Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Case study: How to 'cram' for exams- Alastair Herron, R.B.A.I

Alastair Herron

With the summer fast approaching, the pressure is on to make the most of what little time is left for the forthcoming examinations.

Whether you are studying for GCSEs, A-levels or internal school examinations, now is the time to begin preparation.

In my opinion, the most important aspect of preparing for examinations is the identification of the areas into which you must focus your attention. Undoubtedly, there will be subjects which you find difficult or feel unprepared for – it is these subjects which will require the greater part of your attention. Another facet of good preparation is to maintain a positive attitude towards these difficult subjects, especially if you have a dislike for that subject – you may be surprised at how well you can perform!

The second most important aspect is to revise regularly and often, especially from this point onwards; keeping material fresh in one’s mind is paramount to success in any subject. However, it is also imperative that you do the most apposite sort of revision for a particular subject. For example in mathematics, there is little merit in writing notes – it is best learned through the practice of problems, whereby your brain is actively involved; contrastingly, in subjects such as literature, it is better to create summaries and essay plans, which present concise nuggets of easily-digestible information.

However, the most formidable opponent to your success is stress – never ever let yourself be overcome by stress; at that point, trying to learn anything becomes pointless as your brain releases a packet of hormones to shut down the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for cognition. In short, stress renders a student entirely unable to think, both during revision and in an examination.

Finally, make the most use of the resources available to you – the internet contains a plethora of past examination papers, demonstrations and notes – don’t neglect its usefulness. Moreover, if you feel stuck, then ask someone who can put the problem to rest, be it a teacher, friend or even a relative. Asking for help is a sign of strength rather than a sign of weakness and it will only stand you in better stead for whatever the examiner decides to throw at you. Good luck!

TOP TIPS

  • Do prioritise your revision – work especially hard on those topics in which you know you are weak.
  • Do practice as many past papers as possible – getting to know the format of examination papers is just as important as knowing their content.
  • Do relax regularly – overworking the brain is just as detrimental to performance as underworking it.
  • Do go over your notes and vocabulary regularly – the brain is more likely to retain material if it is exposed to it on a regular basis.
  • Do not just write out your notes – this is a technique which merely wastes time; instead, summarise in your own words those areas which you have difficulty in understanding.
  • Do not neglect the usefulness of online resources – the internet contains a myriad of material which is both student-friendly and relevant.
  • Do not leave all the revision until the night before the examination – this will induce stress, which stumps all learning processes.
  • Do not lose morale – keeping a positive attitude towards whatever subject you study ensures that you are motivated to perform well.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help – procuring help from others (be they teachers or friends) often helps clear up difficult areas.
  • Do not be afraid to make mistakes – mistakes often establish the truth more effectively than any text book will ever do.

Alastair Herron is studying Further Maths, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Latin and Greek –planning to apply to Merton College, Oxford to read Chemistry.

GCSEs - 13 A* - English Lit, English Lang, Maths, Ad MATHS, all three sciences, Latin, French, Greek, German, RE and Astronomy – Highest performing student at GCSE in Northern Ireland

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