5 Tips to Successful Preparation for a Big Exam
By Janet Christensen
For many of us, taking quizzes and tests and final exams is all just part of the routine of education. We go to class, we study, we prepare for assessments, and when it’s over, our score is a fairly accurate reflection of our knowledge of the material.
But that isn’t true for everyone. For some, the experience of taking an exam is a completely negative one, raising all kinds of anxieties and self-doubt. The bigger and more important the exam is, the more we tend to suffer from anxiety, and the less likely we are to do our best.
If this scenario sounds all too familiar to you, then use the following tips to help lower your anxiety and prepare yourself to do your best:
1. Before you begin the test, take a minute to breathe.
When we feel stress, fear, or anxiety, our body can go into an adrenaline-fueled panic mode. This chemical and physical reaction is how our ancestors survived numerous threats. But in this state, our minds don’t function properly. In fact, it’s possible your mind will go completely blank.
When we take slow, deep breaths, we help our bodies go from the survival response to a relaxed response. This helps the blood flow back into our brain and helps us focus on the task at hand.
It might be difficult to believe it’s better to take that minute out to prepare than to get started on the test as quickly as possible, but that minute of mental preparation will pay off exponentially.
2. Develop a Positive Outlook
Tests can be anxiety-producing when we believe they were designed specifically to trick us, or when we tell ourselves we’re not going to do well. The truth is, if you’ve studied and are prepared, then the test is actually an opportunity for you to show off how much you know. The other truth is, the more you believe in yourself, the better you’ll perform.
In a recent study, students who were told they were smart before taking a test performed significantly better than the students who didn’t receive this message ahead of time.
You can do this for yourself! Remind yourself how capable you are. Your brain will believe you!
The final truth is that your teachers WANT you to do well. When you do well, they look good. So go in feeling confident, reminding yourself that you’re prepared and that your teachers want you to do well.
3. Start Strong, Stay Strong
As you go through the test, answer the questions you feel confident about and if you come upon a question that makes you feel unsure, skip it for the moment and move on. This will help you maintain your sense of confidence and keep your mind in a free-flowing, positive state. If you begin to hear that inner voice saying you should have studied more, etc. etc., say hello to the voice, and then a quick goodbye. Shut it down and refocus on the positive, reminding yourself you’re doing just fine.
When you’ve made it through all of the questions you can answer confidently, go back to those you were less sure about and do your best to complete them.
4. Sleep well, eat well.
The reasons for eating and sleeping well go far beyond the support they’ll offer you in taking a test, but especially when you’re preparing for important exams, a good night’s rest will give your brain the opportunity to cement the knowledge you’ve been feeding it, making strong and lasting connections between previous knowledge and new information.
On the morning of the test, eat a balanced meal with plenty of protein and some brain food such as blueberries and nuts. This will keep your blood sugar in a fairly consistent state and avoid the highs and lows that refined sugars and carbohydrates can produce.
Some of the antioxidants in blueberries have been found to accumulate in the brain and help improve communication between brain cells, and several nutrients in nuts, such as healthy fats, antioxidants and vitamin E, may explain their brain-health benefits. Eating them regularly is best, but be sure to treat yourself with these healthy foods when you're preparing for an important exam.
If possible, you should be exercising consistently, but if not, then at least get out and get your blood flowing before your exam. Exercise not only releases built-up tension in your body, it will also release “feel-good” endorphins that will put you in a better frame of mind. Even if you just take a walk, or ride your bike to school or to the testing location on the day of the exam, your brain and body will be energized and better prepared for the task at hand.
Written by Tammy Swanson
Edited by Janet Christensen
“The fires are out, and everything is back to normal.” In November, you may have hoped this statement was true, but I’m sure you slowly began to realize that there were still many things that were still either totally wrong, or just subtly out of sync. You weren’t (and aren’t) the only one feeling this way. Your kids have noticed your stresses, and are carrying their own. And they may not know their anxieties are linked to the fires or how to handle these new, random-seeming anxieties. Sometimes children put on a good face for their parents, even though they are covering unexpected deficits or difficulties in their studies or their social interactions at school. They may lash-out when confronted, or become more quiet than usual. Here are some things to look for and some ways to help.
Behind the Curtain
Being cooped up in the house for 2-3 weeks probably made everyone feel more than ready to get back to school and “some sense of normalcy”. But, as you may have noticed in yourself post-fires, the young people in your life are probably going through a lot more mood swings than usual, having greater trouble focusing on conversations and in their class discussions, and working a lot harder while being less successful (for example – staying up late studying, but earning lower grades than usual). They’ve been through all the fear and worry with you, but it has been tempered by less wisdom and experience. They do not have the same ability you do to see the big picture: when bad events happen, they may feel the need to be superheroes to be successful again. They may still be judging themselves by pre-October 2017 standards. It may be time for a family discussion about new January-June 2018 expectations.
Be Encouraging When Engaged.
