Thursday 27 July 2017

Still time to hone your study technique for June

According to teachers, the key is not to panic and to use the time remaining as effectively as possible, writes Ciaran Byrne

Luke Saunders (back), founder of Studyclix, helps students study for the Leaving Cert.
Luke Saunders (back), founder of Studyclix, helps students study for the Leaving Cert.

The "mocks" often act as a wake-up call for exam students and some will be stressed out about how they are going to fare in June.

While it is vital that Leaving Certificate students, in particular, use their remaining study time as effectively as possible, the key thing is not to panic according to teachers spoken to by the Irish Independent.

Elaine Dobbyn, a teacher in St Joseph's Patrician College, Galway, believes that even now, new study habits can still be formed, giving worried students time to turn things around.

"Lots of schools lay on study skills classes at this time of year either within careers' class or on an extra-curricular basis. These classes will be full of strategies for time management, improving memory and maximising marks in exams."

Dobbyn also advises students to switch off - with a digital curfew. "Remove yourself from social media sites and exercise extreme discipline with your phone, ie turn it off completely while at school, during study sessions and at night. There is much research to demonstrate that smartphones are ruining people's concentration, memory and sleep cycles - all of which you need to be tip top for the Leaving Cert."

A calm head is what's needed, says Conor Murphy, a teacher at Rossa College in Skibbereen, Co Cork. "It's important to remember the mocks are not the real thing. Take a deep breath. It has no substantive bearing on your life.

"There are over two months left before the real Leaving Cert. The mocks are only a practice, like a training session, a challenge match, a not-very-friendly friendly. You should see them as a guide to show what you know and to highlight where you need to improve.

"Review the papers. Many of the mistakes you made are down to your own 'study' and gaps within that study, some may be due to parts of the curriculum that have yet to be covered, others may be down to misunderstandings.

"If you can't see where your mistakes are then ask your teacher to go over the exam with you. Find those gaps and come up with a study plan to help fill them in. Just don't forget to continue to study those areas where you did well.

"Test yourself regularly on your various subjects. Reading isn't learning. Testing yourself is the only way to find out if you know something. Don't test yourself straight after studying the topic. Give it a few hours, or even a day, and then answer those questions. Only then will you know if you have 'learned' the topic at hand."

Luke Saunders, a second-level teacher in Sligo also runs Studyclix, a website that aims to simplify the learning process for students.

Studyclix breaks each subject into topics and allows learners to test themselves on that specific topic.

"You might be feeling one of many things: surprised, disappointed, elated, relieved. Whatever the emotion, you should be realising that the time is ticking and now that your mocks are over, the next step is the real deal," says Saunders.

"But this is no reason to panic; just a reason to get serious, to put the head down and start working to achieve the best results."

Unfortunately, there are no short cuts between now and June - but there are ways to help you study more effectively.

First of all, he says, you need to get your study area right -and preferably not locate it in your bedroom or kitchen.

"The problem with this is that your brain associates these places with activities other than studying. So when you're in your bedroom, all you want to do is sleep.

"If you must study in your bedroom then try and turn your desk away from your bed. Also try to minimise distractions by staying off any social media and your phone while you are studying. Instead use your breaks as a chance to catch up with your friends online," says Saunders.

Many students also think that the best way to study is to spend longer at it, but Saunders is adamant that this is not the case.

"If you've ever had the feeling of drifting off in the middle of studying, it's because you are studying for too long at a time

"The human brain typically can only concentrate for 25 minutes at a time. You are best to study for 30-minute blocks broken up by a reward of a five-minute break between each."

Another essential element to the study process is getting enough sleep.

"Psychologists have shown that our brain forms memory during REM sleep. There's no point in studying more hours at the expense of less sleep as this will give your brain less chance to sort and file the information," says Saunders, adding that teenagers should be getting between seven and nine hours sleep per night.

Even if you feel you are doing everything right, it can be really hard to know whether your study is paying off and you are making progress.

"One of the best ways you can do this is by constantly testing yourself with past exam questions".

Studyclix gives past exam questions and the marking schemes in each topic.

The whole point of Studyclix, says Saunders, is that students engage with what they are learning by constantly self-assessing.

"One of my main pieces of advice for students at this point in the year is to try to become really self-aware when it comes to study and where they are at in each of their subjects. They should be always questioning themselves, but in a positive way.

"Some of the questions they should be asking themselves are: What are my weakest subjects? Where did I go wrong/lose marks in my mocks? What changes would I make if I was to do this exam again? What did I achieve in my study today? Am I studying as effectively as I could be?"

Studylclix offers a limited service for free and full access to all subjects for one year for €25, with discounts available.

l Preparations for the Leaving Certificate are fresh in the minds of Danny Hobbs and James Eggers who sat the exam in 2013 and who have since set up an online service, ­betterexaminations.ie, that enables students and teachers quickly to locate past exam materials. It include exam papers and marking schemes in both the Leaving and Junior certificates and currently has over 10,000 users.

The duo are both studying at Trinity College Dublin - James is doing Computer Software and Daniel, Business Economics and Social Studies (BESS) - and set up this business after meeting at the BT Young Scientist Business Bootcamp, which aims to help students and bring their inventions to market. An account with them is €4 per year with discounts available.

* A new series of video resources has been developed by Marino Institute of Education to support students in their preparation for their Leaving Certificate Irish exams.

The JAMIE (Jump-start at Marino Institute of Education) initiative features videos that focus on different elements of the exams. A new video is being uploaded each week in the run up to the exams.

Tips to help you make progress with your studying

Make a plan

At the start of each week make a plan that outlines all the things you want to get done. This will help you stay focused and will show you that you are making progress.

Try the Pomodoro technique

This involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and studying as hard as you can on a chosen task for that time. When the time is up take a five-minute break.

Use distraction blockers

With text, tweets and Facebook updates coming in on phones, laptops and tablets, it's easy to see how study time can get eaten up. There are loads of freely available website blockers that will help you stay off certain websites.

Keep testing yourself

Constantly testing yourself is the key to figuring out what you don't know. Try some past exam questions on the topics you are studying to find the gaps in your knowledge.

Stay positive

Remind yourself of just how much you have done already. Self confidence is one of the most important ingredients for doing well.

www.studyclix.ie

Irish Independent

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