary, etc).
- Be on time.
- Remind yourself that you’ve been getting ready for these tests for over a week.
- Read through the exam carefully & make sure you understand the instructions.
- Budget your time effectively – skip over questions you are unclear about & come back to them later.
- Act as if you are the only person in the room to drown out distractions.
- Take short breaks during the test & remember to check everything over before handing your exam in.
For more information on these & other studying and test-taking strategies, head over to The Study Gurus for more tips & tricks!