“What’s the point? I’m going to fail anyway!” is quite possibly a statement you said growing up when talking to parents about exams. If you are a now the parent to a teenager now, you may well hear it yourself over the next few months.
We know how our children like to take advice more from their teachers than us parents, so we decided to ask a teacher from a top London school for his advice on exams preparation. Thanks Anthony and good luck to you all out there doing exams!
The exams are fast approaching and you know, in your heart of hearts, that you havent completed nearly enough revision. You have just about resigned yourself to a disappointing grade and, in your own minds just as importantly, disappointed parents. You might be thinking Whats the point. Im going to fail anyway!. Dont despair. All is not yet lost.
The first thing to remember is that you are the master of your own destiny. Decide right now that things are going to change. You will not be a slave to procrastination and failure is not an option.
Find the right environment in which to revise. Not in front of the TV and not listening to the radio. Music can sometimes be ok, but you need to find the right kind. Its got to be something thats just there in the background that youre not thinking about at all ? usually without words.
Enlist the help of your parents. Explain your revision regime to them and ask them to support you by providing a quiet space in which to revise, without interruptions from younger brothers or sisters. The occasional snack or drink wouldnt go amiss either!
Be realistic in planning your revision. Do create a revision timetable and try to stick to it, but dont expect your timetable to be infallible; things turn up unexpectedly and situations change. And dont kid yourself that youll achieve a solid hours work between 9 and 10pm on a Monday evening when you know full well youll be watching Game of Thrones.
Break your revision up into smaller chunks. Mathematics, for instance, is a big subject, but it lends itself well to be broken into ever smaller chunks. Your examining boards website will list the full specification (syllabus) in its constituent pieces. Use this list for your revision purposes. Traffic light the list with a highlighter pen ? green for those topics you are confident with, red for those with which you truly struggle and amber (orange) for those which simply require a little more practice. You will be amazed how quickly the list changes from a mixture of the three colours to predominantly green.
Put pen to paper. Mathematics, for instance, is a doing subject and most of your effective revision can only be achieved through the old-fashioned putting pen to paper method. You should make extensive use of past papers. In doing so, it is all too easy to go for instant self-gratification in completing the easy questions that you always get right, but these will only maintain your current grade and will not improve upon it. Instead you must prioritise the types of question that you frequently get wrong. Do a little bit more of the harder stuff every day; youll pick it up a lot quicker than you think. And remember, mistakes can often be the best way to learn.
For all subjects you should test yourself regularly and spread out your revision over what time you have left. For History for instance, you should start by reading the relevant section from the text book then make flash cards of the critical concepts and try to retrieve that information from your memory. A century of research has shown that this method works. It also shows that spreading out your revision is the most powerful of all revision strategies. Dont do all your revision for each subject in one solid block but instead do perhaps 40 minutes of English followed by 40 minutes of Mathematics with a 20-minute break in the middle.
This leads nicely onto getting enough rest and sleep. The latest research shows that a brief rest after learning something can help you remember it a week later. A full nights sleep will help you learn new skills and retain information. Even napping can help consolidate your memories. This is great news for those of us who like to nap during the day but bad news for those who believe that they revise best late into the night and consequently dont get enough sleep.
Finally, remember always that you will only get out what you put in. In 30 years of teaching I have found that this is a fundamental truth. If you have worked hard and deserve a good grade then rest assured ? you will get it. Good luck.
Anthony is currently Head of Mathematics in a West London Independent school. He also tutors A level and GCSE Mathematics in the Thames Ditton area. (tel: 07717 377253)