Exam Help

How To Manage Exam Stress - A Detailed Guide

This guide is designed to help you understand: 

1). What exam stress is 

2). How you can view exam stress

3). What you can do about exam stress

What is exam stress? 

Without getting into too much unnecessary detail I reckon the definition below will suffice for the purpose of this guide. 

Exam stress is a feeling of being under abnormal pressure and fearing your exams are going to go badly. As a result, you may feel influencing the outcome of your exams is beyond your control. This feeling is created by hormones and chemicals released in the body as a consequence of an external factor (exams) which can also cause other negative mental and physical symptoms.

(Source: I pulled together this definition together from how stress is talked about on www.psychologytoday.com

How to view exam stress? 

Understand the Yerkes Dodson Law

This is a ‘law’ named after US psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson who published an article in the Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychologyin 1908 on the ‘Relation of Strength of Stimulus to Rapidity of Habit-formation’.


All you need to know is this: 

The law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental ‘arousal’, but only up to a point. When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases.

Side note: replace the broad term ‘arousal’ with the word stress and you have something which makes sense within the context of this article.

Graph showing the Yerkes Dodson Law bell curve

Graph showing the Yerkes Dodson Law bell curve

Basically, exam stress is a good thing, up to the point where it fosters focused performance, but too much of it can cause overwhelm and decreased performance. 

Without stress we have little pushing us into action. In fact, we can actually end up becoming super stressed out by doing nothing constructive! When stress kicks in and helps us pull off that deadline we thought was a lost cause it becomes beneficial. But when stress results in negative symptoms such as insomnia, poor concentration and an impaired ability to do the daily things we normally do, we know we need to reign it back under control. 

Now that we’ve established stress isn’t something to be ignored but that it should be recongised, carefully managed, and then used to our advantage, here’s what you can do…

What you can do about Exam Stress….

Everyone experiences stress differently and, because of this, a different solution or combination of solutions are necessary. Below I’ve listed out a load which you can DJ and remix into your own stress relieving formula. 

20190520_TheExamCoach_DankMemeRemix.jpg

Before you implement any of them I recommend you take the following 3 step approach when you feel you need to recalibrate your stress levels: 

  • Perspective - recognise you need to do something to manage your stress. Do this by pausing, taking a time out or stepping away from what you are currently doing. This should set you up for the next step. 

  • Planning - allocate time to decide what you’re going to do to manage your stress. This plan should include specific activities. 

  • Routine- you then need to slot these activities into your daily routine so that they act to recalibrate your stress levels at regular intervals in order to maintain optimum performance throughout the day and into the future. 

Here are some activities you can do to manage your exam stress levels. Remember to adopt and remix as you see fit! 

Breathe

It’s the simplest activity on this list yet it’s probably the best initial go-to in order to gain some perspective on a situation. Consciously practice making this part of how you approach stressful situations. Also, breathe from the belly, not the chest. By letting your diaphragm contract downwards a greater pressure imbalance between the space inside your chest and the external environment is created. The result: more good sweet air is going to come rushing to your aid. In an exam situation controlling your breathing is going to help recall from your memory and think more clearly because more oxygen improves brain and body functions. 

Inner Circle Huddle Visualisation Technique

This is a psychological technique which I often use when faced with any kind of stressful situation. It involves listing the few things which really matter to you in life (people, ideas, activities, experiences etc.) But only enough to count on two hands (roughly the size of a starting 11 footie team - hence the 'inner circle huddle' name I made up). By stripping away all the inessential fluff and rubbish you’re able to refocus your attention on what’s truly important in life. All of the sudden a stressful exam situation appears a lot smaller and less intimidating. 

Yes, I’ve just made this technique up, but I’m pretty sure some of its effectiveness is rooted in Professor Robin Dunbar’s theory of 150 connections being the maximum number of quality relationships any human can sustain. The internet and smartphones encourage us to take on more and more ‘stuff’ in our lives (think relationships, media and activities) more so than we ever have done before. This can be a blessing and a curse depending on how these opportunities are managed. Having a psychological technique in your locker to simplify life and identify what truly matters to you can really help bring some clarity to a stressful situation. 

Win Back Time

Attention. Is. The. New. Global. Currency. Yes, many things which occupy a lot of our time (think smartphones and all the stuff we can do on them) though they might be ‘free’ actually cost us dearly in the form of the time they occupy which could be used to gain some perspective, form our plans and execute our routines. 

I’d encourage you to adopt this mindset that whenever you’re spending time on anything within the digital attention economy. Equate the digital time you spend to cold hard cash. If you’re not sure how much your time is worth, as a general rule, I’d say the younger you are the more valuable it is. This might be counterintuitive, you’re probably thinking the CEO of some big company definitely charges more for their time than you could. The counter argument to this would be that the time a young person has to allow investments of time to compound and grow is far greater than any crusty old CEO! Want a ballpark estimate of how much your time is worth? Just look at the wealth some of the key players within the attention economy such as Google and Facebook have been able to build by making your time and preferences their product. Once you make this mindset shift (and that’s what it is, you either believe it or you don’t) you have much more time to keep an eye on your stress levels and start using them to your advantage.

If you’re finding it hard to make this psychological shift and need some more actionable steps to get ahold of your time try some of these time saving apps which can help reduce random time-wasting on smartphones and the internet: 

Digital Minimalism

I recently read ‘Digital Minimalism’ By Cal Newport and refer to it daily to help guide my technology use. This is a slight continuation of the point just made but I thought I’d include it as it’s the best holistic philosophy I’ve come across to become more in control of your time in a digitally dominated world.  Here’s a summary of what the book aims to provide: 

A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised actives that strongly support things you value and then happily miss out on everything else. 

In terms of exam stress, Digital Minimalism can help create time for you to gain some perspective on your exam challenges, create a plan to address them and carry out the tasks and activities required to make headway.

Just a heads up, I’m currently working on forming my own philosophy of technology use to help students working with The Exam Coach. 

