Last-minute Study Dos and Don’ts

VCE exams are in full swing!

And while most of the hard work has been done…

It’s not too late for students to work on improving their performance on the big days.

Encourage your kids to adopt some healthy and productive approaches to study in these last few weeks…

And avoid those things that may get in the way.

DON’T put life (completely) on hold. 

Yes – exam periods will be much more focussed on study than in general.

But students shouldn’t bunker down at their desks for weeks at a time with no reprieve.

Ideally, each day will be study-heavy, but also factor in time with friends or family, relaxation, and exercise.

And thankfully, they can all be done simultaneously!

The best way to make sure other aspects of daily life don’t go unattended?…

DO make a plan. 

Taking the time to get organised is an investment that will pay itself off very quickly, and then some!

Even if students have been going ‘rogue’ with their study thus far, it’s never too late to make a study timetable.

Students should start by considering how much study time should be allocated to each subject…

This should be evaluated by allocating time proportionally to strengths and weaknesses, particularly at this late stage.

Then breaks for socialising, exercise or other reward breaks can be worked them.

A balanced and considered routine will be a student’s greatest ally in stressful times.

DON’T ‘cram’. 

Slow and steady really does win the race when it comes to study.

But for those students who may not have been as prepared as possible throughout the year…

Racing to the finish line can often do more damage than good.

‘Cramming’ generally involves skimming over large amounts of material.

And while it may increase familiarity with concepts…

Familiarity doesn’t equal understanding, or enable recall or application of knowledge in the exam setting.

Trying to ‘cram’ a large amount of information in a short period of time also tends to heighten stress, and reduce sleep.

DO practice tests. 

A better alternative to ‘cramming’ is practice exams.

Many researchers and education experts believe that mimicking exam conditions and questions is the best way to prepare for an exam, particular in the later stages.

Practice tests can reduce anxiety around exams…

Students become more aware of the exam structure, reducing the ‘fear of the unknown’ and encouraging them to plan an approach.

Students also become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses by doing practice exams…

As they are actually assessing themselves on what they’ve learned, rather than simply recalling it.

(So they can then tailor their other study priorities accordingly).

And research shows that studying through practice tests helps to retain information and aid memory retrieval…

Enabling them to access that information more readily and easily, when they need it — in the exam!!

DON’T over do it. 

Our brains can only consume, process and retain so much information each day.

Studying non-stop in the days leading to exams will do more harm than good…

It almost inevitably leads to frustration and exhaustion, makes us more emotional and less resilient, and compromises other important aspects of a healthy lifestyle (and productive study routine).

Students should try to keep the bulk of their study during the day, too…

Study efficiency diminishes at night, particularly after midnight.

Plus, a 2014 study showed that late-night studiers experienced more RNT — repetitive negative thinking — than their early sleeping classmates.

Negativity gets in the way of productivity AND efficiency, and is the last thing a VCE student needs.

DO get a good sleep

While sleep is one of the first things VCE students in particular tend to forego during exam period…

It should actually be one of their top priorities.

Even after a single night of sleep deprivation, our ability to memorise new information drops significantly.

And as any person who had experienced a bad night’s sleep will know:

We’re much more likely to wake up tired and emotional.

Fatigue can severely diminish our focus, thought processing and clarity of thinking…

And also heighten anxiety and stress.

DON’T eat junk food

Fast food and unhealthy snacks can be the closest source of comfort for many students in exam period.

But it’s a very clear example of ‘short-term gain, long term pain’…

Junk food can have a bad impact on energy levels, concentration and the way we process information.

Eating too much sugar produces a brief sugar high and then the inevitable sugar crash…

Leading to fatigue, lack of focus and poor concentration.

Studiers should eat full, well-balanced meals, including proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

And drinking lots of water is a must…

Brain function can be impeded by even minor levels of dehydration.

Food rewards can be good incentives for meeting study goals…

But by erring on the healthier side of treats, studiers can have their cake and eat it too!

(Dark chocolate is a good choice — it helps blow flow to the brain!)

DO take breaks.

Research shows that in general, study is most effective when broken into chunks and broken up by rests.

Ideally, in on hour intervals — 50 minutes of study, and then ten minutes of rest.

The best use of rest time is to get up from the desk, walk around, and get the blood flowing again.

So a simple walk around the block can be the perfect solution.

Practice exams should be done under exam conditions (so without such breaks).

But the 50-10 study to rest schedule is perfect for writing notes, reading and memorising materials.

DON’T let the pressure take hold. 

Any parent (or student) will know that anxiety among school students is at an all-time high.

And while exams — and results — are important…

A single number cannot adequately capture intelligence or worth.

Remind your kids that there is life after school…

And whatever they may want to do in the future, there will always be an alternative path to getting there, no matter what their mark is.

Parents can help their kids to realise this by focussing on the Fixed over Growth mindset

Appreciating and emphasising the value in the process (learning) rather than the outcome (grades).

So finally…

DO be positive. 

Unfortunately, our brains are hard-wired to look for and focus on threats…

Particularly in anxiety-inducing situations.

It’s part of the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism that our ancient ancestors adopted for survival —

By anticipating the worst, our brains tell us, we can be prepared for it.

And while this was of benefit in survival situations, it only stands to hinder performance in academic environments.

Conversely, having an optimistic attitude has been shown to be good for our mental and physical health…

AND to improve our performance in tasks.

In one study, optimistic sales people were shown to sell 37 per cent more than their pessimistic colleagues.

So encourage your kids to dispel negative thoughts, and focus on their strengths.

(The Fixed versus Growth Mindset also helps in this regard!)

These seemingly small gestures all contribute to good health, mental and physical, during stressful school periods. 

And the importance of maintaining a good study/ life balance cannot be undervalued.

It’s never too late to gain a positive perspective AND a competitive edge in assessments, even when they’re right around the corner.

So good luck to all VCE and exam-takers in the next few weeks!

If you’d like to help your child improve their study skills and performance for school in the future…

Get in touch with us about Educational Coaching with our trained psychologists.

Further Reading:

https://www.melbournechildpsychology.com.au/blog/help-your-child-survive-vce-part-1/

https://www.melbournechildpsychology.com.au/blog/10-practical-study-tips-from-a-memory-expert-explained-by-our-staff/

https://www.melbournechildpsychology.com.au/blog/9-ways-a-child-can-benefit-from-seeing-a-psychologist/

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