South Africa’s Matric exams have started in earnest with Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, hoping that matrics would “surprise us with better results than last year”, while calling the class of 2021, a “resilient group”.
With Covid-19 presenting the matric class of 2021 with unprecedented difficulties, many will have much to do in the way of preparations for their final exams, which are crucial to their hopes of further study.
The Independent on Saturday spoke to Dr Veronique Genniker, the director of Pearson Marang Education Trust which provides training, coaching, and mentoring to under-resourced, deep rural schools across South Africa, for her advice on how to get the best out of your study time.
These are her five exam tips that will help this year’s matrics on the road to success.
1 Create an enabling physical environment
The layout, design, and lighting of the space you study in can have a profound effect on how you will think and feel about the preparations for your final exams. Some students can concentrate optimally when they are in uncluttered rooms while others can focus better when they are surrounded by familiar items they associate with feelings of comfort and safety. Some students find background music distracting, while others find that listening to music while studying allows them to concentrate better. Many students do not have the luxury of studying in their own space, so should try to study with a friend or family who can accommodate them. It is heartwarming how many teachers and community members open their homes to make sure that learners have a safe and secure place to study. If you do have the luxury of space, make sure to tap into your spatial awareness and take some time to optimize your study environment by considering aspects like how much natural light filters into the space, how comfortable your chair is, whether you prefer to see a clock while you study and even which pen colours are more stimulating when making notes and mind maps.
2 Make sure you get enough sleep, eat healthy and focus on what makes you feel calm
Getting 6-8 hours of sleep is important to refresh and energize your body and mind. Breathing is something we all do naturally and without any real effort. However, focusing on the inhalation and exhalation of breath can help to ease the mind and promote a state of relaxation, especially when under pressure. Conscious breathing exercises do not have to take up a lot of time and can be done anywhere. Google “breathing techniques for stress relief,” and try a few of the exercises. You can tailor your exercise to how much time you have. It is recommended that you take a break to breathe consciously for 3-5 minutes at least once every hour, just to oxygenate the body and calm the mind. Eating balanced meals and snacking on fruit with water daily is important to maintain your energy levels.
3 Set goals for your individual and study buddy sessions
The sheer amount of reading that needs to be done and concepts that need to be grasped ahead of the exam period can be quite overwhelming. Having a timetable for each subject as well as measurable goals for each study session can help to lower stress levels and divide your study sessions into manageable parts. To create a timetable, make a list of all the content that needs to be studied for each subject, then work backwards from the exam date and make sure that during each study session, a piece of that content is covered. Then, dedicate your study sessions to only the parts you have identified for that day and take a break or reward yourself when you achieve those goals. It is important to have individual and study buddy sessions to enable you to discuss content you are struggling with. Find a study buddy who is great with content you are struggling with and who can explain it to you, so that you better understand it.
4 Use visualisation techniques
Often, the very thought of sitting in an examination hall with other learners in complete silence can be very overwhelming and can cause stress and panic. You can reduce some of this stress before you sit the exam, by using visualization (imagining) as a preparation tool. To do this, close your eyes and picture yourself sitting in the exam hall, try to imagine what you will be experiencing on a sensory level – what you see, what you hear, what you smell, etc. Then, wherever you are sitting, do some hand and leg stretches and take a few deep breaths. Picture yourself being calm, feeling confident and accepting that your best is always good enough. Do this at least once a day while you are preparing so that your mind and body are ready for the big day. If possible, ask for permission to go and sit in the examination hall/room before the examination.
5 Find your ideal learning technique
One school of thought proposes that people learn best through varying stimuli – some people are visual learners, while others are auditory or kinesthetic learners. To find out what your best learning technique is, try a few methods and test what works best for you. If you learn by hearing, then record yourself reading your study notes and play them back to yourself. If you are a visual learner, create colorful mind maps, flowcharts, bullet-point lists and put them up in the room where you study. And if you are a kinesthetic learner, try taking a walk or doing gentle movements while you talk yourself through your content. You know yourself best, so study where, when, and how it works best for you. This is your exam so do whatever works best for you and know that your best will always be good enough.
The Independent on Saturday