Don't cram! and other exam tips
We spoke to a high-school teacher at a private school in Cape Town about exam time.
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1. What do you enjoy most about preparing for exams?

I enjoy interacting with the learners and offering them an "in" to the subject. And, most of all, I love that moment when they get it. You can almost hear the click. There’s little more rewarding than that.

2. A lot of students feel overwhelmed by the pressures of exam time. What advice would you give to them?

Eat. Sleep. Stay hydrated.

Revise ahead of time. Don’t cram! You need to put in a little bit of effort ages in advance – not a few days before. There’s a difference between long-term and short-term memory recall. Cramming the night before commits to short-term memory. Some people have the capacity to recall loads from short term – they’re few and far between though and have a natural gift.

The rest of us have to commit information to long-term memory to influence recall. Ever studied your bum off, only to get there on the day, unable to remember what you'd learned the night before? Going blank – that’s an issue with short-term memory recall. Don’t cram.

3. Some students struggle to focus and are easily distracted. Any tips for them?

  • Don’t study for long, long periods of time. Set yourself sessions of 45 minutes to one hour.
  • Work hard and work diligently.  
  • After that session get up and go do something. Run, eat, walk around, go to the shops – do something. But break. Not too long, though. Then get back to it. Long periods of study tend to facilitate poor efficiency. Keep it short and concise.
  • And DON’T – don’t don’t don’t – just read over your work. You need to "use" the information. Write it. Make notes. Use colour. Make notes. Make more notes.  

4. Lastly, what can parents do to ease the stress and pressures of exam-time for their kids?

  • Back off. Don’t focus on results as much as process. Your kids will be terrified to get things wrong and will worry about the right answer more than they'll be thinking. Thinking is a longer, tougher way through education, but your child will be far, far better off in the long run.  
  • If they struggle with concentration, set them goals and deadlines. By 5pm, you must have 4 pages of notes. By 3pm you must be able to teach me XYZ.
  • That’s the other thing. Don’t "test" your kids. They’re not parrots. Education has evolved to some degree. If you want to test their knowledge, get them to teach you a subject. It's even better if you don’t know it. Because at the end of the "lesson", if you still don’t know it, then chances are they don’t either. The best way to learn is through teaching.
  • Other than that, provide a constructive space for them. No noise. If you have small kids or pets, keep them quiet. Make sure your studying child is drinking water (but avoid too much juice and sugar) and eating regularly.

Good luck.

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