Control your vibe

This one’s a bit ‘vibesy' but I believe in it wholeheartedly. If you’re spending time with stressed out people their behaviour will eventually rub off on you. Whether it’s the night before the exam and you’re lending an ear to a friend stressing because they’ve done no work, or if you’re standing next to someone frantically trying to take a guess at what questions might come up immediately before you enter an exam. Stay clear and direct them to this blog post.👍 It does nothing but tip you over the wrong side of the Yerkes-Dodson bell curve. 

Spend time in nature

This one’s just true. There have been huge studies published on the benefits of experiencing the great outdoors. Drop what you’re doing and get outside. 

Take the dog(s) with you

If you’ve watched any of my Snapchat or Instagram stories you’re bound to have caught a glimpse of the Revision Retrievers. Yes, that is a dog breed 😉. Not only do they nag you to do the point made above more often but you can learn a lot from them too…There’s good reason they’re happy 99% of the time, they appreciate the small things in life and focus on the stuff that matters - food, sleep and belly rubs. 

Fear setting

I’ve used this tool from Tim Ferriss’ blog a number of times to make some important choices. I also believe it can be used as an exam stress management tool! The reason for this is because it provides a great framework for assessing the consequences of what’s stressing you out about exams from many different perspectives. Here’s a brief run through of a version I’ve adapted for students taking exams: 

  1. Define the worst possible outcome

  2. What steps could you take to repair the damage? 

  3. What are the benefits of more probable scenarios? 

  4. If you were kicked out of school today how could you get back on the same career track if you absolutely had to? 

  5. What are you putting off out of fear? 

  6. What is postponing action costing you? 

  7. What are you waiting for? 

When we write down our fears and think about what we could do to address them if they did occur, we gain the perspective and power to do something about them. 

Music

Consciously using music as a stress management tool is something I’ve been testing recently. Previously I would just whack on a few bangers and that would be that. Now I’m experimenting with genres such as as Lo-Fi or jazz instrumentals for my hit of lyric-less relaxing music. Other times I’m listening to music where the lyrics act as a reminder of the simplicity (American Country) or tougher sides (London Grime) of life.  All of these have stress relieving properties by reminding us of alternative perspectives of the world outside our own. See yourself within the broader context of the world and your problems will appear much smaller. 

Use the Swish visualisation technique

This is a technique I learned when I attended one of Tony Robbins' Unleash The Power Within seminars back in 2015. Without thinking this alone will make everything better (nothing changes unless you actually do something about it), the swish visualisation technique has certainly helped adopt a more positive outlook on a challenging task.

Here’s a modified and simplified version I often use to get myself into a positive frame of mind:

  1. Allow the stressful/negative feeling/image to fill your mind (eg. You panicking in an exam)

  2. In the bottom right hand corner of the image create a smaller image of the positive outcome you’d like to achieve (eg. You cruising through an exam paper with ease)

  3. Make the positive image bigger and bigger so it covers the negative image, whilst the positive image grows its colours become more vivid and bold whilst the negative image becomes darker and hazier

  4. Repeat this process of the positive image expanding or 'swishing’ to cover the negative image 2-3 times

This isn’t a solution in and of itself but it can help get concentrate your focus on a positive goal. I liken it to walking along a precipice on a rock face. The more you’re looking down the more likely you are to fall off. Look forward, focus on the goal and the end point.

To summarise….

Get into the habit of checking in on your stress levels, gaining some perspective on them, planning and integrating some of the exercises and techniques above into your daily schedule. If you can do this, you’ll be in a far stronger position to go through your exams with the optimal level of stress gently pushing you to perform your best.

Want to listen to some more content about exam stress and anxiety? Try these podcast episodes…

Pressure Is The Tool For Growth (Ep. 20) 

Perspective And Pressure (Ep. 118)

Techniques For Managing Exam Stress and Anxiety (ep. 216)

How do I become motivated for exams?

I asked an open ended question on my Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp stories last week. The question was: 

“What’s the most difficult thing about your exams?” 

Here are some of the responses I received:

In fact, the vast majority of responses were similar to the screenshots above. A handful of people mentioned subject specific issues but it’s interesting how our biggest challenges relate to our general approach to studying.

In this article, I’m going to share with you the do’s and donts of creating consistent motivation to study for your exams. I’ll also lay out a handy routine you can use to find motivation to study when you have none. Let’s handle exam stress in another post. 👍

What is motivation? 

I find having a clear way to think about abstract concepts helps me audit my own behaviour more accurately. Once we figure out what’s happening, we can make changes that work.  Let’s define what motivation is and its different forms. 

A simple way of defining motivation is “a reason for behaving a certain way”

When someone says “I just have no motivation to revise”. Really what they’re saying is, “I have no compelling reasons to revise” (yet). 😉

Reasons come in different forms. In his book‘Drive’ Daniel Pink defines two types of motivation: 

  • Intrinsic motivation: this is motivation to perform an activity for its own sake and personal satisfaction

  • Extrinsic motivation: this is when we’re motivated to earn a material reward or avoid punishment 

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have their uses. That said, Pink argues intrinsic motivation tends to be the more durable, sustainable and, therefore, more effective of the two. With this distinction in mind here are two videos which recommend some tactics you should and should not use to motivate yourself to study for exams.


5 Ways To Creative MASIVE Motivation To Revise

Control the primary source of procrastination

Procrastination is when we put off doing what we need to do in place of something less important or urgent. It’s going to be difficult to motivate yourself to take action on difficult tasks if there are various easier things to do at your fingertips. The smartphone is one of the primary outlets for procrastination in most people’s lives, so it makes sense to start by getting in control of this. 

The best way I’ve found of doing this requires two separate things to happen. 

1. Develop a fundamental understanding of how the online attention economy works on our smartphones. In short, this is an understanding that almost every app on our smartphones makes money through gaining and keeping our attention. Some apps need it more than others. For example, apps which make money through advertising. 

