Are practice exams really worth doing?

One of the most common study tips for exam revision is for learners to do practice exams. These practice exams could be past papers that your school has used, past papers from the Department of Education or even practice exam questions such as the ones found in the Ace it! study guides.

We have recommended doing practice exams for all of the different learning styles, as they are a great way to get an understanding of what you can expect in the exams. For visual learners, they are a good way to write out what you know in a format that will suit the exam. For auditory learners, they present an opportunity to practise channelling what you know into an exam-appropriate format and, for kinaesthetic learners, they are a great way to revise because you’re actually doing something rather than just revising content. This can make the information stick in your mind more clearly.

Aside from this, what are the benefits of doing practice exams as part of your exam revision?

Well, first of all, they are a great way to familiarise yourself with the exam format. Each exam you write will have a predictable format. You need to know what this looks like before you walk into the exam room so that you feel less stressed and anxious. Doing practice exams will help you to understand how the exam will look when it is put in front of you, and it gives you an opportunity to practise answering the questions in a way that will score you the maximum number of marks. Most practice exams come with a memo, which you can use to mark your efforts – this will show you when you’ve answered too little, too much, too broadly or not broadly enough.

Secondly, practice exams can help you to understand the question words. So many learners know the content but fail to understand exactly what the question is asking them to do (this often applies to auditory learners in particular). Examiners are given a very clear marking memo, so it’s essential that you are answering the question correctly – not only in terms of the content but also in terms of what the examiner wants to see. For example, if the question asks you to “List…” you should not write a descriptive paragraph. Working with practice exams and their memos can help you refine this skill.

Lastly, practice exams can help to show up any gaps in your exam revision. You may think that you have covered all of your bases only to find that you actually don’t know enough about a particular topic in order to be able to answer questions on it in the exam. It’s essential that you build in time on your study timetable to do practice exams. Try to avoid doing this the day before the actual exam though, because that will not give you enough time to self-correct and go back to a particular section.

As you can see, practice exams are an essential part of exam revision. That’s why every Ace it! study guide contains practice exam questions.

Helping your teen cope with exam stress

In a previous blog post (Coping with exam stress), we discussed the importance of eating well, getting enough sleep, staying organised and making time for leisure activities and relaxation.

If you’re worried about your teen, and feeling unsure about how to help them cope with the pressures of exam revision, then read on.

Generally, stress and anxiety can be managed. It’s important to try and understand why your teen is feeling so stressed (and how they’re showing it). Without the proper tools and coping strategies, many people lash out in anger and frustration when they are stressed. Sometimes people’s stress can result in apathy and lethargy. The person (your teen) may be so stressed out that they feel overwhelmed and incapable of getting anything done.

Your teen is probably stressed for one, or all, of the following reasons:

  • They are feeling pressure to do well (from you, school, teachers or themselves)
  • They are feeling overwhelmed
  • They are feeling insecure or a lack of confidence
  • They are feeling anxious because they do not know what to expect.

Here’s how to help:

Remind your child that their best is good enough

Take the pressure off a little by asking your child to set realistic goals and expectations. It’s essential that you listen to your teen at this point and try to understand what they think they can do. Of course we always want to have high expectations for our children (and we should have these!) but we should also realise what is achievable.

For example, if your child’s extra-mural activities are eating into their exam revision time, something has to give. You may also find that there is a particular section or subject that your child is finding very difficult. Just because your child was once good at Maths, doesn’t mean that they will always be!

Listen carefully and try to help where you can. And align your expectations to what your child is able to achieve – without pressure.

Provide the right tools and environment to ease the pressure

It’s essential that your child eats well and gets enough sleep throughout the year, but most especially during the times that they are focused on exam revision. Help out by stocking the pantry and fridge with suitable food. Try to keep the noise down after about 10pm during the week to ensure that your child can get a restful night’s sleep.

Encourage your child to get organised and informed

Ask your teen to write a list of things that are causing worry and anxiety, and then help to draw up a plan to resolve these issues. Often a lack of clarity and information can make someone feel anxious, so encourage your child to ask questions about the format of the exam, the exam writing process and any other questions they may have, which are causing stress.

