Help! Exam tips for the 11th hour

The Leaving and Junior Certs are here. Don’t panic, turn off your phone, and rest (but not too much)


As the the Leaving and Junior Certificate exams kick off from June 3rd, thousands of students are making last minute preparations for the state exams.

To do well in exams students must manage their academic workload through the year effectively. But even the best prepared student can feel uneasy as the exams approach. It’s vital you manage your remaining time well and take a proactive approach to your revision.

Study tips

De-digitalise. Turn off your phone, plug out your laptop and ask your parents to hide the battery. Study old notes you’ve made rather than revising online. The internet can be your friend at times, but at the 11th hour it’s simply too tempting to roam the web and find yourself watching re-runs of Friends rather than learning learning speeches from Othello.

Betty McLaughlin, president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, recommends students avoid exam predictions which can be a dangerous playing field that will throw you off what’s destined to actually come up. In 2012, for example, Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath were widely predicted to appear on English Paper II. Almost immediately after the exam, students across the country took to social media to complain neither of the poets were on the paper.

Prepare for the practicalities of exam day. Check your exam number. Ensure you have everything you need for each exam. Check your stationery - pens, pencils and a calculator - for the exam hall. Arrange how you will travel to the exams and remember a small bottle of water for the exam hall. Allow yourself plenty of time on the morning of your exams and aim to arrive about 30 minutes beforehand. Print off a copy of the exam timetable and save it to your mobile phone. It’s important to dress appropriately: the temperature of an exam hall can vary so wear a couple of layers and removeas necessary.

RTÉ presenter Eoghan McDermott says “exercise can boost your memory and brain power so I took a 20 min walk before an exam which definitely helped improve my performance”. His comment is one of the study hacks gathered by Eircom’s StudyHub using the hashtag #StudyHacks. Another study hack, from Chris Cullen, advises chewing a specific flavour of chewing gum while studying and then chewing the same flavour in exams, to remember by association.

Avoid dissecting the paper with friends once you’ve left the exam hall. It can be tempting to mull over the highs and lows afterwards, but the exam is in the past and you should focus on what’s in front of you. “Going through the exam paper after you’ve left the hall can lead to confusion in some students. If you’ve another exam in the afternoon, go out and get some fresh air, it will clear your head and reduce your levels of stress,” McLaughlin says.

Rest, but not too much. Getting enough rest is one of the most important things to remember over the exam period. Try to get at least seven hours sleep a night and aim to go to bed before midnight. You’ll wake feeling more energised and less burned out and groggy than if you stayed up late the night before.

Eat well. A healthy diet in the run up is beneficial. Eat brain boosting, protein-rich foods such as eggs, nuts and yoghurts. Good breakfasts might be whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk, eggs and toast with jam, porridge, oatmeal, or sugar-free muesli. On an exam morning eat something substantial to help avoid hunger (but don’t stuff yourself either). The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) recommends students avoid a high caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can mimic feelings of anxiety and stress.

Keep things in perspective. At the moment, the exams may feel like they’re the be all and end all but in the grander scheme of things, they’re only a small part of life. McLaughlin says it’s important to believe in yourself. Actively challenge your irrational thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. Examples: “I can do this”, “I can pass this test”, “I must focus on the question in front of me.” Remember, the results of these exams will not define you as a person.

Anxiety is completely normal around exam time. Focus on what you can do rather than on what you can’t do. If you’re not feeling particularly confident about a certain subject or topic, don’t let it get you down. You’re not going through this experience alone. If you feel overwhelmed, talk to someone: a friend, family member or a teacher.

McLaughlin also says parents should avoid arguing and be extremely mindful of sons or daughters who are sitting exams. Look out for indicators they’re suffering from stress such as broken sleep, mood swings and a lack of motivation. Don’t give them any household chores. Remember, it’s their exam week, not yours.

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