How to conquer exams

Godfrey Madanhire

Godfrey Madanhire

How to survive the exam months

If you ask anyone who has been the greatest influence in their life, chances are the answer will be: a former schoolteacher. The fact that teaching is a calling for so many of our teachers means they have the motivation to keep going through the difficult times. Dedication to learners and to schools is the strongest motivator.
I have often seen how getting acknowledgement gives teachers a spring in their steps, especially when frustration levels approach the point of burnout. 

During exam time it is important to avoid school politics, negative teachers who can lower your morale or even talking with friends and family about negative aspects of life. Right now, your focus must be on remaining positive, to inspire your learners about learning. Teachers should never fall into the trap of single-mindedly trying to produce good results without also endeavouring to equip children with the ability to think, reason and adapt to the challenges they will face in the real world. Exams are, however, a critical stage to get through each year; they prepare children for future work and life, where they will be accountable for delivering results. 

Here are some thoughts to help teachers, students and parents through the next few months.

Watch Dead Poets Society again

You cannot make anyone excited about learning things, but if you show them that you are excited about the subject matter, then half the battle is won. A passionate and excited teacher can transform a classroom from a torture chamber into a wonderland of excitement where students’ minds come alive. If you need inspiration then watch Dead Poets Society again to see how Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, generates a thirst for learning in his students. 

Don’t tell kids that exams are important

Kids are fully aware how important exams are, so there is no need for teachers to highlight this. What is essential is helping them to become focused by burying themselves in their work. A lot of well-meaning people will tell students: “Just work hard and get through this and then you can enjoy your holidays.” Personally, I believe this focuses the student’s mind on their upcoming holiday, making the thought of studying more of a chore. Kids have short-term needs, wants and goals. They want it now. Your challenge is to get them to want to learn now because it’s exciting and rewarding. 

Who wants to learn?

I have never known a student whose eyes didn’t light up when s/he finally understood something that s/he had been struggling with. Children love learning – and yet they hate studying. It’s all in the approach. Rather than focusing on them studying for exams, inspire them so that they will want to explore all the information upon which their exams are based. One way to achieve this is to tell them it is not an exam, it is a challenge.

Express yourself

Tell your learners that exams are not about “what can you remember?”; they are about what you understand. Keep reminding them that they will get their best results by expressing what they understand in the exam. That personalises it for them and makes it more attainable. It also takes the pressure off how they learn. They cannot remember every word in a textbook, but they can keep building their own understanding of what is in the textbook. Change their mind-set from: “I’ll never understand all of this” to “Wow! It’s amazing how you understand all of this better, every day”. 

What’s in the exam paper?

Do not allow learners to get bogged down with information they struggle to understand. Rather get them to push on with studying the next page or chapter. And, once they have gone through everything else, let them go back and tackle the problem bits again. Having a wider overview will give them better ammunition to score higher across all the other questions in the paper and, with that greater understanding, it will help them to mentally put together the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Get the kids to play teacher

Whenever possible, I get learners to take on the role of teaching the class. This fills them with anticipation about showing off their knowledge, and also gives them a chance to act as the teacher. The kids with the responsibility of teaching engage with the information in a new way, while the role reversal also inspires those who are being taught to focus on the lesson from their peer with keener interest, as well as analysing the information in a different way. Use this trick in class groups or even on an individual level, as it helps to build a greater understanding of the subject matter. 

Spot the error

Another great tactic I enjoy using is to give your class a refresher lesson … by deliberately making mistakes along the way. This becomes a competition for the learners to see who can spot the mistakes that the teacher has made. Kids love competition, so this always gets them focused and helps them to build their understanding of the information. It’s essential to ensure that the deliberate errors are visibly highlighted and corrected, and this in turn serves to reinforce the correct information. My learners had really good results with this method, as discovering these errors brought the information to life for them.

Godfrey Madanhire holds a diploma in education from the University of Zimbabwe and a Bachelor of Technology in Education and Management from the Tshwane University of Technology. He trains careers and life skills at schools across South Africa

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