You must understand that there is a conflict of interest between an app’s need to provide a service which people find useful, versus the incentive to increase their stock price value by acquiring a larger slice of our daily attention quota. Eventually, the objective utility of new notifications and features introduced by the app is superseded by their need for your constant attention. To mask this, companies will exploit psychological biases common to every human being to make them feel like a need is being met when they use the app. They form habit loops fuelled by the feel good chemical - ‘dopamine’. Examples of psychological biases often exploited can be broadly described as FOMO, social approval bias, competitive gamification, and our fascination with the new and unknown (we develop this as babies and it persists throughout our lives).

2. Take action by changing the push notification settings on every app on your phone. You don’t need them. Go to the app when you want to, not when that app ’thinks’ it has something worth notifying you of. For anything urgent, use the phone for its original purpose - make a phone call! This isn’t the perfect solve (I’m still working on this). But it’s a great start to injecting more time and headspace into your day. 

How to be notification free (check that home screen 🙌) makes me feel Zen every time I look at it: 

Think Long term

Here’s a black line representing an average female lifespan in the UK (81 years). The dark green line which bisects it represents the amount of time you spend revising within the context of your whole life. It’s miniscule.

The horizontal black line is 10cm long. The vertical green line is 1mm which is 1% of the line.

The horizontal black line is 10cm long. The vertical green line is 1mm which is 1% of the line.

Here are my workings:

The majority of public examinations are taken between the ages of 13 to 22. That’s 9 years of education.

Let’s say you have to revise every year. This isn’t strictly true as you and I both know we are not taking exams which go on our public record year in year out. But let’s overestimate anyway.

Total hours available between age 13-22: 

24 hours in day x 365 a year x 9 years = 78,840 hours

Total hours spent revising:

8 hours x 90 days x 9 years = 6480 hours

  • I’ve estimated 90 days, the 90 days before exams is roughly when the majority of people will start lifting a finger to think about getting down to some proper exam revision. 8 hours per day is a standard working day, that’s definitely an overestimation, but let’s stick with it, I want to emphasise how small this upfront ‘revision investment’ actually is.

Percentage of time spent revising between the age of 13-22:

6480 as a percentage of 78,840 = 8% of your time

This lowers to 0.9% when placed within the context of the average female human life span in the UK - 81 years. I’ve rounded this up to 1% in the diagram above.

That’s a titchy upfront investment whichever way you look at it, even if you do consider 13-22 your golden years when you should be doing nothing but leisure activities!

Side note:

  • I’ve only shown my workings for revision specifically as many students can find the motivation to attend school and get homework done to reasonable standard. After all, there is a punishment and reward system in place to motivate students to attend school and get their homework done. Revision, on the other hand, is extra work, voluntary work. It’s particularly difficult to motivate yourself for this because there are no short term punishments or rewards.

To summarise, a decent set of exam results is a worthwhile investment which will have almost 60 years to compound and deliver return on investment in the form of a domino effect of opportunities. Internalise the workings above and let it drive you.

Tip: if you’ve ever been inside the walls of a sales or financial investment firm, it’s likely you will have seen numbers written where everyone can see them. These are their targets. Put the numbers I’ve laid out above where you can see them so you can remember your investment and the long term rationale behind it!

Remind Yourself of 'The Rules' Daily (these don’t only apply to exams) 

Don’t worry if you’re saying to yourself “What? I didn’t know ‘The Rules’ existed”.

You don’t know about them because I’ve just made them up.

The three rules below are what I believe to be true. I believe them not because they work each and every time they’re adhered to. I believe them because I know they will provide consistency and resilience required to be successful over the long term. Internalise these rules for your exams too.

The Rules: 

  • Success is never handed to you, you have to work hard for it 

  • High quality regular practice delivers improved results 

  • Do the little things right daily and they will add up to something big

“Success is like building a wall, brick by brick” - Will Smith 

Tip: Type ‘The Rules’ down on your phone, put them somewhere they’re easily accessible. They’ll put you right when you need them most.

Gather some proper perspective

Every morning you should be recalibrating your perspective on the opportunities you have. Social media can cause our expectations and reality to become out of sync. We can often find ourselves comparing our whole lives (the boring bits and the best bits) with the carefully curated, edited and filtered ‘highlights’ of other people’s lives available to see over the internet. Rarely do we flip the script and think about how grateful we are for what we already have. We tend to compare upwards rather than downwards, if that makes sense.

There are two ways I’ve found to successfully do this: 

  1. Regularly you remind yourself of how lucky you are to be alive. I know this sounds a bit fluffy but it’s just kinda true…You and I are both incredibly fortunate to be here. So grab the opportunity with both hands and give it everything you’ve got.

My former boss, Gary Vaynerchuk, is constantly reminding people of this by quoting the chances of being born - 400 trillion to one! I don't know the exact chances of being born but that number sounds about right…

My former boss, Gary Vaynerchuk, is constantly reminding people of this by quoting the chances of being born - 400 trillion to one! I don't know the exact chances of being born but that number sounds about right…

2. Understand that the best time to be alive in the whole of human history is now

  • In the past, people have had it way harder than you and I. I’m not saying people’s lives today are easy or the perfect situation. I’m just saying that so many things we take for granted which would be overwhelmingly appreciated by previous generations. I’m talking about the basic stuff (running water, decent healthcare, a roof over our heads) and the big stuff (law and order, equality of opportunity, freedom).

Take responsibility for the opportunities you have presented to you and make it so that you can afford to hand out plenty of opportunities as you mature within society. What you take for granted is someone else’s hopes and dreams.

- ☝️I’ve just made that up but you can take it as an Exam Coach Quote if you want! 😂

Use a regret minimisation framework 

Here’s a clip of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, a trillion dollar company, explaining what this is: 

Within the context of exams, I see this as looking back on your life aged 80 and noticing how a few decisions during your teenage years played a significant role in dictating the trajectory of the rest of your life. 

Does this mean you are doomed if you don’t do well in school? No, of course not. There a many examples of people who have become successful (in whatever way you want to define it) without getting great exam results. I guess Sir Richard Branson is the poster boy for this. But let’s look at the facts instead of the media coverage for a minute. There’s only one Richard Branson and probably a handful of other people like him who have succeeded  in spite of not taking advantage of the education system in the form of getting a solid set of exam results. 

