It’s that time of year again. Examinations are looming and study, pressure, frayed tempers and insufficient sleep are the order of the day.
Stressed students complain of “so much to do but not enough hours in which to do it”.
Parents are eager to help but must strike a delicate balance between being on hand to offer a listening ear, encouragement and support and not piling on further pressure or irking sons or daughters who may already be overburdened.
Ger Colleran of iCareer - a local career planning company for young people which helps them with Leaving Certificate subject choices, study skills, third level courses, etc - says the right approach and mental attitude, coupled with a good plan and methodology, will help students achieve success on the day.
How to handle exam pressure
Students should expect to go through lots of “ups and downs” in the run up to the exams, he says.
“Worrying about the future, panic, guilt about not studying more, despair at having messed up and fear about not doing well, are all feelings students may experience at this time.
“It doesn’t help that everyone talks about the exams and the results non stop. Your friends with their own fears, parents expecting straight As and teachers warning about the earth stopping are all pressures on young people facing into examination periods.”
While a little stress can be good because it helps motivate people to produce their best, it can become a problem when the demands placed are too great or continue for too long.
“Stress is normal as long as it is controlled and helps you be more focused and committed. It can be good to be stressed as it may help you study and take the ups and downs better and more confidently. Being too chilled out may cause you to forget to study though this is unlikely! However, too much stress can stop you from doing your best.”
How to study effectively
If you have neglected your study or just want to accelerate the pace you still have time in which to get results, according to Ger Colleran.
Start by arranging your work desk and study space so that it is warm, tidy, quiet and comfortable, he says.
Draw up a daily timetable (if you have not done so already ) with study time periods being the focal point.
“Break this down into allotted time frames for each subject and include break times for relaxation, eating and me-time. Put these times on a chart or paper over your work desk.”
He advises students to treat studying like a job/project in which they are the manager /are in charge of their destiny.
“Don’t spend too much time on any one subject. Try to spread out your study time equally over all subjects, though some of your stronger subjects may not require a lot of time. But don’t take things for granted either.”
Ger says it is important to make your study plan realistic and to adhere to it.
“If you don’t or can’t for any reason, don’t stress out, just go back to it again. Keep your head in the game!”
Make notes as you are studying and use mind-mapping. This will help you revise more easily.
“Take breaks and give yourself rewards for time spent studying, eg, a snack, watching TV, buying something, going to a movie.
“Don’t compare yourself to others. We all have different ways of doing things that suit us for different reasons. Be sure to ask for help with things that you don’t understand.”
Tips to help you cope
* Learn a good relaxation technique
* Do one thing at a time
* List what is annoying you and decide what you can and cannot control. “Re the things you can control, choose the most important item/task and address this first and then tackle the remaining ones. Try to address each one in turn but don’t feel upset or annoyed if you don’t complete it on time or at all. Avoid procrastination.
“Re the things you cannot control, ask for help. There is always someone who can help you, they just need to be asked. Talk to someone you can confide in and trust, ie, a parent, guardian, teacher.”
* Try to relax. Calm down by going to a quiet place where you can lie down, slow down your breathing and let your muscles relax.
“Think about being in a really tranquil place like your favourite place on earth with no concerns. This calm place is now your mental refuge. Imagine the detail of this place - sounds, smells, sensations, views. Practise going to this place in your mind for just a few seconds every day or at any time so it will be easy to do when you are really stressed.”
* Try not to let things pile up by doing a little every day.
* Take time out to do the things you enjoy.
* Eat and exercise regularly. This should be a very important part of your daily routine. “Walking is a great way of reducing stress,” he says. “Chocolate is good for energy after eating a healthy meal.”
* Cut down on tea and coffee intake.
* Don’t work right up to bedtime.
* Avoid alcohol.
* Don’t try to be perfect all the time. “The best you can do in the time available really is fine.”
* Laugh a lot, especially with family and friends.
* Get eight to nine hours sleep. “This really is a minimum.”
* Remember, problems may seem worse when you are overtired.
* Listen to your favourite songs. Avoid depressing or sad songs.
How parents can help
* Try not to criticise
* Offer to help by reviewing homework and helping students revise. “Choose a certain same time in the day to do this with your loved ones.”
* Help them plan their study periods which should include breaks, relaxation and social activity.
* Listen with your eyes and heart
* Encourage responsibility
* Be aware that your teenagers may be feeling overwhelmed by what lies ahead. “Let them know that you are there waiting and willing to help them. Don’t let them face the pressure alone. Let them know that you have gone through what they are experiencing now and how you believe in them and their future success.”
He offers the following study guidelines:-
Junior Certificate Level
Study two to three hours per day during school periods
Study four to five hours per day during non-school periods
Study one to two hours on a Saturday and Sunday morning (take the afternoons off )
Discuss how your study is going with your parents/guardians
Close the books 18 hours before the exam
Leaving Certificate Level
Study three to four hours per day during school periods
Study five to six hours per day during non-school periods
Study two to three hours on a Saturday and Sunday morning (take the afternoons off )
Discuss how your study is progressing with your parents/guardians
Close the books 18 hours before the exam
On the day
On the morning of the exam Ger Colleran recommends getting up early.
“Go for a long, brisk walk initially followed by a slow/thoughtful walk. Then shower and have a healthy breakfast (nothing too heavy ).
“Remain optimistic and positive. Work like you have never worked before during the exam period. When it is over, leave the examination hall/room saying to yourself ‘That’s it, I did my best, I couldn’t have done any better’. And believe it!”