Don’t sweat the small stuff

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As someone who completed Year 12 last year and with the experience still relatively fresh in my mind, I know the word ‘exam’ constantly played on my mind the entirety of Year 12.

Exams are a very large and important part of your life, both while you are a student and once you leave school.

I think it’s a common misconception that one exam can make or break your ATAR but people stress about this a lot more than they need to and place a lot of pressure on themselves.

I prepared for my exams, by not just studying, but getting my food and body clock in order. This helped me, however naturally there is always an uneasy feeling the night before an exam.

You try frantically to cram in information and your head plays things over and over. I actually realised earlier in the year that I performed worse on tests and minor exams when I stayed up late cramming the night before.

I was a strong believer in balance throughout Year 12 and especially in the exam period. I only changed my routine if it was completely necessary for study time. I found it so much easier to study after I had a break and spent time doing something I would usually do – such as footy training, playing a bit of piano, or even just catching up with a friend.

For those of you who have your first exam in the next few days, most of your study and preparation will be done. Here are my top tips for the upcoming exam period:

  • Try getting a normal sleep. It is more beneficial if you set a time the night before your exam where you will stop studying and go to bed. Set your morning alarm 15-30 minutes earlier than usual so that you have some spare time in the morning to read your notes and get your brain working. You are better off waking up feeling fresh.
  • Eat exactly what you would normally eat for breakfast (seven Weetbix for me).
  • Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of taking lollies or food into the exam but I know it can be a great thing for some people, so if it’s something you would normally do, stick with it.
  • Drink plenty of water but don’t drink too much in the hour before the exam. Don’t go silly and make yourself thirsty but remember there is nothing worse than having to go to the toilet during the exam and wasting precious time. I do recommend taking a water bottle in with you so you don’t need to get up to grab water.
  • My dad always told me it was good luck to wear red underwear, or anything red, during a test. Follow a superstition you might have because subconsciously it could make you feel more confident.
  • It is natural to feel at least a bit nervous walking into the exam room and there is nothing you can do about it, but you just need to remind yourself there is nothing else you can change so just do your best.
  • Don’t stress if you think you don’t know everything. With a clear mind, you’ll be surprised how much comes back to you during the exam exactly when you need it the most.
  • Most people have different preferences what to do during reading time before the exam starts. After trying a few different methods I found the most beneficial thing to do in this time was skip straight to the large questions (or extended responses) and have a quick read of them, then go to the start of the test (or where the easier questions are) and start actually working out or writing down the answer on your scrap piece of paper. As soon as real time starts you can fill in a few questions that you have answered and give yourself more time for the trickier ones.
  • Nobody is perfect and there will more than likely be a few questions you have no idea about or are unsure of. If there isn’t, GREAT! If there is (like there was for me) as soon as you read it, move onto the next question. It is absolutely pointless to sit and wonder about a question - if it doesn’t come to you in the first 30 seconds, move on!
  • Time is precious so don’t waste it sitting there if you have no idea. I can almost guarantee if you do move on from these, your brain will subconsciously work on it and you may suddenly click and realise the answer 20 minutes later. Once you realise, you can go back and answer it.
  • An obvious but key tip is if you have completely finished all the questions you are confident with but left a few completely blank, just write something in there. Even if you have no clue it’s better to write something remotely related than nothing. But only do this at the end if you have time, don’t waste time on it.

For those of you who have exams later and still have some time to prepare, the best advice I can give is routine. Set alarms to wake up a bit earlier on exam day and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Don’t just study here and there throughout the day, allocate yourself a three- hour block to study intensively or do a practice exam so your brain gets used to working for that amount of time.

At the end of the day, remember although exams may affect your ATAR to some extent, it won’t make or break your future career. It won’t affect where you will be in 10 years. There are so many alternate pathways after everything is done. All you can do is your best and I am sure that will be more than good enough. Don’t sweat the small stuff - good luck!

Marcus Valastro completed Year 12 at Darwin High School and was awarded top Indigenous NTCET student of 2016.

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