There are millions of people in this country and over the world who earn a decent living wage and lead happy and fulfilled lives because of the strong foundation they built in school. Equally, there are also millions stuck in dead end, soul sucking jobs, because they had no options when they came out of education. The thing is, we don’t hear about these stories, after all they are not extraordinary and, for that reason, not newsworthy. Remember to see the wood for the trees. Be ambitious, believe in yourself but take calculated risks. I think Sir Richard would agree with this.

So there you have it, 5 ways to motivate yourself for exams, let’s look at the other side of the coin for a minute….


5 Ways NOT To Motivate Yourself For Exams

Don’t use time studied for as a source of motivation and positive reinforcement

Being motivated by the time sat at your desk “revising” is going to give you a false sense of progress. Time studied for is a vanity metric. It’s something students who don’t understand what effective revision is really about use to size themselves up against other average students like them…Harsh, but true. 

You know as well as I do some of that time was spent on your smartphone or gazing out the window thinking about pizza. This isn’t harsh, it’s just true and I’m also guilty of this. 😉

Be motivated by working through the syllabus and its topics as quickly and effectively as possible whilst also gradually building up your ability to recall the information unassisted through regular self testing

Understand that monetary rewards from parents ARE not a long term motivator

We all know this happens, you get that friend who says she's getting paid a couple of stacks dependent on the grades she gets. £100 for an A, £50 for a B….Heck, some people I know were paid a small fortune for achieving a poor grade! 

But, here’s the thing, according to how motivation actually works, awarding money for the completion of a task is a form of extrinsic motivation- it’s an external reward. Pink tells us “extrinsic motivation can be effective over the short term in encouraging mechanical tasks and compliance.” So if your parents are paying you at the end of every day of revision, then maybe this would work. But this doesn’t happen, parents pay up on results day, long after the days of revision have passed.

As a motivational tactic, it doesn’t make sense to create financial incentives to achieve good exam results.

The bottom line is, don’t do it for the money, it will undermine your intrinsic motivation.

Don’t be motivated by the need to impress anyone, this includes your parents

As much as possible you want to find your own reasons for doing well…Doing things because we find personal growth and meaning in them is what helps us push through tough times.

Reacting because of what other people might think about your success or failure should be a lot lower down on your motivational priorities. 

Yep, wanting to make your parents proud could be a motivational factor, but not the primary one. Ultimately, you gotta want to do it for you. 

Don’t be motivated by fear 

Fear can be a great long term motivator. Though, for exam motivation, I’d recommend against it. The reason for this is a by-product of using fear as a motivational source can be stress and anxiety. These two things will eventually take their toll on your revision, ability to perform in the exam room, and your final grades. 

Become motivated by the skills exams can build in you and overcoming the day to day challenges. 

Seeing the broader purpose of using the exam experience to put yourself in a stronger position to take opportunities in the future is a big part of this. 

Focus on what you could win, not what you’re gonna lose if things don’t go to plan.

Don’t compare yourself to the people at your school

The world’s a way bigger place that the 9, 16, 30 people in your Chemistry class on Tuesday mornings. If I’m honest, I didn’t fully appreciate this when I was at school and had to have my perspective corrected on many occasions (mainly by my parents when I went home to see them on the weekends). 

If you’re currently graded at the top or the bottom of the class, it doesn’t matter. Run your own race, looking around at what other people are doing  the whole time is not going to do you any good, you’ll have less time to focus on what you’re doing and how you can improve. 

If you’re streaks ahead of everyone, find a way to push on and know that there is probably someone out there who makes you look like a dunce. Likewise, if you’re struggling along at the bottom of the class, know that there are many people who wish they understood half as much as you currently do about the subject. Take pride in that as a platform to build on. As Will Smith says ‘build your success. brick by brick’.

A bit of healthy competition is good, but do it with an appreciation of the true scale of how many people there are in the world and the fact we all progress at different speeds.

Focus on your own improvement, think big picture and never stop trying to get better and learn.

Summary

Ok…The above section runs through some high-level do’s and donts of exam motivation with the occasional actionable thing you can do to reduce the chances of procrastination and increase the chances for motivated action. 

You also need something to fall back on when you need to work but you just can’t find the motivation to do so in that moment. You need a directive, a recipe, a system, a step-by-step series of actions you take to turn the motivational tide. 

Here’s my recommendation…


A 7 step process to beat procrastination - the enemy of motivation

This process is a routine you can follow whenever you feel totally unmotivated to get down to work. We all know what this feels like. You’d rather do anything than open a book and begin trying to understand the information in front of you. You’re picking up and putting down your phone every 20 seconds, watching any video on YouTube which looks half interesting or taking way longer than necessary to find a decent banger of a tune on your playlist.

Step 1

  • Break the pattern of procrastination. The moment you start doing something similar to what I’ve described above, leave your study space as soon as possible.

  • This seems counterintuitive and like you’re giving up or wasting even more time, but the priority here is to break the pattern of repetitive procrastination.

Step 2

  • Get outside, take a 10 minute walk, do some light exercise. My go to is a walk/light jog with my dogs (the revision retrievers).

  • This will help clear you head, gather some perspective on your priorities and help you relax.

The LADS!

The LADS!

Step 3

  • Revisit your desk. Set a timer for 25 minutes on your smartphone. Use the Pomodoro technique.

Step 4

  • Decide on one thing to do. It could be to revise a specific topic or even a specific couple of pages from your revision guide. The important thing here is to be specific - ONE THING.

Step 5

  • Reset to neutral. Clear your desk of everything apart from the things you absolutely need to achieve this one task. Your smartphone is no longer a smartphone, it’s a timer. Set it to airplane mode.

Step 6

  • Get down to work. Set low expectations, it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand everything. Just start taking some notes, verbalising the information in your head and self testing. Look at the information, cover it up, write out what you remember, check it.

