May 19 / Conor Maxwell

6 Tips for Successful Exam Preparation

June 8th 2022 will be a significant day for over 100,000 students in Ireland. This day will see the commencement of the Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle examinations.

Not only will this see our third-year students sit a state exam for the first time, the same will hold true for a large portion of our Leaving Certificate students. This is because many may not have sat an external Junior Cycle examination after it was cancelled during the first lockdown.

Stress levels might be high and navigating the next few weeks will prove a challenge for some. Here, I will outline some tips about how to make the best use of your time and make sure you are feeling confident going into your exams.

 Create a Plan

Planning is half of the battle when it comes to studying and revising. I’ve been there myself. Sitting down at 5pm to figure out what I am going to study. Picking the subject(s) I like the most to make the next few hours easier on myself. Flicking through the book aimlessly looking for something to scream “STUDY ME”.

Before I know it an hour has passed, and I am no further along than I was at the start. This is why having a plan is essential.
Making and sticking to a plan will focus your study and allow for a fair amount of time to be given to all topics and all subjects, not just the ones we prefer.

Equally, if there is a particular topic or subject you find difficult, there can be extra time allocated to it.

The plan itself doesn’t have to be a work of art. Draw up a rough timetable onto a blank piece of paper or keep a list on your phone. Whatever works for you.

Make sure all your other commitments like your job or training sessions are factored in as well. It can be all too convenient that your hour for biology revision just happens to fall at the same time as your football training! The most important thing is that the plan is stuck to.

Engage Yourself

Putting in the hours for study can be challenging. It is important that the way in which you approach your study keeps you engaged.

Sitting at your desk, reading paragraphs from your textbook or notes copy might work for a short amount of time but you’re going to get bored quickly. You need to make sure you're actively  engaged in your study.

Here are a couple of things you could try:

  • Study in short blocks to keep your focus levels high.

  • Switch the subjects you are studying often or build a number of subjects into your study plan. This will keep your study from getting repetitive and exercise your brain more.

  • Vary the methods you use to study. Yes, creating and studying flashcards can be great, but doing this over and over again can become tedious. Is there another method you could apply? We will explore some in the next section.

Find What Works For You

When studying, it is important to find methods which both work and don’t work, for you. There’s no point spending hours making flashcards for each of your subjects if you find it is of no benefit to you.

So, spend some time trying a few different methods out and stick with what you know works for you. Some strategies you could adopt:

  • Flashcards: Flashcards are a proven effective method when it comes to studying. Not only will writing down crucial information on cards help you remember it, but the vibrant colors will also stimulate and engage your brain, making it easier for the information to sink in.

  • Mind Maps: Mind maps can be an excellent study aid, not only because of the visual aspects, but through content association. When creating mind maps you are connecting words, concepts and ideas via branches. This should enable you to recall more information later on through associating the words you linked with one another.

  •  Be the teacher: One of the most under-utilized study approaches by students is the ‘be the teacher’ approach. The benefits this method has are well documented and are referred to as the ‘protégé effect’.

    The protégé effect is a psychological phenomenon where teaching, pretending to teach, or preparing to teach information to others helps a person learn that information.

    So, round up your unsuspecting siblings, or a group of your friends, and master a topic through teaching it to them.

  • Record yourself: When it comes to revising, self-recording comes into its own. Record yourself using voicenote or the camera feature explaining the information, essentially taking on the role of both teacher and student.  By listening back to your ‘lesson,’ you can consolidate your understanding of material or spot any areas you feel you may need to revisit or need some help with.

Exam Papers and Marking Schemes

One of the biggest keys to success in the Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate exams is to practice prior papers over and over (and over!) again.

The same kind of questions tend to appear, therefore knowing the papers, and the associated marking schemes, from front to back and inside out is the greatest way to prepare. These are all readily available on examinations.ie.

Stay Up To Date with Changes to the Papers

The Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate classes of 2022 have had a number of years with some levels of disruption to their learning.

In response to this, the Department of Education has issued a number of adjustments which will be implemented on this years' exam papers. The changes are designed to give students more choice & a fair chance to succeed.

Junior Cycle 

Junior Cycle students will no longer have an Assessment Task to complete. This normally is worth 10% of the final grade awarded. As a result, the final examination paper will now constitute the entirety of the grade awarded. There will also be no change to the structure of the paper for any subject.

Senior Cycle

Leaving Certificate students will see significant changes to their papers. There is more choice within the paper as to what questions are completed, and there is a reduction in the number of questions that are required to be answered.

You can find out all about the changes for each individual subject by visiting Assessment Arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate 2022. 

Look After Yourself

Preparing for your exams can be a stressful affair. It is essential that you look after both your physical, and mental well-being while you study. There are several things you can do to help:

  • Sleep: Having a good night’s sleep will mean you are feeling rested and full of energy for the study you take part in.

    Aim for 8 hours of sleep and if you are feeling tired, don’t be afraid to rest or take a nap. It could be the perfect recharge you need to get back on top of your game.

  •  Eat well: When studying for exams, a good diet can take start to take a backwards step. But the schedule of exams coming up in June means that endurance is pivotal.

    Completing exams that can take up to three hours, coupled with the fact that there may be more than one in a day, is no mean feat. Ensuring you have the right food and drink will mean you are energized, alert and ready to tackle the exams head-on.

  • Schedule time off: Everyone’s study plan will look different. Students will choose what works best for them. What won’t work is studying for hours upon hours on end. You will end up burnt out.

    Schedule in regular breaks. Take this time to clear your head, rest and catch up with friends and family. You will feel the benefit of it.

  • Stay active: One of the most common things I hear students say in the lead up to exams is that they have left their training to the side until exams are over. The hours spent training could be used for studying instead. But there are significant benefits of exercise that will actually help with study.

    So rather than give it up, I would encourage you to stay active. Staying active while studying has been shown to strengthen memory, lead to better concentration and increase energy levels, all of which will lead to more productive study!

  • Support: As you get closer to the exams you may start to feel anxious or overwhelmed. You are not alone in how you are feeling because there are so many people in the same boat as you.

    Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out and chat to someone. It can be a friend, family member or teacher.

To Conclude

The very best of luck with your exam preparation and the exams in June. Remember that your worth isn't determined by how much work you put in or how many marks you get on a piece of paper.

You can only do your best, and exams, as stressful as they may be, are not the be-all and end-all. There is a lot more to you as a person than your grades. Be kind to yourself and be proud of your accomplishments; you're doing your best.


Additional Resources

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Building Students' Resilience and Wellbeing

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covers the common pitfalls students can fall into when it comes to exam time.

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Parental Restrictions and Internet Safety

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Effective Study Tools and Skills for Students Webinar

Teachers Conor Maxwell and Danny Curran provide demos on using technology to enhance study skills and revision.

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About the Author

Conor Maxwell

Conor is a Science, Mathematics and Coding teacher in Sandymount Park Educate Together Secondary School. Conor is ICT Coordinator in his school and gives training session to both his students and fellow teachers. He is a certified Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and Apple Certified Teacher and he believes strongly that when used effectively in the classroom, technology can have a transformational impact on student learning.

Conor has created numerous courses on Wriggle Connect Family to support your digital journey, check out his courses here.