Wednesday, 8th May 2019
Terry Fell, head of sixth form at top-performing Ripon Grammar School, offers advice to students
Terry Fell, head of sixth form at top-performing
FOR thousands of students throughout the region, this is the point at which nothing stands between them and their examinations other than a few final, rapidly dwindling weeks of preparation.
Hopefully most will feel relatively well prepared and in control, but it can also be an extremely stressful time.
The enormity of what is expected of you and the overwhelming mass of what you feel hasn’t been done can be a paralysing experience.
If you want to feel less stress you can either increase your coping skills by undertaking more effective revision or change the perception of your coping skills by being more positive about your abilities.
For our students, the key is to take control of the situation to work efficiently and with focus.
The starting point in our revision preparation is to clearly identify what needs to be revised, creating a list for each subject.
Next, adopt a traffic light system, using highlighters to identify ‘green’ areas, which you feel confident with, ‘amber’, where you’re fairly comfortable with the basics, but need to brush it up a little and ‘red’, where you feel as if you weren’t even in the classroom when this was covered!
Visualising the workload in this way immediately gives you a measure of control because you know where to prioritise your efforts.
For red areas, it’s important not to take the view you don’t know anything at all. You will have some level of understanding, the key is to identify three or four questions that could help unlock the topic for you.
With amber, the key is working through practice papers until you feel able to turn the amber to green.
It’s human nature to gravitate to the green topics we feel most comfortable with but, in revision terms, this isn’t helpful. Leave them be, other than a brief run-through later.
The great thing with this system is you can see at a glance where your priorities lie, and you are in control of how and when you tackle that piece by piece. It is also reassuring to see the colours shift in your favour.
A good workspace is also key to quality revision – it needs to be free from distraction, excessive noise, chatty friends or irritating siblings. Leave your phone downstairs.
It’s also a good idea to identify your most productive and least productive points during the day and week.
A blank chart, dividing the day into hours, allows you to consider where the good quality spaces are for revision, when you are unlikely to be distracted and know from experience you work well.
Divide revision time into regular 40-minute sessions - the optimum time we can remain focused - and try to switch between topics and subjects. Enjoy regular short breaks after every session as your quality of revision drops off a cliff after a certain point.
Pin this schedule up at home for all the family to see so everyone can help you stick to it.
Systematic, methodical revision strategies, involving reviewing and reorganising information, will enhance your coping skills.
Revision materials like diagrams or flashcards displayed around your working area in constant eyesight is also a useful way of ensuring information becomes embedded. You’re creating what psychologists call ‘cues’, such as key words or phrases, which are signposts to memories.
Using your friends can be a great way for you both to benefit positively from company during revision, which often feels much more positive than a lonely vigil at your desk, and can often offer reassurance, or suggest new ways of looking at topics. Just make sure you don’t drift off task too often!
Watch out for common pitfalls, like mixing up similar information or concepts, which is a frequent reason for losing marks. Once you are in the exam, underline key words in the question and keep linking back to them.
If you tend to undervalue yourself or doubt your abilities, you may simply need to change your perception. Look back over all your marked work - you may find more strengths than you thought.
Look at the grade boundaries for each of your exams, which will help you realise you do not need to get 100 per cent for a top grade. This puts the exam into perspective and will help reduce any worries you have about needing to be perfect.
Finally, as important as any revision strategy is ensuring you look after yourself.
You need to sleep well to perform well. You also need to eat well. Sustained focus leaves you feeling drained. Leave the junk food, sugary snacks and energy drinks to one side.
Build regular downtime and activities you enjoy into your schedule, balancing them sensibly with revision. Don’t let your studies stop you spending quality time with those who know you best, and who care for you most.
Don’t bottle up the pressure. Talk about it with friends, family or teachers. While exam results may feel all-consuming now, they are definitely not the end of the world.
Remember that the success you will undoubtedly make of your life depends far more on your qualities as a human being than on a grade on a piece of paper.