Tips if You’re Cramming for Exams

Don’t Cram; Cramming for exam is the study-mate of procrastination. It is what happens when you decide, the night before the exam, that you can make up for lost time. “All I need is coffee and I’ll stay up all night reading all of the text book and then I’ll be set for the exam.”

The problem is; it doesn’t work. First of all, sleep is essential. For everything. Even short term sleep deprivation has observable consequences for memory retention and recall. Thinking slows down, reasoning gets cloudy and your stress levels elevate. All of the research around sleep and memory report that people who are sleep deprived achieve poorer results on memory and skills tests. If you haven’t slept your brain can’t store facts, it can’t recall them, you have a reduced ability to reason and you feel stressed.

Second, you don’t learn by rereading the text book or your notes. We have all reached the bottom of a page and realized that not a single word has made it from your eyeball to your brain. This is because, apart from your fatigue (see above) you aren’t paying attention to the words. In you stressed state you are probably thinking about how many more pages there are, how many more hours you have, how many hours of sleep you’ll be missing and what people are going to think of you when you flunk chemistry. Your anxiety levels are making your brain unreceptive to any information that isn’t directly related to the stressors.

So, cramming for exam the night before doesn’t work. It can even make things worse. A good tutor can help with study planning skills, gaining confidence for learning and effective exam preparation.

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Avoid this last minute approach by avoiding procrastination.

Procrastination is a stress response; you avoid study because it feels stressful.  The reason that you will avoid hitting the books today, and every day, is because you think it is too hard. Just about ANYTHING seems easier than practicing algebra. Right? Naturally, you want to avoid something that is too hard or stressful.

The opinion that something is ‘too hard’ is based, not on the intrinsic difficulty of the task, but on the belief that you’re no match for it. Are these beliefs true? And is it actually too hard? Is it harder than staring at a mystifying exam paper? Harder than admitting to yourself that you have, actually, made life harder for yourself?

The problem with avoiding things is that they don’t go away. All the stress you avoided by not studying will present itself again, now significantly intensified, in the exam room. This heightened level of stress will encourage your rational brain to shut down and hand everything over to your emotional brain. Your emotional brain (While great for making friends and many other things) cannot help you with algebra or comprehension.

So, you’re constantly avoiding studying because it is hard, at least you think so, and then your brain can’t help you at all when that stress you’ve been avoiding comes back all at once. And, of course, when you’re exam doesn’t go very well you will site it as evidence that you’re not smart. You are smart – you just need to stop procrastinating. So, here are some tips for getting past your procrastination.

cramming-for-exam1, Have a plan. Break down your study into increments. Even if your plan simply involves writing a list of the things that you have to cover. You will feel organized, instead of stressed, and you will have jumped the ‘getting started’ hurdle.

2, Break it down; so, instead of telling yourself that “I’ll just play one game of Candy Crush then I’ll get started.” Try this instead: “OK, one hour of algebra then I can relax with Candy crush” By breaking your study into smaller units; hours or half hours, it will seem more achievable and you will be less inclined to avoid it.

3, Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to that doubting voice in your head that says “I’ll never understand it anyway” or “If I was smarter I wouldn’t need to study”. You will and you do. That voice is lying! You have a giant brain and it was built for learning. You are capable.

4, Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to know everything. You do have to know more than you did yesterday. If you got a C last time – let’s shoot for B next time. Don’t compare yourself to the person at the top of the class. The only person you’re competing is with the person you were yesterday.

5, Just do it! Keep your eye on the prize! Suck it up Princess! It’s annoying to hear but sometimes you just have to sit yourself down and make yourself do it. If you struggle with motivation – that’s completely normal. Consider getting a tutor who can help you with your motivation and confidence.

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We’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below if you have any you would like to add.

Online Tutoring

online-tutoringWhile Nepean Tutoring is predominantly an “in home” tutoring service, the need to diversify became evident as the business grew and time restraints caused availability issues.  The inception of online learning as an option still met our philosophy of “one to one” tutoring but it broadened the scope for this to take place.

The opportunity to tutor young children in remote areas, young people in the Senior Secondary sector whose timetables often made it difficult meet tutoring appointments and our editing service were able to utilise technology via google drive and add another dimension to our services.  Below is a testimony of how this online service was borne and the success it has bought to the learning of some of the students we work with.

DANUTA PAXTON

Danuta PaxtonI have been tutoring for 10 years, 4 of them with Nepean Tutoring, and via Skype for over two terms. Skype has been a welcome addition to my tutoring skills and the skills of my students. Most of them are familiar with both Skype and Google Drive and do not quail at the thought of opening laptop to access the information they need. However, since most of the initial resistance has come, not from the students, but from the parents, I thought I would like to give some reassurance. So this message is for the parents.

