15 September, 2009

How to best prepare for exams?

Exams can be a dreaded word, especially if you’re teaching to high school students. Students’ notion of exam is memorization, comprehension and pressure. So this time around, aside from teaching them lessons that they will be quizzed on, why not impart several nuggets of wisdom on how to prepare for exams? After all, exams do not end in high school. And the better adjusted they are to the concept of exams, the better the grades they’ll get.

Set realistic expectations and goals
Not everyone is an honor student, so expecting to jump a year level or two overnight is just a road to disappointment. Improving grades by doing well on exams should be set over a realistic time period. This way, the student is in control and is motivated.

Goals can be set with to-do lists, priority lists, notes on monthly calendars. But the fact that students have goals will not be worth anything if they are not achieved. Try to get them to write their goals in these broad categories: career, family, health, finances, intellectual, and hobbies, among others. This way, all the things they do can fall into one big picture.

Take a break
In Stephen Covey's book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, he wrote that people should sharpen their saws. It refers to a story of someone meeting a guy in the woods trying to cut down a tree with a saw. The guy asked the woodcutter to take a break and sharpen the saw so it would go faster, but the woodcutter replied that he had been cutting for five hours. He didn’t have time to sharpen his saw!

Stress gets relieved with exercise, when the body gets an influx of endorphins. In order to stay motivated and alert, students should do enjoyable exercises, get proper rest and eat properly. This could also serve as the much-needed break of the mind and body from stressful situations (like cramming for exams). Taking time to recharge physically and emotionally increases productivity.

Prepare in advance
Cramming is not the answer to most exams, and so does the myth that facts stick easier to the brain if studying is done on the day of the exam. Preparing in advance is much more effective, and makes the student more confident in taking the exam. This is because there was time allotted for background research, perusal the school’s exam databases for past exams on the subject, and total comprehension of the issues raised in the lessons.

Get rid of barriers
The biggest barrier is procrastination, and the best way to overcome it is the “Swiss Cheese Method.” It means dividing things to do into smaller chunks (ex. 15 minute tasks) with rewards at the end of the task. This helps students and even you to focus on one issue at a time.

The next biggest barrier is interruptions. If there are phone calls, visits and other problems to deal with, just leave the premises, and fit them into another schedule. Lastly, the third barrier is stress. Did you know that 75% of all worries never happen, but stressing over them can waste so many hours?

The best way to get rid of these barriers is to manage time properly. Make it into a habit, and see the concrete improvements in the students’ academic and overall performance.

Nurture yourself
Nurture the greatest asset your students have—themselves. To be an effective student, an effective time manager, they should enhance not just the physical and mental dimensions of their lives, but also the social/emotional and the spiritual.

Light reading is better than watching television, as it integrates academic issues into real life situations. Develop good communication with friends and family. Engage into activities and pursuits that can make students find out more about themselves. Discover spirituality so there will be a core in their lives.

These things, if taken seriously, can be beneficial to students in the long run. Achievement does not come with just a snap of the fingers. So never give up!