  • This is basic stuff  but it will help get the revision ball rolling.

Step 7

  • After 25 minutes is up and if you’re feeling your momentum wane take a 5-10 minute break.

  • You could give yourself a small reward like a piece of choccy, a lil’ gaming sesh or watching a video of your favourite vlogger. That said, these can so easily turn into marathon breaks.

  • Try to make your breaks periods of time where you’re consciously putting yourself in a great position for your next revision session. For example, rehydrating, getting outside, looking at or reading something which motivates you to give it your all.

  • If you’re able to power through the 25 minute mark and continue studying - do it! Revision is all about momentum, that is, sustaining it when you have it and taking a break when you don’t.


To finish off this blog post here’s some more content on motivation pulled from the depths of The Exam Coach archives: 

If you found this post useful, share it with anyone you think might benefit from it.👇

I’m checking out. 🤙

How To Make A Revision Timetable That Works!

“How do I make a revision timetable?”

This is one of the questions I’m asked most on Snapchat and WhatsApp. My response usually includes these three guiding principles:

  • Focus the majority of your effort on topics most likely to come up in the exam and carry the most marks.

  • Measure progress based on topic coverage rather than time studied for.

  • Adapt your timetable to accommodate for the rate at which you are able to understand and memorise information as time goes by.

From now on, I’m going to start sharing this blog post which breaks out what exactly should be done. Some students are able to crack on and create a timetable off the back of the three principles above, but if you would like something more prescriptive read on…

If you’re studying for GCSE this year, I recommend you dive straight into this video 👇:

If you’re doing other exams (A levels, IB or any other type of exam) take a glance at the steps below which can be applied to any set of exams. Then have a listen to the podcast linked at the bottom of this post for a version with added anecdotes, examples and a little bit of banter.

My First Recommendation

Go digital. Specifically, use Google Calendar (it’s available on both Android and iOS). There are a couple reasons for this:

  • A digital calendar is likely to always be with you. Why? Google and I both know you don’t leave the house (or anywhere) without your smartphone. You need to know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it to avoid time in between tasks becoming 3 hour long gaming/social media scrolling sessions.

  • Flexibility. You can make adjustments neatly and cleanly. Your timetable won’t look like a 3 year old has taken a set of crayons to it by the end of week 1. Messy timetables eventually lead to disorganisation. Rigid timetables which aren’t adjusted regularly cause stress.

When you’ve just nailed a 3 hour gaming sesh...( Photo credit )

When you’ve just nailed a 3 hour gaming sesh...(Photo credit)

A revision timetable ( photo credit )

A revision timetable (photo credit)

Step 1 - FIGURE OUT HOW much time you have to revise

Are you currently on school holidays and have a set period of time available time before you go back to school?

Is it term time but you want to get some revision done before and after school?

Is it exam season and you’re on study leave? 

Do you have an exam timetable which you can use to pace your revision against for each subject?

Whatever category you find yourself in, set a clear deadline so you have something to work towards.

Want to know how to set an effective deadline? Luckily for you, two psychologists have looked into this and came up with something called the Yerkes-Dodson Law:

“This law states that a relationship between stress (resulting from the combined awareness of the potential consequences of failing to complete an important task and the limited time remaining to complete it) and task performance exists. Such that there is an optimal level of stress for an optimal performance”.

Essentially, a person’s performance increases as their stress increases, but only up to a point, after which performance starts to suffer as the person becomes overwhelmed and anxious by the impending deadline and the consequences of failing to meet it.

The lesson? Give yourself just enough time to make your revision goals achievable. You want to feel a little bit of time pressure, but not too much. Strike a balance between ambition and realism.

On your calendar, make sure you fill in your current commitments and day to day activities. For example; when you’re at school, having meals, exercising or just doing the other hobbies and activities you do during your standard week. Your schedule could end up looking something like the image below. 👇

School, lunch, dinner, work, hobbies, gym, pardies, St Patrick’s Day…Get it all in there.

School, lunch, dinner, work, hobbies, gym, pardies, St Patrick’s Day…Get it all in there.

STEP 2 - PRIORITISE YOUR SUBJECTS/TOPICS

The next step requires some introspection. You need to decide which subjects you currently feel the most and least confident about

The best way to do this is to make a list. Write the subjects you’re weakest at towards the top and those where you’re strongest towards the bottom. Give each of them a number as a reminder for when you input them into your timetable. See the screen shot below for an example including GCSE subjects. If you’re studying only one or two subjects do this same exercise for each of the modules or topics within those subjects.

how_to_prioritise_subjects_for_GCSE.png

When you’re making this list take into account a couple of other factors such as:

  • The amount of material to be learned within each subject. 

  • Mark weightings within subjects. 

  • The order of your exam timetable (if you have it already). You’re going to have more time to revise some subjects than others based on where they are positioned within your exam timetable.

  • What your grades currently look like – for example, if your Physics grade is rock bottom, you might want to prioritise it above the English Literature class you’ve already got 60% in through nailing the coursework (if applicable).

Step 3 - BREak Subjects into topics

You know what they say…Subjects are scary. Topics can be taken down. Ok, that’s not a saying, but it should become one because it’s true.

If your timetable only instructs you to revise a subject, let’s say, Maths, you’re probably not going to revise what you actually need to revise within Maths. A University College London Study supports this claim. The lead researcher, Dr Nobuhiro Hagura, summed up the findings as follows:

"Our brain tricks us into believing the low-hanging fruit really is the ripest". Conversely, when one option is harder to get, we’re more likely to think it’s the wrong choice.

This metaphor helps explain how we, and many other things in the world, naturally take the path of least resistance and post rationalising. For example, let’s say in Maths you find multiplying fractions really difficult whilst long division is easy. Consciously, you know you need to revise multiplying fractions, but our brains have a way of making us think we’re making worthwhile progress by revising long division. It’s easier, it feels better and we are getting things right which is the sense of progress we think we should be feeling.

This is why you need to be fully aware of what you don’t know and consciously choose to meet those challenges head on. Feel the urge to bail out and take the easy route, but resist it.

