Get Ready, Get Set... there’s no substitute for preparation!

Preparation and the strategies students can implement to maximise ‘peak performance’ and cross the finish line at exams ⎮2 min read

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There is no substitute for good preparation in sports. The goals, the game plan, the strategy, the mindset, the deliberate practice, the honed techniques, the execution and recovery are all key to setting up and implementing that ‘textbook’ performance. 

Good preparation is also important for approaching exams. In order to feel confident, students need to know they have completed the learning and study prior to the exam period. This is where the balance between challenge and skill comes into play for the peak performance zone.  

However, if preparation has been poor or interrupted, students may experience high stress and become prone to the negative effects of stress (forgetting, disorganisation, confusion, error and a decline in ability to perform), as they approach a task that may be too demanding for their skills. 

Exam Fit – Strategies to take you to the finish line!

  1. Start early in the year and plan ahead. Setting SMART study goals early in the year and following a study plan can never be underestimated. Students make the most out of their study time by using key strategies from neuroscience that have been shown to maximise learning and memory. These include spaced practise, recall techniques, using stories and teaching others.
  2. Students may not be aware that optimal physical health can support brain function. This means regular exercise and eating brain boosting foods. Sleep is also critical for brain function and memory consolidation, so it is imperative for teens to ensure they are well rested. Getting into good habits with diet, sleep and exercise will support young people to stay motivated and stay on track. 
  3. When tension or stress is too high, stress reduction techniques may be helpful in bringing it back to levels that support optimal performance. Key stress reduction techniques that are used by athletes can quickly refocus attention, such as Meditation, yoga or listening to music can be helpful for students to promote relaxation. An easy and quick technique to lower heart rate and blood pressure at any time (such as heading into the exam hall or job interview) is deep breathing.

In need of a last-minute study plan?

If the study and preparation has been less than ideal for whatever reason, late night cramming is not advised. Encourage students to implement these strategies at any stage to build knowledge and feel more confident when heading into exams:

  • Create a study plan for the time available
  • Choose key areas to focus on, for example, areas of weakness, important topics, etc.
  • Use strategies that are good for memory such as mind maps, cue cards or teaching someone else
  • Exercise regularly and take short breaks
  • Be organised. Pack bags and set alarms the night before
  • Get a good night’s sleep – sleep helps consolidate memory and learning
  • Drink lots of water and eat a good breakfast
  • Use helpful thinking and employ relaxation strategies, such as avoiding distractions and listening to music.

As with many things in life, sometimes outcomes are unexpected or disappointing. Learning key strategies to manage disappointment and to overcome setbacks are important for students to enable them to grow from mistakes, build resilience and reset their goals.

Catherine Brandon

Director, Genazzano Institute | Ed & Dev Psychologist , Genazzano FCJ College

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