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Think an all-nighter and energy drinks will get you through the exams? Think again! Stay away from these common mistakes to survive the study season.

  1. Don’t procrastinate

You might be tempted to procrastinate, but the best way to decrease your stress and anxiety levels around exams is to be prepared,” says Childline’s Head of Department: Community Awareness and Prevention Project, Gita Dennen. “Start weeks ahead with a plan, and follow through with it.  You will feel calmer and more in control – and you will be able to access what you have learnt easier.”

  1. Don’t be a copycat

It may be tempting to ‘borrow’ your best friend’s notes, but take the time to make your own. And start early: good studying begins by taking good notes in class. Taking your own notes means you can put ideas into your own words – which will help you to understand the material better. As soon as possible after class, copy your notes into a permanent notebook.
Once you have made your own notes, you can swop with a friend and help each other.

Re-writing your original class notes will help you to fill in gaps from your memory while they’re still fresh in your head. You may also find you have questions. If so, note them down and ask your teacher or tutor before the exams to fill in the blanks.

  1. Don’t try to be perfect

The best type of learning is active learning. There’s no such thing as a stupid question so raise your hand when you don’t understand something. Follow up areas of concern from your study notes as soon as possible. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
Research suggests that people learn better by making mistakes rather than always getting everything right. As Scientific American reports, research by Nate Kornell, Matthew Hays and Robert Bjork at U.C.L.A. in the US has revealed that “people remember things better, longer, if they are given very challenging tests on the material, tests at which they are bound to fail.”

So don’t worry about getting some of the answers wrong when you self-test when you study – the trick is to learn from them! Go over your past papers and assignments or essays to avoid making the same mistakes twice and to work out which areas need more attention.

  1. Don’t cram

Avoid last-minute cramming, which is a sure-fire way to create stress. “Regardless of how easily the subject matter comes to you, reviewing and practicing is necessary. Just as importantly, study ahead of time so that you can file away the information in your long-term memory,” advises curriculum consultant, study skills author and Founder of Thinking Caps Tutoring, Alexandra Mayzler.
“In order for your brain to be able to use and apply information you will need to study in small increments over a longer period of time. Weekends-only cram sessions will only work for the short term. Don’t try to jam in information in one sitting, instead break things up and spend enough time to get yourself comfortable with the material.”

  1. Don’t over-stimulate

Loading up on caffeine and energy drinks may give you a buzz – but could cause you to crash and burn. “You may be tempted to try ‘energy drinks’ which often contain stimulants.  This may result in a temporary boost of energy, but then there is a significant drop in energy, which may happen at the least helpful time.  They also negatively impact on sleep patterns,” says Dennen.

“There is harm when someone is taking more than one or two of these (energy) drinks a day,” cautions Jennifer Christner, M.D., an adolescent medicine specialist at the University of Michigan Health System, in the US. “The caffeine can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, increased heart rate and the more serious side effects of high blood pressure, hyperthermia and stroke.”

  1. Don’t stress eat

If you need to stay up longer than expected, keep things natural – don’t turn to sugary snacks and fast foods to beat the hunger pangs that are distracting you. Apples are great energy boosters and will keep your blood sugar levels in check. Drink plenty of water as dehydration can make you sleepy. And pack healthy, low G-I snacks for in-between meals, and make sure not to miss any meals either, advises Dennen, who suggests adding omega-rich fish, and loads of fresh vegetables and fruit to your meals during this stressful time.

  1. Don’t fool yourself

Simply reading and re-reading your notes for days on end is NOT studying. “Make flashcards, practice tests, tables, and charts. Active studying will allow you to grasp and remember the information for the long term. You should constantly be testing yourself to make sure that you understand what you’ve learned,” suggests Mayzler. Try making your own ‘study wallpaper’ by writing down key concepts, equations and ideas and sticking them up on your mirror or walls.

  1. Don’t panic!

US psychologist Sian Beilock and her colleague recently discovered that giving students the chance to write about their fears and anxiety before an upcoming test helped them score better than those who didn’t. The benefits of writing down your feelings before the exam appear to be that when you worry, “anxious thoughts occupy the working memory of the brain, thus crowding out other thoughts or knowledge relevant to the pressure packed at hand,” Beilock speculates in So before your next exam, free up your memory bank by jotting down any concerns you have and give yourself space to concentrate!

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others

“While it is tempting to compare yourself with others, you, yourself, are the best benchmark,” says Dennen. “Do your personal best – that means being the best you can be!  This involves really knowing yourself, and judging your performance against your own previous performances – not anybody else’s!”

  1. Don’t lose perspective

Janine Shamos, Resilience Therapist and Lecturer, reminds learners that Matric is important but it is not life or death. “If you don’t do as well as you wanted or if you fail, there are always alternatives and options – and sometimes failure is one of the greatest gifts we can get because we learn so much.”

To contact ChildLine, call their toll-free number on 08000 55555, 7 days a week, 24 hrs a day.

SADAG also runs a counselling line and SMS line – 0800 567 567 or 0800 20 50 26 and SMS 31393 –open 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm.



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