Not sure how to break your subject or into topics? That’s ok, every exam board creates a syllabus or specification which contains EVERYTHING YOU COULD POSSIBLY BE EXAMINED ON.

Not sure how to find these? Check out this helpful video guide by Lucy Parsons which shows you how to access the syllabus and specification in each of your subjects if you’re doing exams in the UK. Otherwise, use some initiative, type the name of your exam board into a search engine and locate the exams you’re taking on their website.

Exam Coach thought:

It always bugged me how many of my teachers would not start the year by giving everyone in the class a copy of the subject syllabus or specification. That would be the logical first step for teaching any class, right? Let the students know what material we’re going to cover over the course of the year in the lead up to the final exams so that everyone can clearly identify where we currently are and where we’re headed at any point in time.

But…Now I look back on it, I understand the perspective many teachers may have had on this. School is about learning what we’ve come to know about the world not for the sake of doing an exam, but learning for learning’s sake, because it’s interesting and part of understanding the world we live in.

My revised view on this is more balanced. Passing exams and learning about the world just because you’re interested are both important. They’re also linked. I would have liked more structure and guidance about how to learn. Part of this would have included better defining the ‘what’ by scoping out the subject at the start using specifications and syllabuses. After you’ve learned how to learn through the process of doing exams, you can then go on to apply this skill (and many others you learn from the exam process) to your other areas of interest.

I try to do this now. Define an area of interest, break it down into understandable pieces (like a syllabus), then find out more about each piece and how they’re connected.

Step 4 - allocate 30 minute time slots TO REVISE

Allocate 30 minute time slots to study each topic. Here’s the workflow you need to follow when scheduling your sessions:

  • Position topics you’re likely to find challenging when you know you tend to work best in the day.

  • Use colours to differentiate subjects from one another in your calendar and make sure you write the subject and topic you need to revise

  • Find a balance between topics you’re less familiar with and those which you think you’ll be able to get through quickly. Use the list you created in Step 2. This will keep a nice balance between revision being a challenge and you making good progress.

  • Leave a few time slots blank towards the end of the day for some rapid reviews and testing. 

Disclaimer:  this is not the amount of revision time I recommend per week, it’s just an example of scheduling 30 minute revision periods

Disclaimer: this is not the amount of revision time I recommend per week, it’s just an example of scheduling 30 minute revision periods

Why 30 minutes?

  • The reason for this time frame is it breaks the day up more so we have the chance to vary what we’re revising in each session. There are three benefits to this:

    • Revision becomes less monotonous and slightly more interesting.

    • Time distortion: smaller chunks of time add the helpful illusion that we’re doing more, this sense of progress can help build positive momentum.

    • Interleaved practice: cognitive psychologists believe that by varying what we study regularly stronger distinctions and memory associations will be formed between each set of information.

  • A time goal: it provides a time goal for each session so we are held more accountable to actually revising the topic when we’re at our desk, not day dreaming for some of the time and using the time we’ve studied for as the vanity metric for success which makes us think we know more than we do.

  • The Pomodoro Technique: 30 minutes is also around the study interval time recommended by the 25 minute Pomodoro technique. This is a well-known revision technique used to build momentum and focus. Why do I recommend 30 minutes and not 25? If you want to be at the top of your game you have to take what high achievers are doing and modify those techniques to result in more output without impacting the effectiveness of the technique. I figured an extra 5 minutes every session adds up.


AN IMPORTANT NOTE ON MOMENTUM (NEVER GIVE IT UP)

Just because we’ve allocated 30 minute time slots does not mean you have to stop revising each topic at 30 minutes. In fact, one of the biggest rules about this revision timetable is to never give up your momentum. Don’t take a break just because your timetable said so. Keep working until you start to lose concentration and efficiency, then take a break. Especially when trying to understand difficult concepts freeing up larger extended blocks of time can be the key to unlocking a breakthrough moment.

If one of your 30 minute sessions runs over into the next, adjust things, figure out a new way to make it work in the time you have remaining. Do you now need to cover something you already had a decent understanding of faster than planned? Make decisions on the go.

Momentum and flexibility. Remember this.

Finally, just in case you’ve had the smart thought to extend your 30 minute sessions to 2 hour long sessions since you’ll probably be revising for this long anyway, I’d recommend against it. I’m a big believer in the idea that work expands and contracts to fill the time we allocate to do it. The official terminology used to explain this concept is Parkinson’s Law

Shortening the sessions on our timetable from the outset will ensure we’re working quickly and efficiently and not spending more time than we have to covering a topic. Create time pressure to make yourself more productive.

Step 5 - What to do within each revision session

Step 5 is crucial because it ensures you not only understand the information but can remember and recall it too. 

Your initial revision sessions are going to involve you taking bullet pointed notes on what you need to learn on A4 sheets of paper and then condensing these bullet points on to flashcards which you can use to test yourself. 

[I’ll be making a video on how to take great notes and create effective flashcards soon]. 

Regular testing and repetition are the key components to long term understanding and memorisation for exam day. Studies conducted by psychologists and education specialists have termed ACTIVE RECALL and SPACED REPETITION as two of the most effective revision principles which can be used to help students understand and memorise information for their exams.

Step 6 - Stay Flexible

It’s ok if you find things slow going to begin with or you can’t get into a good working rhythm. You will build some momentum eventually if you persist. 

The key is to keep the discipline of revising when you said you were going to on your timetable and aim for a short burst of 30 minutes. Then push on if you’re feeling the momentum. If not, take a short break (5-10 minutes) and then hit the books again. Start with some easier information to get yourself going in each session if you need to. 

As time goes by, make adjustments to your timetable to cover information you’re still not totally clear on.

Step 7 - Make your timetable achievable

Make your timetable achievable by managing your health and stress levels and by allocating time to exercise, socialise and generally forget about revision for a bit. If you followed Step 1 you should be in a good spot already.

Revision requires high levels of:

  • Self awareness

  • Discipline

  • Adaptability

  • Organisation 

As much as exams are testing you about what you know in each subject, they’re also testing you for these 4 skills, all of which are critical to your development later in life. 

