At the Emotional Health Centre, Therapy House, 6 Tuckey Street, Cork city we help with examination preparations & study habits
Examination Preparation/Study Habits
The heart beats faster; the palms get sweaty; perhaps the knees feel a bit weak; the mouth and throat feel parched; memory of even the most familiar of facts and details deserts a frantic mind. I could be describing a teenager’s first date, but of course, I’m not. To so many people the symptoms I’ve just described all too well typify there own experiences when faced with tests and examination. but it doesn’t have to be that way. Exams can be prepared for and taken with a minimum of anxiety and tension.
Examinations are not a measure of a person’s intelligence. Indeed, how many of us have paused in wonder when our less than bright classmate outscored us in that all important, do or die exam. I can clearly remember a former professor of mine, the late eminent anthropologist and social scientist, Dr. Margaret Mead telling our class that “all exams really do is measure our ability to take exams.” As such, efficient, effective and successful exam preparation and tension free exam taking is a skill that can be learned by everyone regardless of native intelligence.
We must assume that, for our purposes, the person preparing for the particular exam is familiar with, has studied and has completed as applicable the necessary course work and reading of the appropriate subject matter for the exam. All that is now necessary is to adequately and thoroughly review the learned material for the test itself. Those wishing for or needing assistance with memory, concentration and proper habits of study will be catered to during the sessions.
The first step in preparing for an exam is to find out as much as one can about the exact nature and scope of that particular exam. If possible, the students should obtain pervious examinations. If the patient is a college student, the acquisition of test papers given by the same instructor would be a definite plus. If the exam faced is the proficiency or professional type such as the civil service, real estate, insurance, contractors, etc., sample tests are usually available to the applicant. Whatever the situation, exam copies should be studied carefully.
You will be advised to try to answer all the questions on the exam as if they were actually undergoing the exam itself. They should allow themselves the allotted time they will be allowed at the actual test itself and only that much time. Knowing the total time allowed for the examination is an obvious and vital help to the student in preparing for the test because it will enable them to practice answering questions under actual exam conditions.
Time pressure is one of the great stumbling blocks in the path of many exam takers. Only by timing their answers when studying will they be able to practice answering questions in the allotted time. It’s one thing to answer exam questions correctly, but it’s quite another thing to answer them correctly in the allotted time.
And since most tests today are given under timed conditions, the time element is one of the major factors in getting a high score. Only practice under timed conditions will best enable the student to answer questions in the real examination. This is another good reason for obtaining and studying previous examinations.
Of course, the actual exam will most probably not contain the same questions as are on the sample test but it most probably will contain the same types, level of difficulty and perhaps even the same amount of questions the student will have to deal with on the actual exam. this will greatly help to prepare the student and let them know what to generally expect. it’s been shown that, if two people of equal intelligence, education, experience and training take the same exam the one most familiar with previous exams that most closely resemble the actual test in form, scope and allotted time will score the higher.
Review and study for the exam is, of course, very important. There can be no set rule for how long before the exam date reviewing should begin. This will vary depending upon several factors. College students may or may not find that new material that will be included on the exam is being presented by the instructor up to the last day of class.
When to begin the review will depend to a very large extent on the total course load being carried, the dates of the exams and, of course, the study time the student has available to him or her. Those taking professionals exams e.g. real estate, civil service and other such broad proficiency and professional examinations are normally not limited to the degree a college student is and thus may begin reviewing at their own discretion. However, for such exams it is strongly recommended that reviewing begin at least a month and no later than two weeks prior to the exam date.
Reviewing assumes, of course, that all the required work and new learning has been completed and, as such, all that is now needed is a general overview of the subject area to reacquaint the conscious memory with the previously learned information. Of course, particular emphasis may have toe be paid to certain rough spots if necessary.
For optimum benefit, study sessions should be somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes in length. As we’ve seen, clinical studies have proven that learning is more efficient where its broken down into small chunks with short rest breaks in between each session. Somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes seem to be the best for study or learning periods. If too small, there will be insufficient meaning and continuity for proper understanding of the material. If too long boredom, restlessness and fatigue become inhibiting factors to learning and retention.
Rest breaks should be about 5 to 10 minutes long. There will admittedly be times when, with studying going well, temptation will arise to study on past the point when a rest break should be taken. Such temptation should be avoided. Studies have shown that later recall of the material is actually enhanced by interrupting the studying and temporarily turning the mind to other, unrelated activities.
After the rest break, a few minutes should be spent reviewing the material from the previous study session even if the student stopped studying just 5 minutes before. This quick, mini review “warms” the students up and re-establishes the proper mental set. A few minutes should be spent reviewing the material from the previous day’s study. Ten minutes after the day’s or evening’s study the entire material should be reviewed for about five minutes.
