With the Junior and Leaving Cert exams taking place on Wednesday next, the 7th of June, Enniscrone teacher and founder of Studyclix.ie, Luke Saunders, gives us some tips here at the Sligo Weekender to help get you through
What you eat around exam time is very important as this can really make a difference on how you feel and how you function. Certain foods boost your brain power so it’s a good idea to include these into your diet around the exams. Examples of some of these foods are: bananas (have them with breakfast or lunch), oily fish (e.g. salmon or tuna), dark chocolate (in moderation, but it’s good to treat yourself from time to time), and nuts/seeds. Also important is to make sure you have proper meals every day – NEVER skip breakfast, especially on the day of the exam. Even if you feel too nervous to eat, it’s important to eat something as you need the energy to concentrate.
There are a lot of drinks that can enhance or slow down your exam efficiency. Although it might be tempting to drink lots of tea, coffee and energy drinks to keep you alert and energised whilst studying, too much caffeine will affect your sleeping pattern (therefore affecting your concentration levels) and will add to your anxiety levels. Taking regular sips of water especially during exams, is recommended, as dehydration can have a really adverse impact on concentration. However, if you’re a fan of green tea, it’s high in antioxidants which boost brain power so a decaffeinated version of that would be good.
Given the high levels of stress students experience around exam time can lead to lots of ‘stress eating’. It may seem like all you want to do is eat a bar of chocolate but something like an apple or nuts/seeds is really the better choice. They’ll keep you more alert and have more vitamins and antioxidants in them to enhance your study than other sugary foods. Plus, chocolate and other fatty, sugary foods can have other side effects like acne and weight gain, which might add to the stress and anxiety you may already experience from the pressure of exams.
The Night Before An Exam
Lots of students tend to stay up late the night before exams to try and cram every last bit of information that they can. Realistically, you won’t learn much after 10pm and this information that you’re cramming could slip from your mind in an exam setting. Instead, it would be better to go to bed early and try to get the last few notes into your head the next morning when you’re feeling refreshed. Sleep is so important for concentration and productivity, so aim to have at least 7 hours sleep the night before an exam.
How To Deal With Stress
First off, these exams really are not the end of the world, there are more important things out there. However, if you do find yourself getting stressed, there are certain things that may help. For example:
Exercising – exercising produces endorphins (happy hormones) and make you feel happier, more relaxed and less stressed. Plus it’s a great way to keep fit and physically healthy.
Meditating – this is something that some students may roll their eyes at, but you would be surprised at how big a difference just 15 minutes of closing your eyes, breathing deeply and clearing your mind makes.
Talk to someone – if things are getting a bit too much for you, then take some time out, close the books and chat about something completely unrelated and only return to your studies when you’re feeling up to it. On the other hand, if you’re having trouble with a particular subject, talk to someone about it, you never know who could help!
Do something that makes you happy – whether that be football, watching an episode of your favourite TV show or baking, it’s a great way to de-stress. As long as you’re not being excessive about it or neglecting your studies, there’s no need to feel guilty about it.
Delete your social media apps – phones provide a real distraction from studying and while it might not work for everyone, many students may find it beneficial to delete their social media apps, just until the exams are over.
After the exam – once an exam is over, it’s over. Don’t fall into the habit of analysing each exam after it’s done. There’s nothing you can do about it now so there’s no point stressing yourself out about it. Focus your time instead on what you can do for your next exam.
Top 10 do’s of exam technique
1. Have a timing plan
One of the biggest challenges facing students during exams is running out of time. To battle this, come up with a clear timing guide and write it on the front cover of your exam paper showing the actual time you should be starting each question. Then, when it comes to the halfway mark of the exam, you can check your guide and see how many questions you should have answered at that stage.
2. Bring everything you need
This may sound obvious but a lot of stress can be avoided on the day of the exam if you have everything you need with you. Make a check list the night before. It’s a good idea to bring some light snacks such as a banana or a cereal bar into the exam hall with you. Avoid noisy foods such as crisps, as these could distract other people.
