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Some experts' strategies for upcoming exams

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With Year 12 exams on the horizon students need some strategies to deal with the pressure, a number of experts weigh in with some advice.

"It is not too late to learn a bit more" says Prof Andrew Martin, Scientia Professor and Professor of Educational Psychology at the School of Education of UNSW.

“Before major exams, the focus starts to shift to doing practice exams," said Martin. "As students mark or assess their answers, they will benefit from looking closely at “mistakes” and seeing these as windows of opportunity for improvement.

"Even at this stage, it is not too late to learn a bit more, better understand some aspects of a subject, improve one’s writing, and so on. Importantly, as revision is done, keep the mobile phone out of the study area and switch off social networking and gaming if working on a computer.

"Finally, get some decent sleep and do some physical activity during this period.”

Dr Rachael Jacobs, Western Sydney University adds "Students and their families should stress less about exams".

"Students often feel like their whole lives and futures ride on ATAR exams," said Jacobs, an expert on assessment in the arts at Western Sydney University. "The news images of students in desks and chairs, isolated from each other, exacerbates community stress around high-stakes exams."

She says the stress surrounding exams is out of proportion. "The reality is that students and their families should stress less about exams and learn to adopt good learning habits every day. Most assessment is now done during the school term. Students who are better at design, performance or creative tasks can take subjects which have more focus on projects.

"Finally, no student should ever feel that their future is dependent on one set of exams. We have more university places than ever before. Employers are looking for more than good results. Good results don’t guarantee jobs and happy lives. Success can come from the unlikeliest of places."

"Study is not just a matter of rote recall," says Dr Penny Van Bergen, a Senior Lecturer in Educational Psychology at Macquarie University, provides some tips on the best ways to prepare. "Contrary to popular belief, study is not just a matter of rote recall," she said. "Instead, experts highlight four key study techniques that will maximise your exam performance and learning."

"First, elaborate. Expanding on and organising material (e.g. by asking questions, making mind maps) results in stronger performance than rote rehearsal," she said.

"Second, test yourself. A robust finding in cognitive psychology is the “testing effect”, which shows that students perform better on exams if they have previously practised retrieving the same knowledge from memory in a similar way.

"Third, mix up your study sessions for different subjects. Experts call this form of study “interleaved study”, and it leads to stronger learning outcomes than focusing on one subject at a time.

"Finally, don’t cram. The evidence is in, cramming the night before an exam is not as effective as studying for the same duration over a longer period. Whether you have 10 hours or 100 hours spare, the brain works most efficiently when sessions are spread out and there is time to consolidate all the new information."

Viviana Wuthrich is a clinical psychologist, and an Associate Professor of Psychology at Macquarie University. She highlights that it is "normal to experience nerves in the lead up to major senior school exams." As such, she advises students and parents to "keep the pressure to excel in perspective."

"We all want to do well, but the key is to not blow the consequences of the exam out of proportion," she said. "Secondly, balance study with rest time, and look towards life after the exams.

"Some students (about 1 in 5) experience particularly high levels of stress, but the majority experience moderate levels of stress.

"Students who are more likely to experience stress at other times are most at risk of heightened distress during major exams. Heightened distress is also associated with perceived pressure from teachers, parents or students themselves to excel.

"Exam stress appears to be lessened by strong family, peer and school connections, and an absence of negative thinking about the consequences of exams."

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