If your child is stressed about something that you have control over or can help with, then help to clear things up. For example, if your child is worried about transportation on exam days, try to come up with a plan and outline this for your child so that they can stop worrying about it.

Build your child up

A confident and secure child will do better and feel better than a child who is insecure and suffering from a lack of confidence. Remind your teen that you love them and that you are proud of them. Recognise when your child has tried their best, as opposed to only giving praise when they have met your expectations.

Avoid financial or material rewards for good marks. It’s important that your child learn to feel intrinsically rewarded when they do their best. Also avoid rewards that revolve around food, as this can create complicated relationships with food and emotional states.

Ace it! may not be able to help much with the emotional stress of exams but the study guides can help with exam revision by working out learners’ individual learning style, outlining the content and preparing for exams. The more prepared a learner is for the exams, the less stressed they will feel.

ICYMI: Exam-related blog posts

Are you feeling stressed out by the exams? Here is a round up of our most popular exam-related blog posts in case you missed it.

No matter your learning style, we’ve got handy exam revision tips for you:

Tips for visual learners

Tips for auditory learners

Tips for kinaesthetic learners

If you’re organised, you’re more likely to be productive, which reduces stress and anxiety. Set up a study timetable – it’s not too late.

Are exams already in session? Read these two blogs to help you get through it:

The art of writing exams

Coping with exam stress

Coping with exam stress

When you are stressed and overwhelmed, seemingly straightforward tasks – like exam revision – can feel so much harder than they should. People cope with stress in different ways – some of these coping mechanisms are healthy, while others are unhealthy and unproductive. Learning to manage your stress, and to use coping mechanisms that will channel those feelings into productive feelings is an important life skill.

Believe it or not, a little bit of stress is a good thing. It keeps us focused and engaged. It also usually shows that we understand the value in something or how important it is. This is why people often feel stressed during exams.

Too much stress, however, can have the opposite effect and leave us feeling overwhelmed. This, in turn, leads to negative behaviours or unhealthy coping mechanisms, which only worsen the situation and create a vicious cycle.

Let’s look at some unhealthy ways of coping with stress:

  • Substance abuse
  • Lashing out at others in anger or frustration
  • Overeating or under-eating
  • Emotional withdrawal from friends and family
  • Procrastination
  • Excessive exercising

When people feel stressed, they are often unable to concentrate on one task at a time. Stress, or feeling overwhelmed, can also lead to insomnia, or problems getting to asleep (or staying asleep). If you’ve ever felt like your mind is racing and you simply cannot calm down, then you are probably suffering from stress.

Learning to deal with stress positively means that you will be able to focus better, feel more relaxed and stay healthy. You will be able to cope with the pressures and demands of exam revision without feeling overwhelmed.

Here are some good ways to cope with stress:

  1. Eat well

A diet that is too high in sugar or unhealthy fat will put additional strain on your body. It’s important to eat a balanced diet, as this will keep your body and brain healthy and in tip-top condition.

  1. Get enough (quality) sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential and will ensure that your brain is rested and able to cope with the demands of exam revision. Teenagers need at least 8 hours of sleep per day, and this sleep should be quality sleep. In order to achieve a really restful night’s sleep, try the following tips:

  • Have a good sleep routine, and stick to it. This will alert your body to the fact that it needs to start shutting down for the day.
  • No electronics before bedtime – read a book instead. Try charging your phone in another room or, at least, putting it on charge somewhere you can’t reach it. Either switch it off, or put it on Night Mode so that it doesn’t beep or light up during the night.
  • Write a to-do list before you get into bed. If you find that your mind races the minute your light is switched off, then try writing a to-do list before you go to bed. This takes the pressure of you because you know that you will deal with everything you need to do in the morning. You can also write in a journal – putting your thoughts on paper can be useful for helping your brain to switch off.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink too many fluids just before bedtime.
  • Cut out caffeine. This includes chocolate and hot chocolate. Sorry.
  1. Stay organised

It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you haven’t got a plan. Make time to put together a comprehensive study timetable. When you feel like you have some control over the situation, you will probably find that you are a little less stressed.