3. Get the basics right
Read all the questions carefully, underline keywords and put your exam number on your answer booklet. Make sure to get familiar with the layout of the paper, as some complicated instructions could throw you on the day.
4. Do the easiest questions first
You don’t necessarily have to do the questions as they appear on the exam paper. Start off with a question that you’re confident with, as doing your first question well will help calm you and get you focused for the rest of the exam. Also, you may get an easy question done quicker so you will be ahead of schedule from the start and have more time at the end to go over your answers.
5. Jog your short-term memory
The night before an exam is not the time to be getting your head around new concepts. Instead, use this time to cram keywords into your short-term memory so that when you think of these keywords during an exam, it will bring more information flowing to your mind.
6. Prepare your body
With two 3 hour exams a day, day after day, students are bound to feel drained both mentally and physically. Stuffing sugary foods and drinks into you will leave you feeling energised for an hour or so, but when it comes to the middle of the exam you will be completely out of energy. Instead, try and eat slow energy releasing foods such as bread, pasta, porridge and fruit.
7. Ask the invigilator
If you’re stuck on the meaning of a word or what the question requires you to do, put your hand up and ask the invigilator who is supervising the exams. They will be able to point you in the right direction more often than not.
8. Look at the marking scheme
Be familiar with how many points are being awarded for each question. If there are only a small amount of points going towards a question, then there’s no point writing a long answer for it. Instead, spend that time on questions with higher marks.
9. Use Studyclix.ie
The evening before the exam, go through that subject topic by topic on Studyclix.ie. Look at a question, try and answer it, then look at the marking scheme to see what marks you would have got.
10. If you’re running out of time
In the case of you having two questions left to answer but you’re running out of time, the best thing for you to do is to do the first half of both questions. More marks are obtained in the first halves of questions than at the end. Also, if you’re really tight for time, bullet points are a great way to get information across while saving time.
Top 10 don’ts of exam technique
1. Don’t panic
Many students get stressed at exam time due to fear of the unknown – they don’t know what’s going to come up on a paper and there’s nothing they can do about it. However, one of the best things you can do is to visualise yourself in an exam hall. Reading the paper and picking which questions to do early on will help calm you as it removes the stress caused by the unknown of what’s coming up.
2. Don’t worry about being penalised
Lots of students worry about making mistakes and spelling incorrectly. But remember that you are being marked positively, not negatively, so everything you write will get you some marks.
3. Don’t leave out questions
One of the main reasons why students underperform in exams is not because they answer questions badly, but because they leave out questions altogether. As a general rule, every long question you leave out will drop you by a grade.
4. Don’t run out of time
Easier said than done, but manging your time correctly is vital if you are to avoid leaving questions out. At the beginning of the exam, write out a time schedule and stick to it, so that if you look at the clock and it’s say 11:10, you know exactly how much of your exam you should have done. Also, so many students run overtime perfecting answers that might gain them 3 marks at the expense of not doing a whole 50-mark question.
5. Don’t be tired
Staying up late the night before an exam is a very bad idea. You will just end up too tired in the actual exam and not being able to concentrate. Try and keep a regular sleep cycle so that you’re fully awake and alert by the time the exam starts at 9:30.
6. Don’t get stuck on a question
If you come across a tough question, there is no point thinking about it too much and panicking. The best thing you could do is to have a quick think about it, mark it with a highlighter and move on. The chances are, by the time you come back to it after having answered other questions, your subconscious mind will have already set you up to make an attempt at it.
7. Don’t look around the exam hall
One of the most common things you see in an exam hall is students looking around to see how their friends are doing, especially in exams they find difficult. There really is no point in doing this, as seeing other peers writing furiously is only going to stress you further and take your mind off the task at hand.
8. Don’t leave an exam early
Read back over your work and make sure you’ve answered all parts of your questions, as there is always something you can do to improve your answers and those changes you make in the last few minutes could bring you up a grade.
10. Don’t panic
This tip is so important that we thought we should include it twice. If a really hard question appears on a paper, it is likely that every other student in Ireland will find it difficult too. More often than not, the marking scheme will be made easier for harder exams. Stay positive and give the exam your best and everything will work out.