Recently I had the opportunity to take on a year 2 student. No surprise in that, but the fact that she lives in rural NSW meant that the only way to tutor was via Skype. Now, I had often thought that tutoring via Skype would be the solution to issues of geographical availability and save on travelling time between students. Nevertheless, because the student is only very young, I was a little anxious. Needlessly so. The lessons continue to go well and the student is gaining computer skills as well as improving in numeracy and literacy. This gave me the confidence to explore the possibilities with my other students.

As most of my students are high school students and due to a change in my personal circumstances, I suggested that with the permission of their parents, they try a Skype lesson to see if it suited them. I am pleased to say all of them said it made no difference whether I was actually in their home or on screen. Furthermore, by using Google Drive (which everyone has on their computers if they have internet) I am able to share files and edit them with the students. Whatever either of us writes comes up on both screens and is saved automatically. This works really well especially with year 11 and 12 students. Both student and I can access any changes that have been made on the document, regardless whether the other is on line at the time.

The advantages of Skype tutoring are the greater flexibility and availability of the tutor and the ability to catch up on lessons that have been missed. The geographical location of the students ceases to play a role in availability and travelling time is diminished. The technology is simple and carries no extra cost. The advantages for the student are that their work is always there, saved, so no excuses. The work can be added to and edited by both parties as needed. The student can still see the tutor in a small window and vice versa.

I now do all my lessons on Skype with very pleasing results. I would encourage year 11 and 12 in particular.students to give it a go.

Other tutors are beginning to see online tutoring via Skype and Google Drive as an option. Our plan is to fine tune this method of delivery by a range of tutors and invite you take Danuta’s stance and give it a go. It may provide you with a solution to tutoring your child with some flexibility and utilise the wonderful technology we all have at our fingertips.

Tutoring and Learning Styles

When I first began tutoring students in English, I expected that I would be helping them in a variety of areas. I knew that some of these would perhaps include revising the basics of Grammar, building vocabulary and aiding in comprehension and analysis of texts. The one thing that I did not expect however, is that my job as a tutor would also incorporate building the self-esteem of my students.

Tutoring and Learning StylesAs I began to tutor, I became very familiar with phrases such as, ‘I suck at English,’ or ‘I’m not that smart.’ I was both shocked and saddened by these comments. The shock stemmed from the fact that they were coming from very bright, intuitive and capable children and the sadness from the fact that their own absurd belief in their limited intelligence was actually holding them back from learning. Once they had become convinced that they were stupid, their learning became more difficult which led to worse marks, which then reinforced their belief in their ‘stupidity’ and the vicious cycle became entrenched.  Most of the time, it was the child’s parents who had identified that they needed help and requested tutoring. Unfortunately, the child would often then interpret the fact that they needed ‘tutoring’ as further proof of their own inadequacy.

Discovering more

So I began to have conversations with my students that challenged these deep-seated beliefs. I would ask questions like ‘why do you think you are stupid?’ and, ‘why do you think you are not good at English?’ We began to discuss other reasons that could be responsible for their poor marks other than lack of intelligence. I eventually began to see a pattern in the information I was obtaining and concluded that there were two main reasons why such bright and capable students were receiving such poor results. The first was that often the curriculum had been rushed through too hastily and students had not been given adequate time to grasp key concepts and once the student had fallen behind, the speed of the system had made it almost impossible for them to catch up.

The second reason was that often that particular child’s learning style had not been catered to, either by an individual teacher or the school system as a whole. Though researchers have identified eight different types of intelligence (that is different ways of using the brain) our school system, unfortunately, only tends to cater to two of them, the Verbal-linguistic and the Logical-mathematical.[1] I began to raise all of these factors with my students and once they began to realise that there were practical reasons for their struggles and that they were, in fact, capable of understanding the work, I began to see transformations take place.

Also read: Online Tutoring

The most amazing part of my job is when I see that light come on in their eyes, that light that says ‘Wow! I’m not stupid. I can actually do this!’ Once the wall of self-deception has been broken down anything is possible. For as long as a student has become convinced that they are stupid, learning will never be an easy task but remove those blinkers, and they become free to run wherever the joys of knowledge beckon them.

[1] Maggie Clark, Sharon Pittaway, Marsh’s Becoming a Teacher, New South Wales, Pearson Australia, 2014, pp.249-251

Standardised Testing: The Pros and Cons

Standardised testing is a subject that many people believe is placed on either ends of the spectrum; the best way to assess student’s abilities or a complete stress invoking exercise for everyone involved. However, if we take a step back and look at it objectively, it becomes clear that it is neither. Standardised testing has both positive and negative aspects and when used effectively can play a vital role in improving the education of our students.

