Exams do not have to be a test of nerves

Sitting at a desk, looking through the fog at an exam paper with the realisation that you know none of the answers is enough to bring many secondary school pupils bolt upright in their beds in a cold sweat.

It is a terrifying and recurring dream for pupils at this time of year as NCEA exams roll round.

But Kaikorai Valley College principal Philip Craigie says good preparation and dedication will keep the pre-exam jitters at bay.

"A few fortunate students find recall and retention of what is learned relatively easy. However, for most of us, studying and the self discipline involved does not come easily."

Mr Craigie said there were two things which he believed were vital in preparing for exam success.

The first is self organisation.

"It sounds simple, but it's hard to achieve. For our senior secondary students facing exams, there are about five weeks left before the period of testing begins.

"Prioritise - find and make time to prepare. It is never too late. You need to break the usual routines that dominate your life. Reduce the social life - there isn't enough time ever. You have to make the time.

"Maybe you have an understanding boss who can give you some time away from your part-time job as exams near. Negotiate. A little study regularly - two or three bursts every day - is much better than trying to fill hours and hours at the last minute."

Mr Craigie said it was also important to make sure what you are studying is relevant.

"Make sure you work on what you don't know or only partially know. Little is gained from rehearsing what you do know well. Start with what was taught earlier in the year and progress towards the later material."

If you found something you were studying that you did not understand, you should move on and ask your teacher about it back at school at the first opportunity, he said.

"That's what teachers are for - to help you. Teachers will go out of their way to help someone who is keen to revisit something they didn't quite understand when it was first taught."

The second important requirement for pupils was the knowledge of exactly what an external exam was going to be about, he said.

"It sounds simple, but I frequently see and hear from students who have underestimated or misunderstood just what was required in some of the exams they have sat.

"They thought they were prepared but they have been disappointed. The immediacy, and the frequency of internal assessment nowadays makes the external exams quite remote for some students.

Mr Craigie said a clear understanding of what the external exam could contain was vital.

He recommended pupils got the possible topics in the exam and that they saw a sample of how the questions from a similar exam of a previous year were put together.

The rest was straight forward, he said.

"Know exactly where and when the exam is; get enough sleep before the exam time; eat well and properly; get a fresh battery for the calculator and have pens that work.

"It's all basic, but it is amazing how many students give themselves extra stress when they don't need to.

"You can only have good luck in exams when you have practised over and over what you've been taught, and when you have organised your time so that everything has had enough preparation to ensure success."


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