Finally, refer to your timetable often so you can gut-check how your pacing, some days you're going to have to work faster and longer than usual, others you can afford to ease off a bit. It’s up to you to make that judgement call. 

BONUS TIP - DO THE WORK

This post started with a popular question I’m asked - “How do I make a revision timetable?”

The follow up to this is usually - “How many hours per day do I need to revise?”

To this, I have no answer. It all depends on what you want to achieve and what level you are currently.

Instead, I make a recommendation to stop thinking in terms of ‘time-studied’ and start thinking in terms of ‘topics understood and memorised’. That’s what matters.

Exam Coach thought:

When I was in school I was always concerned that people were doing things more efficiently and effectively than I was. That they were all in on a secret I just wasn’t aware of. The idea someone could get done in one day what I could get done in one week because they were using their brain in a different way made me feel insecure about my ability to learn and progress. As I’ve grown up a bit, I’ve asked more questions, I’ve looked into how other people do and think about things, it’s now totally clear to me the amount of time you put into something is a crucial factor you can always control when trying to improve your performance. You then need to work on how you’re doing things to become more effective with that time. The issue is, people don’t want to invest the time in the first place, they want the short cut, the smooth ride, the path that requires the least amount of effort from the get-go. My message to you is, put the time in first, commit to doing what’s necessary to improve, then think about getting smarter, faster and more effective with that time. Give yourself the chance to succeed by committing time.

I like hearing this message echoed at the the very top, here’s Elon Musk talking about the same idea (watch from 1 minute 30 seconds):

Thanks for reading this post. If you thought it was useful share it with you friends. If you want some related content please check out the links below:

The Best Way Of Getting Big Stuff Done (Podcast Ep. 132)

Work Expands To Fill Time (Podcast Ep. 35) 

How To Make An Effective Revision Timetable (Podcast Ep. 209)

5 Career Skills Exams Help You Develop

Got exams coming up this year? Want a programme to stay on track for success? Take a look at The 7 Day Exam Plan.

Exam Motivation - How To make It Happen

In this podcast episode I recap the recent YouTube video ‘5 Ways NOT To Motivate Yourself For Exams’ and suggest some practical ways you can become more motivated to do well. Have a listen if you’re looking for some practical ways to get motivated enough to begin your journey to a better set of exam results than you expected.

Topics discussed: 

  • 5 Ways NOT To Motivate yourself for exams 

  • How we can become motivated by the process of doing something 

  • How historical source analysis is a useful skill-builder for spotting fake news 

  • Making sure you’re actions and motivation are aligned with your values and standards

  • Putting the time we spend studying for exams into perspective 

  • The concept of ‘advertising’ to yourself 

  • Breaking huge tasks down into smaller chunks which can be tackled daily 

Other mentions: 

  • Drive By Daniel Pink

  • Quote: "Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you"

Subscribe to the podcast for more exam, career and smartphone help.

Check out the link below to find out more on The Exam Coach, why he does what he does and how he can help you...

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//

James Davey is an online exam coach and creator of The 7 Day Exam Plan. The Plan helps students working towards exams prepare and perform their best in any set of exams.

James went from lacking focus and drive to a top performing student. He’s determined to help you undergo the same transformation and develop the study skills and exam performance techniques necessary for exam success.

After you've nailed your exams, James's ready to help you with your career advancement and the continued good management of the most important device of the 21st century - the smartphone. Bring it on!

The Exam Coach's Top Tips For Results Day 2018

Here are The Exam Coach's top tips to make your results day a success this year. Let's get into it...

Tip 1 - Wake up early and get your results fast

Yep, I get it, you're going to be nervous and sleeping well (let alone waking up early) is going to be difficult. But results day is an important day which you’ll need to be on your A game for. You might be required to act fast and grab one of the final spots at University through clearing. If you’re not applying to University, just having time on your side to make well thought out decisions based on your results is vital. Prioritise sleeping well and waking up early. Try tiring yourself out the day before through some exercise to take your mind off of things. 

In addition to waking up early and energised, you need to have a game plan for getting hold of your results fast. Are you going to receive them over the internet? A phone call? Going to your school?

I often phoned my school teacher as I knew this was the fastest method for me because he woke up at the crack of dawn every day! Figure out what method is right for you and don't delay. Even though you might be dreading what your results are going to turn out as, not being in a position to react to them is even worse. Be positive in your approach, look forward to receiving your results and receive them early.

Tip 2 - Get all the details on your results in order to make great decisions

Try to get as much detail on your marks/grades/scores as possible. Which module or sections did you do well in? Which not so well? Were there any surprises? How close were you to some of the grade boundaries? Your school or teacher should be able to help provide all the detail for you. 

The next step is to assess whether it's worth getting a remark. It's always best to loop your parents or guardian into this discussion as they can help with payment and understanding the remarking policy fully. 

Here are the remarking policies of some popular UK exam boards:

Take a look before results day so you know what your options are.

Note: remarks can cost anything from £25 to £70 each so make sure you're confident that you stand a chance of moving up a grade. 

If there aren't any huge surprises or you’re not close enough to grade boundaries to make a remark worthwhile the next step is to think....What are my options now? 

If you're applying to University, get on the UCAS clearing website early and figure out where your grades could get you. 

If you're at the GCSE or AS Level stage think about whether any subject changes might be required based on your results. Always be strategic with your subject choices, put yourself in a position to succeed next year by playing to your strengths. 

Tip 3 - Reflect on where you could improve 

Now it's time to reflect on your results as a whole. Cast your mind back over the year. What went well? What didn't go so well? As a result, what do you need to improve on?

Note: Think about your approach in class as well as the revision and exam techniques you used.

Below are some of the most common points for improvement I work with students on. Do you also encounter some of these problems? I’ve linked to a video on each topic so you can get a feel for how we can approach the problem and work on your improvement. In order to achieve anything or change a behaviour you need to have a structured programme in place to guide you through the process. 

