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It’s Exam Time: May the Force Be With You

Posted by Francis O' Toole on February 29, 2012

In that grand old tradition, Emmet Oliver, Education Correspondent for The Irish Times, has 10 top tips to help you through your exams.

1 – Go Easy on the Panic

A certain amount of nerves are required to do well in this exam, but blind panic is not.

Are you hype-proofed? The airwaves will crackle in early June with pundits talking about the exams, but try and put matters into some kind of perspective and buy some ear plugs.

Remember this does not have to be your only shot at the big time. You can repeat. You can still get a great job and live a very contented life even if you flunk the exam entirely.

Examiners are there to give you marks, not take them away. Abolish all negative thoughts from your mind and try this old adage: you start with a 100 per cent of the marks, not with nothing.

Judging whether you are too panicky or too chilled out is easy: violent shakes are bad, going to bed before midnight is good. If you manage to keep the butterflies at bay, help your parents do the same. Tell them you are doing the exam and you would like some space to get on with the job. However, if you are feeling seriously under pressure do share that with them, and preferably not late at night when everyone’s tempers are starting to flare.

2 – Beware the Telly

At exam time there’s a tendency to develop a deep interest in TV programmes you slag briefly and turn off the rest of the year round. If you really need a break go for a walk. Don’t spend the entire afternoon watching Crossroads, Judge Judy or indoor bowls.

3 – Use your Time(table) Wisely

Yes, you should have some kind of timetable or rota, but draw it up once and stick to it. Students will look for any reason not to study in the evening, particularly if they had an exam that morning. But don’t waste time brushing up your timetable.

4 – Food, Glorious Food

You have probably already consumed dangerous quantities of Red Bull, coffee and crisps. Your body is probably crying out for something that actually contains proteins and vitamins. And no, chewing gum doesn’t qualify.

During exam preparation you tend to let everything slide: personal hygiene, sense of humour, relationships with parents and of course contact with the outside world. But do not let your diet slide: make sure you get three square meals (including breakfast) each day.

This is the one time in your life where you should let your father or mother feed you remorselessly. Proper meals are better than occasional nibbling. Deeply unfashionable food like porridge and peas are actually worth bringing back into your life – and please remember to pour milk over your cornflakes, not Red Bull.

5 – Doing the Nightshift

During exam preparations a slightly macho form of boasting can break out – “I stayed up till two last night, how about you?” “Well, I was at the books until almost four, or was that five?” Forget all that. Staying up late studying when your eyelids are heavy is stupid. Put simply, when you are tired knowledge does not stick. A half-hour of study when you are bright and alert is probably worth more than two hours of studying when you are half asleep.

Hitting the hay earlier in the evening will give you a better start in the morning, whereas staying up late is likely to hamper your performance for the next day and possibly the day after that.

6 – Small is Beautiful

Long screeds of notes should start to be replaced at this stage by smaller versions. Cards listing the main points on a subject should be the order of the day. Less is more.

If you have been studying steadily for the last few months certain words should now trigger off whole answers. These “trigger words” should be on your lips when you go into the exam and when you are revising you should clearly highlight them.

If possible, you should confine yourself to what you have already done, rather than grappling with new material. You should try doing a few likely questions in exam conditions, essentially subjecting yourself to a stopwatch. Were you able to complete your answer in the time allowed? Did you have enough points to answer adequately? If the answer is no, you should go back and polish up what you have learned.

The things you have learned are somewhere in the recess of your short-term memory, you just need to find ways to bring them out on the day.

7 – Do not get put on a Missing Persons File

All right so you have to study hour after hour, but that does not mean you have to disappear from public life like Lord Lucan. You can still take a walk in the evening, do a bit of shopping on a Saturday morning, watch the odd television programme or continue other hobbies you have. Taking a break in this manner allows you to come back to your desk very much refreshed.

Keeping in contact with friends is also important – even friends who are lucky enough not to be doing the exam. Although it is hard to believe, you will have a social life again and it is important to keep in contact with everyone, particularly as your school days are coming to an end and pupils will soon start drifting apart.

Remember keeping in touch does not have to involve long phone calls, texting is cheaper and handier.

8 – Talk to your Teachers

We may be heading towards June, but they haven’t gone away, you know. Teachers are still in schools and are also available by phone for urgent queries. Is there a maths problem you still do not understand? Is there a particularly perplexing part of the English course you would love to have explained? Teachers are there to answer those questions.

The more generous ones will meet you privately, either during school hours or afterwards. Others will take a phone call from you and some will correct sample answers for you.

9 – College Choice is for Later

You have spent months chopping and changing your CAO form. Let it rest. You should study your subjects as hard as possible. Don’t tie yourself in knots over the implications for your course choices. In August, they will come back into play, so wait until then.

10 – The Future is Looking Bright

Having to do seven or eight Leaving Cert subjects in the heat of the summer is hardly most people’s idea of enjoying life’s rich harvest, but don’t despair. The economy is starting to pick up again. There are plenty of great gigs this summer. Flights to Spain and the Canaries are dropping in price every day and within a month you can walk out those school gates and never look back.


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