A good nights’s sleep before the exam is important to ensure that the student will be well rested for the test. Last minute cramming should be avoided. A hasty, last minute cram may help the test-taker answer one or two additional questions that they otherwise might not have been able to answer but the general weariness late night cramming generally produces is much more likely to have an adverse affect on the test as a whole.
Students should arrive at the test location 10 or 15 minutes before the scheduled start time of the test. Whenever possible, the entire test paper should be read, along with the instructions, before attempting to answer any of the questions. Of course, those taking the lengthy proficiency and licensing type exams will usually find this impossible and even inadvisable from the standpoint of time. However, it would be a good idea for them to take a few minutes to gain a general overview of the exam. If nothing more, the time spent reviewing the test papers will help to settle any last minute jitters.
Studying the exam also enables the test taker to plan the time her or she must allot for each question to be answered. They should mentally not how many questions each part contains along with the degree of difficulty of each question. If there is a choice of questions the student should select those which they’re sure they know the answer to and then answer those questions first.
Test takers often complain that certain questions are ambiguous in their wording and open to interpretation. Sometimes this is true but more often than not it’s actually the test taker, suspicious of the examiner’s intentions, who reads into the question something that isn’t there. Every question on an exam has a definite point and that point must be discovered by a student before an answer can be adequately attempted. If a question actually is ambiguous then the best course of action is to choose one of the possible meanings and answer the question as if that were the only meaning.
If the question is of the essay type then the student should state the difficulty they had in interpreting the examiners intent at the outset of answering the question so that the examiner will be made aware of the ambiguity. Depending on the type of exam, the examiner may possibly take this into consideration when grading the test. But again, the student should choose a meaning and answer the question “as if” that were the true meaning and answer the question confidently and fully. In for a penny, in for a pound! A half answered question, regardless of ambiguity, invites half the score at most.
If there’s time at the end of the exam, the student should read over the questions and his or her answers to them. They’ll often be amazed and surprised at the mistakes they find. However, it is important that they learn to trust their intuition. If they arrive at two possible and plausible answers to the exam questions, they should trust their hunch in making a choice. More often than not, their hunch will prove correct.
Poor study habits involve both internal and external conditions. Internally, a person’s sense of how to manage their time or how to bear down and concentrate may be poorly defined and difficult to put into action. This results in an unnecessary drain on their energy and emotions. For example, if they have an exam, a progress report, research to do for a lecture, a sales pitch – any act of learning that requires preparation and some semblance of organization – they can transform it into a traumatic, self punishing experience by delaying it. If, instead, they did the task in small increments before their deadline, their task would be considerably easier.
Time management is not a complex, tedious process. It simply involves breaking one’s whole project into workable segments. People can do this with any block of material – the information to be learned for the bar exam, the research necessary for their annual report, the work of the three novelists that they need to study for their oral exam in twentieth century literature. Their learning module can be compared to an ice cream that they cannot easily ingest if swallowed whole; broken into pieces, it goes down easily.
The external factors of poor study habits have to do with the physical location of a person’s study area and their association with it. A psychologist working with students who had poor study habits found that when the students followed the three rules below, their learning experience was markedly improved.
1. Designate one particular location for study and use that location consistently.
2. Eliminate any external distractors.
3. Leave the location as soon as you are no longer able to concentrate.
Hypnosis can help directly with the last two factors. Some external distractors will never be easy or even possible to eliminate. A housemate’s squaking parakeet or the blasting stereo down the hall are examples (but you can program your patient, with hypnosis, to block out sounds).
Of course, if a person’s external distractor is their baby, their spouse, or someone else close to them, then they need to settle on a study schedule that coincides with the times they’re not involved in that person’s routine. But they can’t expect the people they live with to come and go as the patient might please. They need to construct a cooperative plan of action that deprives neither party of his or her “rights”.
The last rule, which deals with leaving the study area when their concentration has dissipated, can be regulated by their specifying a time frame for their activity. This involves designating a starting and stopping time that corresponds to their normal attention span and then working within those limits.
According to some experts, (with studies to back them up) relaxation skills are the most crucial element to improve learning ability. Anxiety interfere with learning. Any kind of anxiety, not just that type associated with the learning process itself. If you can help your patient rid themselves of anxiety, they are more likely to learn. With this in min, appropriate therapy for stress and anxiety should be a part of your patient’s program when indicated along with training in relaxation techniques.
For an appointment please ring Therapy House, 6 Tuckey Street, Cork city on 021-4273757 or email us on