Tip 4 - Set some new goals 

Use the day to set some new goals. If you’re going out later that evening to celebrate with friends, do your goalsetting before you leave. This is why we wake up early, in order to give ourselves plenty of time to get stuff done during the day. Here’s an example goal I set myself during my own exams using the SMART goal setting system. Each letter of the acronym SMART represents something to be considered when setting a goal.

  • Specific

    • What exactly do you want to achieve? The more specific your description of the goal, the greater the chance you'll achieve it.

    • For example, my goal was to pay more attention and not become distracted during all of my classes.

  • Measurable

    • Measurable goals means that you identify exactly what it is you will see and feel when you reach your goal.

    • For example, I would see higher effort grades and better performance grades. It would make me feel successful and like I was making progress with my education.

  • Attainable

    • Is it realistic? Shoot for the stars in the long term but realise what's possible in the short term.

    • I made sure my goal was realistic, I only wanted to improve by one grade boundary in every subject initially. This would help me feel like I was achieving something and therefore encourage me to persist and continue.

  • Relevant

    • Why do you want to reach this goal? What is the objective behind the goal, and will this goal really achieve that

    • Here's a video for you to rewatch... Understanding the long-term value of exams

    • I wanted to reach my goal because I knew it would contribute to better exam results on results day the following year. One of the issues I’d had with previous exam seasons was incomplete notes because I’d not been paying attention in class. My new approach would solve this problem.

  • Time-based

    • Set a deadline so you can measure whether you have achieved a goal by a certain point in time.

    • My deadline was half term after having return to school in September. That gave me about 6 weeks to make the improvement.

Note: Everyone should have a new goal. Even if you scored 100%in every exam you sat this year. Your new goal should be to repeat that perfect performance with even more efficiency and effectiveness.

A final piece of advice on this topic. If you achieved your exam goals this year, think about how the feeling of achieving along term goal feels and let that continue to drive you through next year. If you did not meet or surpass your expectations, package up that feeling of disappointment and regret and use it as fuel to put in the effort required next time. 

Tip 5 - You’re only as good as your last performance 

I'm The Exam Coach, so I see exams just like sports. Whether you are pleased or disappointed with your results, you have to put them behind you. You are only as good as your last performance. Therefore, come September, and the start of the new school year, you need to treat the score as 0-0. If you did well on results day, don't get complacent and over confident, stay humble. If you didn’t do as well as you’d hoped, don't get disheartened. Just focus on attaining your new goals. The opportunity to do this starts from September. The Exam Coach is in your corner. 

Bonus Section: 

What I felt I needed when I was doing my exams was a Coach, someone who had been there and done it. Someone who had struggled themselves and come out the other side better, stronger and wiser for it. There are ways to make exams easier and improve your performance over the course of the year so that on results day you deliver top results. I've dedicated the last 5 years of my life to working this out for each student I work with. The end result is that they become more confident in their approach and begin playing to their strengths in order to ensure strong exam preparation and performance. 

This year I'm offering 75% off of my flagship 1-1 Exam Coach online support programme starting this September. The coaching programme lasts 6 weeks and is usually priced at £249 but could be yours for just £62 with the discount taken into consideration. 

Here's the programme structure: 

Week 1

  • Take The Exam Coach study performance improvement survey online

  • 30 minute video chat discovery session with me where we clearly identify areas to improve and lay out how we’re going to do it over the next 6 weeks

Week 2

  • Text message and voice note support via WhatsApp (or any messaging service) targeted at the areas which require improving

  • For example, I’ll send you a reminder of the daily priorities you need to focus on as well as some motivational content to help you follow through

Week 3

  • 30 minute video chat check in on current progress as well as feedback for improvement based on current performance

Week 4+5

  • Text message and voice note support via WhatsApp (or any messaging service) targeted at the areas which require improving through weeks 4+5

  • For example, I’ll be on hand to answer any school-related questions or challenges which come up during the week

Week 6

  • 30 minute video chat check in on current progress as well as feedback for improvement

  • After 6 weeks we’ll have enough data from school tests and reports to effectively map outprogress so far and what needs to be done in order to make the rest of the school year a success.

The programme is designed to address the areas you find most challenging in your school life, study habits and exam performance. There’s limited space, I can only take on 35 students every 6 weeks in order to ensure improvement in their performance. To apply for the programme, write me an email before August 25th on why you'd be a great student to work with - keep it below 250 words and attach any grades from this year you'd like to see improvement on! Then we’ll go from there.  

My email: james@theexamcoach.tv

For continued help and guidance this year add username: theexamcoach on Snapchat, or request to be added to the WhatsApp broadcast list. All the content on these channels is free and is designed to help you with your exam preparation/performance, career planning and smartphone management. 

If this article was useful feel free to share it with a friend or someone you care about. Together everyone achieves more. 

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've encountered across the exam 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?

Let's look at some famous case studies....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 throughout their formative years? I doubt it. But they were probably doing something that assisted them in 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. The teacher would hand something out at the beginning of class and ask everyone to read through it before we discussed as a group. After several minutes or so, out of the corner of my eye, I could see everyone with their heads up and twiddling their thumbs. They'd finished and understood the text. I was still on paragraph 2 with another 6 to work through! Looking back, it's obvious why I struggled to read and understand text quickly. It was because I hadn't picked up a book out of my own free will until aged 13 (Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone). Even then, I didn't finish it! I got to page 100 and then gave up.  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 of that practice which 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 on anyone after a while - especially when it comes to exams!


Type A: Reflect, Refine, Revisit...


The top performers 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 exam results have much wider implications than what they look like on your 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.

Many students will go through life preferring to point the finger of blame or believe what gives them a sense of consolation. This consolation is that some people are naturally more capable than they are and there's nothing they can do about it. Whereas others will realise that consistent effort over an extended period of time does produce improved results. Especially when it is reviewed and assessed to find efficiences and best practices in the process. It's all about becoming smarter faster! 


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 the objective facts 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, it's 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 because you've realised and experienced one of life's few truths. 

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