Wednesday 13 December 2017

Six study tips to get your mind in mood for big exams

Instructor Sandra Zelnyte, Integral Fitness with student Mary Rose Porter and other Leaving cert students taking part in an exercise class during lunchtime at Our Lady's College in Greenhills, Drogheda
Instructor Sandra Zelnyte, Integral Fitness with student Mary Rose Porter and other Leaving cert students taking part in an exercise class during lunchtime at Our Lady's College in Greenhills, Drogheda
Leaving cert students Laura Griffith (left), Aisling Munster, Iesha Moustafa and Fatima Alao taking part in an exercise class during lunchtime at Our Lady's College in Greenhills, Drogheda.
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

The Junior Cert and Leaving exams are only five weeks away. As we head into May, nerves are on edge in households across the country.

There is anguish over algebra, nights without sleep and dramatic changes of mood - and that is just the parents.

For many students, success is all about getting themselves in the right frame of mind.


Maths teacher Brendan Guildea says students should keep in mind that the exam season goes on a for a long time, and there is no point in treating it like a sprint.

Pace yourself through the exams. Some students get very worked up about the early exams, and stay up all night cramming, and then become indifferent to the later papers.

"The problem is that the student becomes jaded and by the second or third week they have lost all interest," says Mr Guildea.


Students do better when they concentrate on the task rather than themselves, according to Dr Michael Hogan, psychologist at NUI Galway.

"Research suggests that when people are task-focused they are happier and perform better. Focus on what you are doing - drawing out your timetable, the flow of ideas in your history textbook, your summary note of the historical facts, the interesting step in the mathematical equation, the clever solution to the physics problem.

"Much anxiety and worry comes from not being task-focused, but rather focusing on yourself."

Teacher Louise Boylan says: "It's not just about learning, but practise, practise, practise."


No, that does mean telling your friends you are prepared to wait all day until they are quiet. If you explain carefully to another person what you have just learnt, you may remember it better. Use pictures and mindmaps to help you remember things. Some students are more like radio presenters and record what they have learned, and listen back to it.


Cillian Fahy, who scored seven straight As in the Leaving Cert and ended up selling his notes for €3,000, says: "A revision timetable allows you to take a bit of the pressure off.

You know that if you follow it, you'll get the work done. The act of creating it makes you think critically."

"You should avoid pet subjects. Spend a little more time on those topics you find most difficult.


It may not be the most stimulating activity in the world, but there is no reason why you should not make revision fun.

Alternate your subjects. Look at the subjects you find hardest earlier in the day when you are not quite as tired. If you have a mental block about something, or you are tiring, switch to another subject to refresh your mind.

Try to find original and high-quality material from respected sources on the internet to develop a better understanding. This may help you avoid the stale textbook repetitions seen by examiners again and again. If you really are tired of books, watch a documentary on the topic.


The A1 student likes to read the examiner's mind. Study the marking schemes given out to those correcting exams in previous years. These are publicly available at, and offer an insight into what examiners are looking for. Dermot Lucey, author of the revision guide Less Stress More Success for history, says students should keep exam questions from previous papers in mind when they are revising. "When you are revising topics, look at all the exam questions that have come up on that topic.

"For example, if I was studying Hitler in history, I would list all questions about him.''

Practise answering questions in the timescale you will have in an exam.

Exercising to stay positive at exam time

Positive Mental Health Week is up and running at Our Lady's College, Greenhills, Drogheda, Co Louth. The school timed it deliberately this year to cater more for Leaving Cert students in the period after their orals and before the written exams. Last year it was in March.

According to Tony Keenan, who teaches English at the 1,000 pupil all-girls' secondary school, there was a view that it would give students the final push in the vital period between now and the end of the year to achieve their best and leave school with a positive attitude rather than just exam stress.

"Aside from that, some of the things taught during the week - compassion, meditation, the importance of exercise - are excellent lessons to take forward and use in their lives after school," he says.

White board jungle

Is the stimulating atmosphere of the university lecture hall under threat from inattentive students who are firing off messages on social media and posing for selfies?

Mike Jennings, general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, was reported as saying that the tradition of students putting up their hands and sharing a transformative experience was in danger of dying out in lectures.

"They (lecturers) are facing students who are all on laptops with their heads down, and they haven't a clue if they are on Facebook or following their lecture," he said. Perhaps if the academics made their presentations a little more interesting, this might not be such a problem.

* Mairéad Hickey, a violinist from CIT Cork School of Music, was recently presented with the Bank of Ireland Catherine Judge Memorial Award last following a live final held at Queen's University, Belfast.

The musician will receive a bursary of £5,000 (€7,000) towards her musical studies, and CIT Cork School of Music will receive £1,000 (€1,400).

Irish Independent

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