How To Set Up Your Smart Phone For Effective Exam Revision

Photo Credit: Kartik Malik

Photo Credit: Kartik Malik

Smart phones are awesome. They are an integral part of our day to day lives. But now that exam season is upon us they also become an integral challenge. How does a student all of a sudden put a stop to a habit which otherwise consumes the vast majority of their time? 

 

Press home button. Enter passcode. Open App. Tap, tap, tap, repeat. 

 

It's a habit, a routine, a ritual. Sometimes we don't even realise we're doing it - it's automated.

 

I give workshops to school pupils about the 'modern' issues surrounding exam preparation and performance. The desire to do this came out of my own frustration at 'study skills companies' telling me I need to plan my work, take regular breaks and make sure I sleep enough. I knew I needed to do all that, anyone with half a brain does... 

 

What I didn't know was how to concentrate, get motivated and perform well in an environment choc-a-block with distraction and temptation. Young people are faced with this challenge everyday. Do they opt for instant gratification? Or do they adopt a more sensible, rational, long term approach. The difficulty of this challenge has increased since I left school and will continue to do so as long as technology continues to make our lives easier. 

 

In this post I'll share with you some precautionary measures any student can put in place to keep their smart phone from making them look anything but smart in the exam room.

 

1. Move social apps to the back page

 

Yes, that's right, those apps occupying the top spots on your phone, move them to the back page. It's just too risky to let Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have first dibs on your attention during exam time. They'll lure you in with one of those tempting red notification icons. If that doesn't work they'll find a reason to notify you about something else. As the number inside that red notification icon rises so does the likelihood of you giving it a tap. 

 

Just one tap won't hurt anybody right? But the taps add up. I always thought the colour red mean't stop, danger or 'if you do this too much you will not pass your exams'...

 

The first step is to make it difficult for yourself to begin the habit. If in doubt, go hardline, delete them. Yes, I said it. It will feel as if you've disappeared off the face of the earth but your exam results will sky rocket. 

 

2. Download every revision app you can find and put them on the front page

 

So...What are you going to replace all the dead space with?

 

Free revision apps will do the trick. Download every free revision app, note taking tool, calendar and planner you can find and fill the blank space on the first page. It doesn't even matter if you intend to use them. The real reason for doing this is so that, if you do start tapping, the first thing you see is a stark reminder of what you are meant to be doing - revising!

 

If you like using revision apps full steam ahead. If you don't, put the phone down and get writing.

 

3. Buy a watch (or use a time keeping device which is not your phone)

 

There's no school like the old school. Buy a watch or use a time keeping device other than your phone. Students tell the the time by glancing at their smart phones and this plays right into the hands of the tapping habit. Before you know it checking the time has turned into a quick text message, watching a couple of Snapchat stories and sifting through a hundred or so Instagram photos.

 

Once you're in it's pretty hard to get out. Eliminate the reasons why you might need to look at your phone, the need to tell the time is one of them. If in doubt, put it in another room. After all, you now have a brand new watch to tell the time with.

 

4. Turn silent mode on AND vibrate off
 

People get the first one right. The thinking goes, I'll turn my phone on silent,  therefore I won't be able to hear anything, therefore I won't be disturbed. To remove all doubt from the equation they wear headphones and now they think they are an impenetrable fortress of focus.

But they've made a schoolboy error... They have left their phone's vibrate setting on. A barrage of messages, notifications and missed calls sends vibrations through the table into your finger tips.

By then it's too late, the tapping has begun.

 

5. Airplane mode

 

This is my top recommendation for anyone who is serious about nailing a great set of results this year.

Every time you sit down to revise imagine you are taking your seat on an airplane. Stick airplane mode on and you'll be guaranteed an undisturbed revision session. Become a jet setter and book a one way ticket to Results City, then check in to the A Town Luxury Resort & Spa.

Don't blame me if mum's not happy about you being late for diner!  

Why 'Keenoes' Will Be The Winners Of Tomorrow

 

A Common Problem

Before I deliver a workshop at a school I'm given a brief by a member of the teaching staff about the message they would like me to get across to their students.  

More often than not teachers talk about wanting to change their students' work ethic. They say students expect to be spoon feed information and have everything done for them. The problem is always centred around a passive approach to school and education in general.