If you’ve got teenagers, they may still be put off by unsolicited praise. J But, if your kids come to you with the results of an exam or a competition, give high praise for a slightly lower result than you might have before the fires. Maybe A-/B+ or 2 goals per game was the norm. Now, B-/C+ or assisting a teammate might deserve the previous reward. If homework used to be completed without effort but now seems to take a while, maybe a private tutor can assist with both education and peace of mind. A private tutor can also help you and your student get the day’s work done earlier, and then get the sleep you each need so you can be even more successful tomorrow! I have had many clients tell me that their relationship with their student improved exponentially when they stopped policing homework and exams. I’m sure there is a solid psychological reason why students separate their parents’ understanding of school and the requirements of the classroom from their own reality and experiences. “You can’t possibly understand!”…right? Even though you’ve been through all their classes and made all their decisions, it’s different today. At least for them. At Sonomarin Tutoring, our private tutors step in as a neutral third party who knows all the math or history or English, and what is going on in the classroom. We have classroom experience, so we know “where all this leads.” And our students respect that. We can help your student navigate the already difficult world of high school or middle school, especially now that, even though the smoke has cleared, it all still feels a little hazy.
Ask for Help to Be Reassured.
Your child’s teachers, school counselor, and private tutor are here to help you each and every time you need them. Use these services. Ask for help. You will be a better parent to your child when you are using all the resources at your disposal and feeling reassured. Also, know that colleges, and SAT/ACT boards know what has happened in Sonoma and Napa counties. They have given various allowances that your school counselors can explain further. Your student high school student has already been informed, but, if there is confusion or anxiety about the details or results, ask. Your school administrators are there to help.
For More Information
If you need more information about school business or are worried about your student, contact your school’s administrators or counselor.
If you think your student could benefit from a private tutor, go to www.SonomarinTutoring.com and check out our reviews on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SonomarinTutoring.
My student goes to a good school. Why would we need tutoring?
By Janet Christensen
If the school is good, shouldn’t that be enough?
The truth is, even the best teacher can’t possibly offer the kind of personalized, supportive, and focused attention an expert tutor can provide in a one-on-one session. And here are some reasons why.
1. It’s not just a matter of asking a question; it’s about asking the right question.
Students are often hesitant to ask questions in a classroom setting, or at least to continue asking questions for as long as it takes to “get it”. Although good teachers encourage questions and are happy to answer them, many students feel as though a single question is enough, and once they’ve asked a general question, such as requesting an additional explanation of a concept, they hesitate to continue, often feeling as though they’re taking up too much class time, or that their peers will judge them negatively if they continue to probe deeper and formulate more specific questions.
An expert tutor can improve a student’s ability to ask the right kind of questions, and encourage them to do so, so that their interactions with both the tutor and the classroom teacher can become more effective and efficient.
2. Sometimes it takes a different perspective.
Although good teachers have excellent knowledge of their topic and have carefully considered the approach they use in order to teach it, their approach may not be the one that creates the deepest understanding in your student. Different people learn in different ways.
An expert tutor can look at a student’s notes and engage in conversations with the student in order to determine the teacher’s approach. Once the classroom teacher’s approach is understood, the tutor can offer the content in a novel manner, or in several new ways, offering the student options until the concept is made clear. This way, both the student and the tutor can identify the modes of learning that are most efficient for the student.
3. Teaching is the best way to learn.
During class time, students are typically expected only to absorb information. This level of learning is sometimes referred to as “passive,” as it only requires one direction of cognition – the ability to comprehend input. A deeper level of learning, however, requires the student to not only comprehend input, but to apply or explain the information – to make the information useable.
An expert tutor can engage in exercises with students that require them to apply the information or explain their understanding directly to the tutor. This can take time and often requires a struggle on the part of the learner, but can facilitate a mastery of concepts that is unlikely to occur in a group (classroom) setting.
4. Immediate feedback is essential.
Many teachers are required to offer feedback or to grade the work of well over a hundred students, and this, understandably, can take time. However, once a student submits an assignment or completes a test, they’re likely to consider the learning process in that subject area to be complete. No matter how thorough the feedback a teacher might provide, it often goes completely ignored or unnoticed. The end result is that the opportunity for deep learning has been missed.
An expert tutor can provide immediate, personalized feedback to the student, explaining the specifics of what the student has misunderstood, or the specific strengths the student exhibits in their work. If offered without judgment, in a supportive and caring way, immediate and specific feedback can greatly enhance a student’s sense of confidence and focus in learning.
5. Time on task is proven to have a strong correlation to achievement.
Let’s face it -- several hours of classroom instruction per week just may not be enough to achieve mastery of a subject. Classroom teachers are governed by a calendar, not by their students’ level of achievement, and families can’t demand that the instruction be paced according to their student’s achievement. But a lack of success in school can be emotionally destructive, and many students suffer from a sense of incompetence and a lack of confidence, based on their classroom experiences.
An expert tutor can spend the time required for the student to gain true mastery of a subject, and do so in a supportive, non-judgmental way. One-on-one tutoring is not only a more efficient method of teaching and learning, working with an expert tutor reduces the stress associated with a lack of understanding and eliminates the student’s sense of incompetence, thereby improving the student’s general attitude toward the subject, and toward school in general.
Achievement leads to confidence, and confidence leads to happiness.
Janet brings a love of cultures, language, and words to her teaching and tutoring. Formerly a high school English teacher, she has taught ESL and English Composition at several Bay Area universities, including UC Berkeley, University of San Francisco, ECIW at Mills College, and CSU East Bay, as well as in Japan and Kazakhstan. Janet has been tutoring high school, college, and postgraduate students for over 20 years, specializing in developing critical thinking, writing skills, college and graduate school application essay writing, and language skills for non-native speakers.