Let’s being with the negatives:

  • Standardized testing does not take into account external factors and evaluates a student’s performance on one particular day. Many students have the ability and knowledge to answer questions and topics, however do not perform well when it comes to examinations. This can be due to many external and emotional factors comprising of; stress, anxiety, family pressure and conflict and lack of focus or motivation.
  • Moreover, standardised testing only evaluates the individual performance of the student instead of the overall improvement and growth of the student over the course of a period of time. For example; a teacher who has worked hard to assist their students to grow and the students who worked extremely hard over the course of the subject/subjects and improved substantially, unfortunately failed to score proficiently in one examination. This does a disservice to both teacher and child, and argues the question if standardised testing ignores the full evaluation of a child and the education system or instead of one single test performance?
  • Standardized testing is argued to create stress, anxiety and pressure on both educators and students.
  • The success of Australian schools and many around the world are dependent on the performance of their students in standardised tests. Federal funds are given only to those schools that perform well compared to others and this adds an extra pressure on public schools to constantly evaluate their performance. This can lead to unhealthy competition among schools and evoke a tough screening process on students to perform for standardised tests.

Positives:

  • Undoubtedly, the greatest benefit of standardised testing is that it provides a set of established standards or instructional framework which provide teachers with guidance for what and when something needs to be taught. The net result is less wasted instructional time and a simplified way of timeline management. It also enables students who move from one school to another from being behind or ahead in their new school.
  • Standardized testing gives parents a good idea of how their children are doing as compared to students across the country, states, and districts and in their local area.
  • It can be argued that standardised tests are objective in nature. Standardised tests are either scored by computers or by educators who do not directly know the student.

Standardised testing is an arguable topic and can be swayed on both sides of the spectrum. However, the most significant opportunity standardised testing provides is the ability to use the results in an effective manner by educators, students and most importantly by parents.

Fostering Creativity in Children

I always believed that creativity was an inborn talent that children either do or do not have. However, just as all children’s intelligence are not equal, all children are not equally creative unless they are provided with the right environment for creativity to flourish.

During my early years of life, my creativity was limited. Under the Australian educational curriculum, ‘creative thinking’ was not a subject. However, as my experience as a teacher developed; I began to learn that creativity was a key component of health and happiness, and a core skill to practice with children. Creativity is not limited to artistic and musical expression—it is also essential for science, math, and even social and emotional intelligence.

Many researchers believe we have fundamentally changed the experience of childhood in such a way that impairs creative development. More importantly, studies have enabled us to discover various ways to strengthen and nurture your child’s creativity.

Create creative spaces

A creative atmosphere empowers children to ‘think outside the box’ and generate different ideas. For example; at dinnertime or whilst watching television, you can brainstorm activities that the children have never done before for the upcoming weekend or let them freely make up a story using their imagination. The focus of creative activities around the home or school should be a distinct process of generating versus evaluating new ideas.

Provide creative resources

The key component of creative resources is time. Children need plenty of time for unstructured, child directed, imaginative play – combined with adult supervision and guidance. Additionally, a specific location and plenty of supplies including art, written and construction materials can foster creativity thinking. Without a set direction, resources and space – expect creative messes everywhere.

Freedom and Autonomy

Don’t be a boss. It’s difficult for a parent to not fear anything and everything that the world has to confront their child with. However, the external constraints – making them colour within the lines, so to speak – can reduce flexibility in thinking. Parents and educators need to enable children the freedom and autonomy to explore their ideas and do what they want (in a safe and fun way). For example: If your child wants to walk to school like their friends do or go to a party like everyone else in the grade – ask your child ways they can think of that can help reduce any unsafe behavior, which in turn can spark interesting ideas and discussions.

Don’t reward

The concept of rewarding your child for exhibiting creativity interferes with the creative process. It can reduce the quality of their responses and flexibility of their thought. Enable your child to intrinsically be motivated rather than trying to motivate them with incentives. For example; Instead of rewarding your child for practicing piano, allow her to choose what she enjoys – maybe sit with her and draw or ask her what she would love to do – it could be anything; from sport to taking an English tutoring.

Encourage divergent thinking

Divergent thought centers on the concept of the thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It focuses on finding more than one route to a solution – alternate possibilities to any challenge.
You can use divergent thinking in any area of life; whether it be a mathematical problem or the decision to move to a different school. By discussing the pro’s and con’s, alternate answers to a problem and understanding how to re program your thought process – you strive to achieve a clearer, more creative way of living.