What they need more of is the proactive go getters and ambitious all rounders.

 

One Idea Is A Powerful Idea

I wanted to pin down one idea that effectively tackled this problem.

In my experience so far as a public speaker, I've found that it is much easier to communicate one clear message rather than a bunch you've hodge-podged together. One message that hits home is far more effective than many that miss the mark by a fraction.

I wanted to give students an idea that was black and white, easy to understand and identify with, something that was already part of the lingo and widely understood.  

 

The Thought Behind It

So... lack of effort, general lethargy and an unwillingness to go above and beyond expectations was the problem. However, we all know that you can't just have a pop at a young person and expect them to nod, take the feedback on board and then execute the new behaviour. It just doesn't work like that. 

Young people often like to take the short term view, the path of least resistance and instant gratification and  to give no real thought to the morrow. I know, I still do it.   

Trying hard wasn't cool when I was at school. Kudos always went to the person who, on the face of things, didn't appear to try all that hard but succeeded all the same. It is this inauthenticity about the nature of achievement that I believe to be the key issue. Trying hard and failing was utterly embarrassing, trying hard and succeeding was only slightly more acceptable, appearing not to try and achieving was, and still is, the sweet spot that everyone would like to convey they are hitting oh so effortlessly.

You could argue some of this still exists as people develop through their twenties and perhaps for some, never really goes away.  

The thing is, the achievement equation has to (like all equations) balance on both sides...Effort + Doing The Right Things = Achievement

I had to come up with something that encouraged young people to be authentic about their effort, the nature of their actions and the results they produced.  

 

Reclaim What They Took From You (anyone who follows DJ Khaled on Snapchat will know what I'm talking about...) 

The keeno, the keen bean, the person who throws themselves into anything. This person is willing to accept whatever outcome - win, lose or draw. They are always unashamedly striving for the win. Not in a selfish way but because they know it's the right thing to do by them.  

At school this word was used to take the shine off other people's achievements and successes.

"You came top of the class. Nice work, but to be fair, I only revised an hour before the test. You were up all night. Keeno".  

And I'm not only talking about academia. It's everything, sports, drama, music, debating you name it. If you are seen to put in effort other people are more than happy to take the gloss of things by branding you a keeno.

So I decided to take back the word keen and wrestle it away from those who would rather everyone play to their own mediocre level. My workshops involve dismantling the thought process behind a person who would use the word keen to legitimate their lack of effort and the mediocre results it produces. Trust me, I know what they're thinking, I was one of them!

On the flip side here's five reasons why the keenoes will be the winneres of tomorrow (as spoken to students):

 

The World Favours The Keen

The world we live in today favours the keen. It's less about who you are or what you have at the start and more about who you become and what you learn in the future. Freedom of information and connection online means that there fewer barriers to knowledge accumulation and linking up with the right people. Keenos will thrive in this environment, the people who wait for things to happen and think they are owed something will be left behind.

 

It's Becoming More and More About What You Know

The context within which the corporate decision maker operates is changing from one based on opinion and subjectivity to one based on evidence and rationality. In other words, the career ladder is becoming less and less about who you know and more and more about what you know. I'm 22 and I've yet to see anyone be waived through in a similar way to how I hear it was in 'the good ol' days'. Again, I'm no expert on the job market but it seems to me that if you're not good enough, 'hit the bricks pal' (many thanks to Alec Baldwin for that one). Meritocracy has been winning the battle over nepotism for many years now and nepotism is down to it's last few battalions. All of this favours the keen bean.

 

It's Acceptable To Try Hard And Fail

Keenoes learn the value of unashamedly trying their best and failing. In the early stages of their development they will do what everyone else does. When things don't go their way they will shift the responsibility away from themselves in order to try to disguise their concerted effort. They'll say things like..

"Well, I didn't really try that hard" or "I never really wanted it"...the truth is you did try hard and you did want it, you just didn't get it. 

Admitting you tried your best and still failed is hugely empowering and disarms anyone who would try to use it against you. If you're looking for an example check out this interview with UFC champion Connor McGregor after a defeat. If anyone can find any bad press about Connor McGregor please send it to me, I haven't been able to find any. 