  1. Make time for yourself

Make time in your daily schedule to exercise, relax and spend time with friends and family. Your exam revision is your top priority right now, but that doesn’t mean that you should only study. It’s important for your overall well being to look after yourself and to connect regularly with people who love and support you.

TIP: It may be helpful to disconnect from social media during exam time. The added pressures of social media can add to your stress levels. Rather uninstall the apps for a short period so that you are able to focus on your studies and connecting with people in real life.

  1. Understand that it’s temporary

It’s important for you to remember that this is not going to last forever. Often, when we are in the middle of exam revision, we feel like we cannot see an end to it all. There is one! Hang up a calendar with the day of your last exam circled in red, cross out each day until you get to it – knowing that it’s coming will help you feel less hopeless.

Lastly, if you are feeling overwhelmed or hopeless for a long period of time and if you are having depressive and suicidal thoughts, talk to your parents, teacher, principal, religious or community leader, or contact an organisation like ChildLine. You are not alone.

Eating for success

High school can be a stressful time, which is why we have always advised that you take care of your overall wellbeing. There are plenty of study tips that we can give you to improve your exam revision, but those will only go so far. You also need to be taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing by eating well, exercising and finding time to relax.

Eating well is essential for good health. It’s unnecessary to overthink every bite you put into your mouth but you should understand some basic principles of healthy eating.

You can’t go wrong with plants

Most of your meals should consist of vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, baby marrow, carrots, beetroot, aubergine/eggplant/brinjal, cucumbers, etc. Vegetables are full of important vitamins and minerals to keep your body at optimal health. There are plenty of ways to cook and prepare vegetables, so do some experimenting.

Fruit is also a healthy addition to your diet. Some types of fruit are high in sugar so be careful not to overdo it. Try adding a piece of fruit to your breakfast meal, and one other during the day as a snack. It’s easy to overdo the dried fruit too so, even though it’s delicious, try not to have too often.

Protein: not only for meat-eaters

Protein is essential for the body. It helps to repair and build cells – including brain cells. Protein also tends to keep you fuller for longer, so adding it to meals can prevent hunger pangs, which can be distracting during classes and study sessions, and overeating.

Protein sources include meat, fish, chicken, eggs, dairy products like cottage cheese, and peanut and other nut butters.

If you are vegetarian or vegan (whether for religious, health or moral reasons), you should still be adding protein to your diet in some form. Sources include beans, nut butters, quinoa and lentils.

Carbs are not as evil as their reputation suggests

Carbohydrate-rich foods should be included in your diet in reasonable amounts. These include brown rice, potatoes, wholegrain bread and other wholegrain products and oats.

Avoid processed and sugary carb-heavy foods such as cereals, pastries, biscuits and white breads and pastas.

Healthy fats: Essential for a hardworking teenager

Don’t be afraid to add healthy fats to your meals, as these are essential for optimal brain function. These include avocados, olive oil, coconut oil and nuts.

Unhealthy fats, found in baked and fried foods, as well as sweets and desserts, should be limited and only eaten occasionally as a treat.

Don’t forget about your beverages

It’s important not to forget about what you are drinking on a daily basis. Sugary drinks like sodas should be avoided. Rather reach for clean, fresh water to quench your thirst.

If you feel like something warm, herbal teas are also a good option and better for you than coffees and hot chocolate.

Eating well doesn’t need to be difficult. You simply need to use your common sense and eat to nourish your mind and body.

The art of writing exams

So you’ve done your revision, you’re feeling relaxed and it’s time to write your exams… Do you feel in control, or do your palms get all sweaty the minute you walk through the exam room doors?

If the thought of writing the exam makes you nervous, don’t panic. A reasonable amount of nerves is a good thing. It shows that you’re taking the exams seriously, and gives you enough of an adrenaline burst to keep you on form and alert when you need to be.

