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From stress to success - top tips when preparing for exams

Whether it be NTCE or VCE, exam preparations are in full swing and as exams and assessments get closer, how can you help your child navigate the next few months?

NEWS 27 Sept 2023

Around this time of year, things become more serious for thousands of students who are sitting their end of school assessments and exams. For many young people, this is the final stage in a school journey that began in an Early Learning Centre or Transition.

Parents and carers play a pivotal role in helping young people cope with the pressures. Here, some of Haileybury Rendall School’s most experienced teachers share their tips on navigating exam prep time.

Adam McCarthy - Head of Mathematics

  • Block time into study, breaks and sleep and stick to it. During study time, encourage your child to put their phone in another room and focus.
  • Mix things up and do some group work when studying. If a student can explain a concept to a friend, they know they have the information they need in their head. If they can’t, it’s a sign they need to revise more. If students have trouble with a concept, friends may be able to help them understand it and if they can’t, ask the teacher.
  • Given that studying is generally sedentary, when it’s time for a break it’s best to do something physical and outdoors.
  • Getting eight to 10 hours of sleep is very, very important for students to be at their mental best. Blocking out half an hour of time just before bed to relax can help with sleep.
  • Offer to proofread some work or be an audience member for the rehearsal of a presentation. Always be considered and constructive with your feedback — otherwise there’s a good chance that they won’t ask again.
  • For Mathematics, do lots of exam questions — the more you do, the more familiar you will be with them, and you’ll be less inclined to panic on the day. You’ll be more efficient in answering the easy questions and that leaves you more thinking time for the harder ones.
  • When you are preparing, if you don’t fully understand a question ask your peers and if they can’t help, ask your teacher.

Susannah Ritchie - Head of English

  • Students can attend revision sessions in school, after school and during the holidays. They can email their teacher and set up a time to go through a trial paper, ask for feedback or plan how to ‘attack’ the questions.
  • Suggest students complete as many practice exams as possible — initially with notes or an ‘open book’ to foster confidence. Then they can reduce their reliance on notes and complete pieces under timed conditions.
  • Staying in touch with teachers, forming study groups and giving peer-to-peer feedback can help.
  • Encourage your child to have a well-organised study plan and to organise their notes according to areas of study and order of topics. Ensure they set chunks of time to work on a task, but also take set breaks.
  • Suggest students start studying with a concrete, achievable task to get the ‘flow’ happening — not to begin with an area they find challenging as they might feel overwhelmed.
  • Avoiding paid work or excessive sporting commitments during the weeks when exams are their priority is also a good idea if possible.
  • For English exams, rewrite your introductions, topic sentences, conclusions and brainstorm extra textual evidence. Create quote banks for different essay questions and practice including rich and varied vocabulary. Students can also create vocabulary lists and mind maps to stick on walls to help remember challenging spelling and vocabulary.

Linda Hartskeerl - Head of Science and VCE Coordinator

  • Stick to the same daily routine – get up at the same time and go to bed at a similar hour.
  • Practice getting up early to get to school well ahead of examination start time. For example, at Haileybury Rendall School, morning VCE exams commence at 7.30am in Darwin, so the students need to arrive before 7.15am.
  • Avoid scheduling large slabs of time to study one subject. Alternate subjects to sustain concentration and interest.
  • Work in terms of ‘tasks’ not ‘time’. Set clear tasks to be completed – this provides a sense of achievement once the tasks are completed.
  • Provide students with a quiet study space where they can shut the door and concentrate.
  • Ask your child what you can do to support them – it might be keeping the fridge or pantry stocked with certain foods or making a cup of tea during a study session.
  • Encourage students to relax with mindfulness techniques or by reading a book, listening to music or cooking.
  • For students preparing for exams, ensure you have the correct equipment – ruler, scientific calculator and check the batteries, 2B pencil, blue or black pens.
  • Decide the order in which you are going to complete each component of the exam – multiple choice followed by short answer or vice versa.
  • Complete plenty of trial examinations under timed exam conditions.

While exams can understandably be a stressful time – both for students and their families – planning ahead and using some of these strategies can ensure those challenging weeks are smoother sailing.