Experts share top tips for Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exam stress
Top tips for those starting state exams
For school children sitting the Junior Cert or Leaving Cert, this month will be a constant routine of sleep and study.
For those stressing or struggling to prepare for the next three weeks of exams, here are five tips from a top psychologist and guidance counselllor to help stay calm and get the most out of last-minute study sessions.
1) Know your learning style
President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors Beatrice Dooley said students will learn and retain more information if they structure their study around the learning style most suited to them.
“It took me until I was an adult to figure out the learning style that was best for me and it makes such a difference,” said Ms Dooley. “Some people are spatial learners, or auditory learners, or kinaesthetic learners, so it’s all about finding out the best way to take in information that works for you.”
Spatial learners prefer using pictures, images and spatial understanding to learn, while auditory learners prefer listening to the information. Kinaesthetic learners take in information best through the use of their body, hands and sense of touch.
“Once you cop on to the best way to take in information for yourself, it will be easier to structure your study sessions and actually retain the information better,” said Ms Dooley.
2) Don’t let anxiety turn to panic, especially for the first exam
Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist Dr Colman Noctor said “At this point, it’s a bit late if you haven’t started studying already, so tonight students should be focusing on getting a good night’s sleep and being well-rested.
“The first exam always has heightened anxiety and nerves too because you don’t know what you are going into. Although anxiety can be good sometimes and heighten performance to a certain degree - but it’s all about not letting that anxiety turn into panic.”
“Once you go through the [exam] process once, that anxiety drops off because you know what you’re heading into.”
3) Have scheduled breaks
Both Ms Dooley and Dr Noctor heavily stressed the importance of taking scheduled breaks during study sessions.
“You should be taking breaks very regularly, I would say every 40 minutes. The brain is like a muscle, it’s going to saturate if you don’t give time to recover,” advised Dr Noctor.
“You should also move out of the study space, whether it’s making a cup of tea and going out to the deck or having a walk around, just take a break from the study area.”
Ms Dooley recommends talking to others and having some social time as well: “After every 30-40 minutes, be sure to take a break. Take a walk, get outside and talk to a human.”
4) Surround yourself with people who make you comfortable
Whether it is a parent, teacher or friend, “find a person that makes you calm”, advised Ms Dooley.
For those who have parents or guardians that are a bit too involved in their study, she recommends to “let them see that you are in fact studying.”
“Exam time is stressful enough and not a time for conflict. So, if you let them see you are studying and trying your hardest, they won’t be as likely to bother you,” Ms Dooley advised.
“I always tell parents that you can’t make someone learn, so students just need to show that they are in control of their own studies and are preparing the best they can for upcoming exams,” said Dr Noctor.
5) Take time to actually read the exam
According to Dr Doctor, many students get so caught up trying to adhere to the tests’ time constraints that they rush through the actual questions.
“It’s all about actually making yourself read the question, then breaking it down so you know exactly what you are trying to answer.”
For those who have a difficult time staying focused, he advises creating a rough plan to build your answer around.
“A rough outline of your answer adds planning and structure so you know where you are going with the point you are trying to make instead of trying to find it along the way.”
Dr Dooley also suggests leaving five minutes at the end of every exam to re-read your exam and ensure you've made all the necessary points and answered all questions.
“Ask yourself: Did you say everything you wanted to say? Did you answer all aspects of the question? What can you tweak? What can you improve on?”