However, don’t let your nerves get the better of you to the point that you forget everything you’ve spent so much time and effort revising!

You should approach your exams with a cool head and a plan of attack. Here are some tips to help you ensure that you’re doing the best you can:

  1. Prepare for the exam the night before you write it

By this time you should not be studying any new sections. Spend a few hours the day before the exam revising what you need to know, and then close your books and try to relax. Set out your uniform, pack your bag and double-check your exam timetable so that when you wake up the next morning, everything is ready to go (including you!).

  1. Eating and drinking before the exam

Be sure to eat a good breakfast but don’t overdo it. Eat something that will keep you fuller for longer, for example a bowl of oats with some milk and peanut butter stirred through. Add a piece of fruit and you’re good to go!

It’s important to drink lots of water throughout the day but try not to drink too much water, tea or coffee before your exam. This will prevent you from being horribly uncomfortable and unable to go to the toilet in the middle of the exam session.

  1. Pack the right stationery (and some extras)

Find out exactly what you need to bring to the exam and make sure that you’ve packed it. Do this the night before the exam so that you’re not running around looking for something essential two minutes before you need to be out the door.

Always bring spare pens and, if possible and necessary, a spare calculator. Just in case. Also, don’t forget your pencil sharpener and eraser. A watch or small clock is also a good idea (you won’t be allowed to use your cell phone, and you may be too far from the clock on the wall to see it clearly).

  1. Study the exam timetable

It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t take the time to read their exam timetable carefully. If you don’t read the timetable carefully, you could miss your exam or prepare for the wrong one. Make sure you know:

  • what time your exam starts
  • where you’ll be writing it (and how to get there)
  • which exam it is (for some subjects, you will write more than one exam and each exam will test different sections of the syllabus)
  • what you need for the exam (for example, a calculator)
  1. Be early

Arrive at the exam venue with plenty of time to spare. Don’t spend this extra time discussing the exam or trying to cram though – spend it chatting about other stuff, or simply sit quietly by yourself.

  1. Use your time wisely

You will get some time at the start of the exam to read through the paper. Make sure that you use this time to plan your approach to the exam. It’s important that you know exactly what is in the exam before you start writing it so that you can make decisions about what to answer, what to leave, what to come back to and how long to spend on each question or section.

Make sure that you read the instructions carefully so that you don’t answer questions you don’t need to. For example, you may write an exam that requires you to choose between two questions. In this case, answering both questions would be a waste of time (and the examiner would not be able to mark both of them anyway).

Make a mental note of the questions that you are sure you know how to answer. Estimate how long you have to spend on each section of the paper and don’t go over this time. You can always come back to any unfinished questions if you have spare time at the end.

Plan to finish the exam at least 10 to 15 minutes before the official finish time. If it is normal for you to run out of time when you are writing exams, then try to first answer the questions that you know the answers to and leave the others. That way you are guaranteed marks. You can then use any leftover time to go back and try to answer the questions that you are unsure about.

  1. Answer the question

Make sure that you understand exactly what the question is asking of you. If the question asks you for a list, don’t spend time on detailed descriptions. If the question asks you to discuss something, don’t provide a list. If you are asked to compare things, you are being asked to explain how things are alike or different to one another.

The best way to ensure that you are answering questions properly is to highlight, underline or circle the most important points in a question. Refer back to this often as you are answering the question so that you stay on the right track.

Another important tip is to make sure that if a question asks for FIVE things that you only provide five things. In a case like this, the examiners are instructed to only accept the first five options given – they will not sift through your list of 20 things to find the five correct ones.

  1. Let it go+

When the exam is over, it’s over. Don’t dwell on it, don’t think about it, don’t stress about it: it is done. You can deal with the results when you get them. In the meantime, there’s no point fretting over something you can no longer control. Move on and think about your next exam.

Remember that the Ace it! study guides have plenty of practice exam questions for you to use as practice. These will give an idea of what to expect in the exam, as well as guidance on how to answer the questions for the maximum number of marks.