Preparing for that Exam

Most of us get anxious when we hear the word “exams” … most of us. The question is, what do the others, those who don’t get anxious, know that we don’t? What secrets are they keeping?

“It’s all in the technique.”

That’s it, that’s the secret – exam techniques. We are going to share some of those techniques today, but before we get started, there is an important disclaimer that we need to make. In fact, two disclaimers:

  1. You’ve probably heard of these techniques before, and in some cases, more than once.
  2. These techniques only work if you use them. Knowing them is nice; using them is what makes them work.

Now that we have cleared that up let’s get into it.

Have a Plan.
The truth is that exams are not a surprise and should never catch anyone off-guard. You have either been informed well in advance or are part of a school community with a very predictable exams schedule. Barring major disturbances to the academic calendar, you can predict with a 99% accuracy when the Grade 12 Final Exams are going to be, regardless of what grade you are in. This is something most students don’t take advantage of, and then they get caught off guard by exams. Knowing exactly when exams are, allows you to plan for them; plan early and plan well.

Execute the Plan.

We shouldn’t be listing this as a technique, but after decades of tutoring and assisting students with exams, we have learned that there is a difference between having a plan and executing that plan. We often draw up plans, schedules and to-do lists, then life happens, and we don’t execute. Plan early, plan well, and most importantly, execute the plan. Do this early on in the year because it will allow you to make all the necessary adjustments in order to ensure that the plan is working and working well.

Manage Your Mindset.

When it comes to the exam, one of the most important tools you have is your mindset. As you spend time preparing for exams, one of the key things you should also be doing is managing your mindset. Intentionally manage your mindset towards exams (and life in general) by applying a few principles. Change your self-talk because the way you talk to yourself and about yourself is a reflection of your mindset. Use positive self-talk to cultivate a positive mindset. In addition to changing your self-talk, change your language. Avoid using phrases that “affirm” negative aspects of your life. Create habits that support the mindset you want. These can include habits related to how you adjust and regain focus when you feel yourself drift off – a gentle reminder to stay focused on the task at hand. They can also include habits related to how you manage your time, learning processes, as well as happiness.

Familiarise Yourself with the Exam Paper.

Knowing what the exam looks like removes the other ‘surprise’ factor. You are able to relax in the exam room because it feels like you’ve seen this paper before. And for most subjects, the order and structure of the questions don’t change. This allows you to add a crucial aspect to your plan – the exam itself. Knowing the structure of the paper allows you to plan out your exam session, what are the standard or special instructions regarding the paper, what is the structure of the paper in terms of sections and questions, which questions you are going to answer first, and how much time you are going to spend on each section. Get to know the paper.

Monitor Your Progress.

Knowing what you know is important, but knowing what you don’t know is crucial. Monitoring your progress is the easiest way to keep track of these two aspects of learning. You are able to tick off what you know and note what you don’t know so you can have a clear understanding of what you still need to do to prepare for your exams. It also allows you to effectively make the adjustments we mentioned when we talked about plans.

Remember that exams are all about you showing us what you have learned, so the most important thing to do in preparation for exams is to actually learn. You cannot show off skills you have not acquired, and it’s the same with exams. You cannot show how much you haven’t learned if you do not learn something. So adjust your attitude about exams – they are not simply tasks that old people make you do at the end of the year because they are bored. It is an opportunity for you to show how much you have learned – they are for you and about you.

So, have a plan, execute the plan, manage your mindset, familiarise yourself with the papers and monitor your progress. These are the techniques that when used, will ensure that you not only do well in exams but actually enjoy your exams, using them as an opportunity to showcase all that you have learned.