Keenoes learn to take defeat squarely on the chin, they lose with grace and dust themselves off to go again. 

 

Make Some Plays - Be On Offence

Speaking in terms of American Football, keenoes are always playing on offence. They are distributing the pigskin, running routes as wide receivers and always looking for the TD. Meanwhile, everyone else is in the the defensive line, too concerned with what is directly in front of them.

Keenoes play the long game, they know that it's a game of four quarters, a few risks and failures in the first quarter are always recoverable, they learn from their mistakes and successes and position themselves to make the big plays in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters. Everyone else isunable to see the bigger picture.

It's only after the game when the defensive team sit down together to watch the replays that they see the opportunities they missed out on, but by then it's too late.  

 

People Like It When The Right Person Wins

People like it when the right person wins. Young people often want the cool kid, the popular person or whoever everybody else wants to win to come out on top. This changes. As you grow older, you want to see that things add up and make sense. You want to see the right person be rewarded. You want to see that effort and achievement are rewarded. You want to see the achievement equation balance on both sides. 

It's something I'm still learning, but it's becoming clear to me that those who rely on the fortunate bounce of the ball, or the particular way in which the cookie crumbles are going to be waiting some time for their ship to come in.

Those who get their head down, crack on and unapologetically try hard whilst also trying to improve the way they work get what they deserve. Of course, it's just small wins I have observed so far but a win is a win.

The Keenoes will be the winners of tomorrow in every sense of the word - literal and emotional. 

 

I'm using the word keen to get students up for putting in a top performance this year in their exams. Fortunately it's got a nice ring to it when put in the same sentence/hashtag as the current year #Keenin2016

The 'keeno crutch' has to be taken from beneath those who use it to legitimate their lack of effort and subsequent poor results. 

I'm teasing it away one school at a time. 

Andy Tate - Exam Advice From The Great Man Himself

If you haven't watched the video below, you should. It went viral in 2014.

Andy Tate doesn't just give a thorough analysis of Manchester United's defeat to Swansea. Whether he meant to or not he also touches upon some of the key principles of exam preparation and performance.

Here's a list with accompanying time stamps that I've picked out: 

Don't Blame Management (6 secs)

Andy blames everyone including the Chairman, Fergeh and Moyseh for United's shortcomings. If it's not going your way in the classroom don't blame the teacher or anyone else. The onus is on you to be so good they can't ignore you. In hindsight Mr Tate should have taken control of the situation, laced up his boots, and offered to put a shift in at right back. 

Don't Become Complacent (35secs)

United were champions last season. Now that counts for nothing. You're only as good as your last performance. The same goes for exams. 'Train like you've never won, play like you've never lost'. 

Run Your Socks Off (40secs)

The only United player Tatey has any time for is Darren Fletcher. Effort is vitally important. If you put in the effort day in day out you will receive the recognition and reward you so rightly deserve.

Stay On Top Of Your Fitness Regime (46secs)

According to Andy, Van Perseh is struggling with Moyseh's fitness regime. You want to make sure you are slowly building up the intensity of your revision in the lead up to exams, don't peak too early and risk burning yourself out. Steady and consistent always wins the race. 

Don't Be Concerned About The Performance Of Others (50secs)

Don't worry about what other people are doing. Andy shows some concern about the performance of Cleverleh in the middle of the park. Comparing yourself to others does not do you or anybody else any good. Just be concerned about what you are currently working towards and doing it to the best of your ability. 

Don't Care (1:03min)

Be wary of the 'don't care' attitude. When you are losing and not making the progress you would like it's tempting to give up and throw the towel in. Don't do this. Keep your chin up and continue to put a shift in day in day out. Eventually you will get the break you're after. Then, build on that momentum.

Take Care (1:03min)

Don't make careless mistakes. The United players are too nonchalant for Andy's liking. Remember to focus in the exam room, read the questions properly and make sure what you write down is actually what you mean to write. 

Don't Let It Turn Into A Shambles (1:08min)

If you are struggling to score marks on the exam paper don't let it turn into a shambles. Stay clam, take a step back and think tactically about what you could do to squeeze every mark you can from the paper. Where are the marks that you are most likely to be awarded? How can you get at least 1 mark on every question?

