As the final exam of their school careers inch closer, Grade 12s should now be laser-focused on their revision to ensure they perform to the best of their ability. Doing so will go a long way to providing the confidence to perform in the exam room on the day. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens – even when a student has prepared as best they can – that exam day doesn’t go as smoothly as hoped, and that a student finds themselves hitting the proverbial blank.
“We all wish to keep our cool in the exam room so that we have to deal only with the paper in front of us, and not with spiralling emotions, but regrettably, this is not always the experience for everyone,” says Adrian Garden, Deputy Dean: Teaching & Learning at The Independent Institute of Education’s Rosebank College.
He says there are ways to lessen the chances of having a mid-exam meltdown and also addressing one as it happens.
“In addition to focusing on revision, students (with the help of their parents) should also now be running over exam day scenarios to ensure they are prepared logistically and mentally, to lessen stress and surprises on the day,” he says.
In the weeks ahead, Matrics should ensure they are very clear about the details of each exam, including date, time, venue and equipment required for each paper. Additionally, they should stick to their study schedule to avoid last-minute cramming which increases anxiety and get enough sleep, Garden says.
“Start the day calmly, as unwanted stress will permeate the rest of the day. A positive attitude and strong mental determination are the perfect antidotes for last minute doubts that can sometimes creep in.
“Wake up a little bit earlier to accommodate for any unplanned circumstances, and try to arrive at the venue with time to spare. This allows you to settle your nerves and visit the restroom before sitting down for the paper.”
Garden says it’s important to not allow the stress levels of peers to affect one’s own.
“Very often, fellow students start talking about the topics that they are unprepared for, which then becomes a source of stress and uncertainty in oneself. So rather go for a little walk if fellow students start stressing.”
IN THE ROOM
Garden says students should take the following approach when sitting down for a paper:
- Make sure you have the required equipment with you.
- Understand how the time will be divided. Many assessments start with reading time before the start of the actual assessment.
- Make use of the full allocation of time. Don’t rush through the assessment. Rather plan the time accordingly.
- Read through the whole paper before attempting any question, just to get a feel for the questions being asked.
- Don’t panic pre-emptively if you see a question that seems challenging.
- Re-read the assessment while making notes and annotations. This will allow you to understand what each question is asking. It is important to take your time with this. Very often students skim read the question and misinterpret it. They then spend a significant portion of time writing the wrong answer before realising it.
- Start with the questions you know. Don’t get stuck on the unfamiliar questions and spend most of the time trying to answer them. Instead, attempt the questions you are familiar with, or for which you are well prepared then move on to the less familiar questions.
- Keep your eye on the time.
- Attempt all questions, even the unfamiliar ones.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
In rare cases, even if the above approach is followed, students may still find themselves flailing during an exam. When this happens, the first thing to do is recognise what is happening, and remind yourself to stay calm, says Garden.
“Calm your body with deep breaths, and then calm your mind. Remind yourself that you worked hard and know your work, and get back to the present.”
Then, it’s time to get back to business, by doing the following:
- Jot down everything you recall about the material and what you studied. Doing so will get you back into the process of focusing on the task at hand as opposed to the emotions that took over earlier.
- If you can’t remember any of the material, try visualising yourself sitting in class when the material was covered, or yourself sitting with your study notes in front of you. Write down everything that comes to mind.
- Reconstruct and build on what you have to work with, by using what you can remember to start with, and then using whatever else comes to you.
- Do what you can, and answer as many questions as possible, while staying as calm as possible.
“By preparing to the best of your ability, the chances of an exam day disaster will be diminished. However should things go south on the day, remember the recovery techniques. And when the paper is over, take time to decompress, put the ordeal behind you, and focus with renewed commitment on what lies ahead, not what is over and done.”
Note to editor: Adrian Garden is Deputy Dean: Teaching and Learning at Rosebank College (IIE). He holds a Masters in Education (UK) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration (RSA), and is currently pursuing his Doctoral studies in Big Data in Education and how this can inform effective student support strategies.