Knowledge

Learning Right - A teachers' guide to helping students with exam preparations and stress management

Anshu Pande
Learning Right - A teachers' guide to helping students with exam preparations and stress management

Irrespective of age, exams are stressful for all. Whether it’s an exam in the school, university or final test at work, students are generally left scared and shaken. In a situation like this, they often find themselves looking for short-cuts. It is common to find students googling ‘How to improve my memory?’ a few weeks before the exam and looking for answers about ‘How to cram everything the night before a test’! The fear of not scoring well makes them take a shortcut and very soon, the road to hard work is forgotten.

Cramming, or what researchers call ‘Massed Trials’, happen when we try to memorise large amounts of information in a short period of time. The reason for choosing this method could be procrastination, irregular study time-table or unorganised approach to study, resulting in last minute preparation for the exam. The fear and tension keep students awake the whole night while they try to memorise as much as they can. Some students say that the last-minute pressure helps them study better. A survey in 2014 found that 99 percent students were addicted to cramming.

But, what is this method doing to our children’s brain?

  1. Increasing stress level – Are they confident when they keep the book down after pulling an all-nighter? No. There’s always a doubt that they might have missed out on a topic or might have forgotten what they had read in the beginning of the night. Some might even complain of a headache or feeling of nausea while writing the exam. They begin to panic; they are unable to concentrate while writing the exam and constantly worry about the result which makes their success graph go down.
  2. Poor retention – To memorise and retain what they have studied, students need to read and re-read the information as much as they can. Since cramming is a last-minute activity, it doesn’t give them a chance to even revise what they have studied. This is why they often face the “I have read this but I’m unable to recall” moment.
  3. Poor test scores – The results that they hope for come with disappointments. This could be because of the pre-examination nervousness, anxiety or tension, leading to poor performance and bad grades.
  4. Farewell, hard work – They get so dependent on this shortcut that they forget the meaning of working hard. They tend to become lazy and make the brain lazier by not working hard.

Now that we’ve addressed the problem, what are the solutions?

  1. Re-starting – As discussed above, it is important to re-read what has been studied until it gets encoded in the brain. Start with re-writing the revision notes. Avoid using laptops for notes, but hand write notes instead of typing. It will not only help the information root deep in the memory, it will also help practice how the answers would be written during the exam.
  2. Don’t skip sleep – The road to good grades does not involve pulling all-nighters, especially, not before an exam. The brain goes through different stages of sleep. The deepest stage of sleep is called the Slow Wave Sleep which is said to be very important in the consolidation of memories. So, getting a good sleep after learning new information will help in retaining what has been studied.
  3. Schedule - The ancient but the most efficient method of studying is scheduling. Make a time table, prioritise the 24 hours. It is not necessary to just study all day. An hour of television, an hour of games and an hour to talk to friends should be included in it too. Students should make a balanced schedule where leisure activities are parallel to studies.
  4. Set goals and rewards – Who wants ice cream? Only if we finish before 10 pm. Rewards and deadlines motivate us to stay on track during exams. It gives us a goal and also helps in tricking the brain to work faster.
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