Don't Bottle It (1:11min)

Exam performance is about thinking clearly under pressure. Those who can handle the pressure will win, the same goes for when you're on the footie pitch. In order to develop this practice working under timed conditions on a regular basis.  

If In Doubt...(1:25min)

If in doubt about any of the above or anything at all to do with your exam preparation or performance, remember, you always have the option to:  

'Give it Giggseh t' the end of the season'.  

Exams: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice

Earlier this week I revisited Mathew Syed's best selling book,  Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice. In it, he argues the two key variables that predict high levels of performance are quantity of practice and the quality of those experiences. He uses a variety of examples to support his claim including his own career as a table tennis professional.  

When it comes to high performance in exams Syed's ideas still hold true. It is not a coincidence that certain students appear to be more capable than the rest. Nor is it surprising how students can drastically improve their grades within the space of a term. It all boils down to the power of practice. 


So how do students make the transformation from zero to hero? Here are three ways of thinking about the  process of change that happens between average and outstanding exam performance. I've invented three 'types' of student I have encountered across the performance spectrum:

 

Type C: 'The Myth Believers'


Some students believe that high performers are naturally predisposed to be better at taking exams than they are. The myth believers convince themselves that exams just aren't their cup of tea. They can't handle the pressure, they can't think quickly and they can't deliver results. The ignorant belief that exam performance is defined by genetics alone robs them of any incentive to try.

However, they fail to consider the bigger picture... What was the gifted exam performer doing before they first arrived at school?

Tiger Woods was hitting golf balls at the age of two and Mozart was writing compositions aged 5. They were already accumulating hours upon hours of practice. Perhaps the talented exam performer was doing GCSE past papers? 
I doubt it. But they were probably doing something that results in them having the edge over the competition now.   

Let's get back to golf and music... Tiger and Wolfgang were not only putting in hours and hours of practice, this practice was also of an exceptionally high quality. Earl Woods, Tiger's father and a single figure handicap himself, mentored Tiger throughout his formative years. Mozart's father was a composer, had published a textbook on the violin and often played in or conducted the local orchestra - not a bad role model! In line with this, the talented student was fortunate enough to have high quality information put before them as they were developing: a challenging book, a tricky game or simply something that required the brain to engage on a higher level.  

I always wondered why it took me ten times longer than everyone else to read a page of text. Looking back on it, I have no doubt it was because I had never picked up a book out of my own free will until aged 13 (Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone). I hadn't practiced. No wonder I was behind.


The myth believers fail to recognise the amount and quality of practice already accumulated by the 'talented' student as the primary reason for their exam success. 


Type B: Effort Is A Great Start


Then there are the students who have made the transition from the fixed mindset of a myth believer to the growth mindset of an achiever. They see the value of effort and the incremental improvement it can deliver. They practice long and hard and they sometimes get within touching distance of the top performers.  These students are the work horses, some grind out decent results, some lose willpower and end up doing only slightly better than the myth believers.


Although they are putting in the required practice it is quality they are lacking. They need an Earl Woods or a Leopold Mozart to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their practice. 


Maximum effort helps but it is unsustainable in the long run. Practicing for hours and hours in return for unreliable improvement is going to grate after a while - especially when it comes to exams!


Type A: Reflect, Refine, Revisit...


The top performance not only understand the value of effort and importance of regular practice. They also understand it is the quality of their practice that will make them appear to be talented. Everything they do is built upon the bedrock of hard work (much like Type B students), the difference between the two groups is that Type A students constantly reflect, refine and revisit. Their aim is to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness each time they sit down to practice for an exam or do some work.   They want to produce work to a higher standard in less time and are always trying to get 'a bit more bang for slightly less buck' so to speak.

They actively identify ways of making the whole process of exam revision slicker and simpler. They are constantly refining their ability to identify the essential and skim over the irrelevant.   They don't rely on a single 'secret technique' rather it is a series of small improvements in the way they practice which produces results that make them appear to be 'talented'.  


It's about the journey...


I believe achieving top exam results has much wider implications than just how they read on a CV. Exams are one of the earliest opportunities any young person is given to prove to themselves the power of practice trumps the myth of talent. It is a vitally important lesson to learn and one of life's great equalisers.

If you put in X you will get Y.

