Sunday 17 May 2015

How To Prepare Yourself For Exams

While much has been written about the mechanics of revision - and I am sure there are many excellent examples of the superb teaching of revision skills (see for the best example) - relatively little seems to be said about the business of students making sure they are in exactly the right frame of mind for an exam.

So my first assembly of this term was devoted to the Performance Curve. Used, I believe, by stress management consultants and others, this describes the relationship between performance - ie the quality of output - and the level of pressure, or stress, the latter being measured on the horizontal axis. The relationship between them is expressed by a line that rises gently to a peak, and then declines again - not unlike a bell curve.

How many students, however, are taught to self-evaluate? Are they under too little pressure, to the left of the peak of the performance curve in their revision? Do they know how to respond to this? How many students, on the night before an exam are right at the top of the peak? And in the minutes before an exam, how many students find themselves experiencing so much pressure that they are beyond the peak of the performance curve and on the downhill slope at the right hand end? And, if they are, how many know what to do about it?

Starting this discussion with pupils in classes is, I think, a key way to help pupils to begin to self manage, so that the level of pressure they experience at each stage of the run-in to their exams can be optimised - in the revision stage, in the night before nerves stage, and in the few minutes before the exam.

We are late in this cycle as I write, so three tips for students in managing the later stages of stress as they approach the exams when they tend to be too far along the curve, potentially diminishing their ability to perform. First, when experiencing stress, breathe with your diaphragm: this should involve your belly expanding when you breathe in (check by placing your palm on your stomach, and feel it expanding when you inhale). Your fight or flight mechanism responds to stress by moving your breathing up to your chest, but this response actually exacerbates the stress if you aren't going to take exercise.

Second, visualise yourself in the exam (or practical, or wherever) performing successfully. Take time to have a short daydream in which you are doing well.

Third, remember that every other candidate in the country is feeling the same as you, and they are the people you are competing against. And if the other candidates are looking relaxed, that's only because social conditioning teaches us to do so. They are all nervous. Nerves are normal.

And some nerves, of course, are necessary to bring us to the peak of the performance curve.

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