Otherwise, many students will go through life preferring to point the finger of blame or believe what gives them a sense of consolation. This is, that some people are naturally more capable than they are and there's nothing they can do about it. Unlucky chuck!


I'm certainly not saying that you can influence everything through practice of the right quantity and quality, it's not quite as simple as the equation I set out above.

Sometimes opinions are put before objective fact and people are picked in spite of the evidence and there's not much you can do about it. Furthermore, some people may be winners of the genetic lottery and have a slight head start on the rest of us. But to let this deter you from trying and to believe that achieving high levels of exam performance is beyond your influence or capacity is not only unhelpful but a mistake.  

When you can put your finger on a time when the quantity and quality of your practice pulled you through you have an advantage. It's the  spotlight that shines on anyone who is yet to learn the value of hard work and is still scrambling for a shortcut or the easy win.

For consistent and high quality performance the key is always practice, practice, practice.  

How To Sell Your Millennial Teenager on Exam Success?

Below is one of my favourite movie excerpts:

(Credit: Glengarry Glen Ross, 1992).

Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. It's selling in its simplest form. 

But how do you sell your millennial teenager on exam success? How do you convince them that the many hours of preparation and practice will all be worth it? It's a tough sell, tougher than selling real estate that's for sure. The Google generation are used to answers at the click of a button, instant gratification and shortcuts. Whereas you're trying to sell them a process that doesn't include any of this. Exam success requires consistency, correct technique and effort. Three things that are required to achieve most things worth having.

It would be a lot easier to stop trying to sell and just buy the grades on their behalf. Of course, you can't do this, the only currency great results can be bought with is called consistency, correct technique and effort.  But I've always thought it would be interesting to see just how much a top set of GCSE's, an Oxbridge level International Baccalaureate or a 4.0 GPA score would go for when under the hammer....

Photo Credit: Alberto G.

Photo Credit: Alberto G.

Back to selling your millennial teenager on exam success, here's how I'd do it:

Attention
Go to where their attention naturally lies. It's on their mobile phone, social media and anything online. Put great content in front of them. Earn their attention with content that is inspirational, entertaining, valuable, interesting, funny and above all worthwhile and semi-educational. Put it in a format that they will engage with - an image, a video or an audio recording. Here's an example on Snapchat. Educators need to start going to where the battle is really happening and win the war for attention. The tyranny of the cat video has remained unopposed for too long.

Interest
Talk in terms of their interests. Every teenager is interested in the older, cooler more developed version of themselves. They look up to the older kids for guidance and they copy what they do. They wear their trousers low, hair in a certain way and have all of a sudden started using that catch-phrase because it's what the 'cool kid' in the year above them does. When really, it's just about being yourself - that's cool and Echosmith agree with me. Show them their future, show them the cool kid that could be them. If they're interested in making money show them how exams are the first and most profitable investment they can make. If they're interested in having freedom to choose what they do. Show them how grades are the keys to doors that will otherwise remain locked to them. Or, if they're interested in doing meaningful work. Show them how doing meaningful work is often difficult and it might be worth practicing the skills they will need by preparing and performing well in their exams. 

Decision
Make it a simple decision for them. Don't attach any strings to your offer. Don't apply any pressure or offer any external incentive (these rarely work, intrinsic motivation is what we're looking for). Buying into exam success is a decision every millennial teenager has to make for themselves. If they want to do it they'll do it. Earning their attention and peaking their interest will help but the seller can't help it if the buyer chooses to turn down a great deal. What you can do is work out what's stopping them from buying. Do you have their attention? What can you do to gain their interest? Help them make a ‘grown up’ decision.  It’s one of those things they'll look back on in the future and thank you for.


Action
Give them a way to take action and effectively execute top exam preparation and performance. I created The Exam Coach Way for myself and then started to share it with the students I work with. It’s now online, on mobile and in video format, it’s called The FUN Exam Plan - there was no point in creating something that wouldn't be watched or listened to.

It's a path well trodden which is based on simplicity and efficiency. The FUN Exam Plan offers a step by step process, a clear route from A to B and a way to avoid trial and error and deliver results. Young students need direction, they can work out which learning style best suits them along the way.

In the words of Alec Baldwin:

"Always. Be. Closing."