6693 Matric students at New Nation school in Vredehoek, Johannesburg prepare to start writing their final matric exams. 271008 - Picture: Jennifer Bruce

How many times do you tweet, check Facebook or chat on MXit while you’re studying? Let’s be honest, we all do it. We say it’ll just be a five minute break but before you know it, an hour’s gone by. But the good news is that you can use social networks without feeling guilty.

An excellent non-profit organisation is offering Grade 10, 11 and 12 pupils study notes, interactive discussions, past papers and video lessons on their websites, MXit, Facebook and Twitter pages, and on TV.

Mindset creates, sources and delivers quality educational resources to the primary and secondary school community. Their Facebook page is called Mindset Learn Xtra and has over 1 800 “likes”. Pupils from all over the country are constantly commenting on topics and asking questions.

Mindset Learn Xtra is fairly quick in responding to queries and your fellow pupils can help you as well.

Pupils also use the Facebook page to ask questions about Mindset’s TV broadcasts.

In fact, Facebook seems to be the one portal where all questions regarding Mindset’s services are asked.

Goodman Chauke, Mindset Learn Communications Manager, says: “Social networks are quick tools of communication. Since we started utilising these tools last year, we have received a lot of feedback from learners.

“Our message to learners is simply to be ‘mindsetters’, and to us a ‘mindsetter’ is someone who is hungry to learn, helps their fellow learners, always asks for help when they are struggling and knows it is up to them to do well in their studies.”

* Mindset Learn Xtra can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/learnxtra. They are also on MXit (learnxtrahelpdesk) and have over 2 000 contacts.

+ Programmes on the various examinations matric pupils will write will be screened on DStv and TopTV (channel 319) from now until November 14. For the full schedule, go to http://www.learnxtra.co.za. Study notes, past papers and study guides from Mindset’s previous winter school can also be accessed here. To view a catalogue of their learning materials, go to www.mindset.co.za/learn/dvd.

* Dr Math on MXit is another option you can make use of in your studies.

It was started in January 2007 by Laurie Butgereit of the Meraka Institute, the Centre for Social and Industrial Research’s information technology and communication division.

“It was first just a small pilot programme but we have now grown to over 30 000 pupils.”

All pupils have to do is send their maths question to Dr Math’s number on MXit and they will receive a reply.

Dr Math is run entirely by volunteers who give up their free time to help pupils with their maths homework. Volunteers must be either university students, employed or retired professionals.

“We are always looking for more volunteers.

“Those interested can e-mail me at [email protected],” says Butgereit.

Dr Math can also be contacted on 079 992 3960.

So, the next time your parents check to see if you are studying, you won’t have to guiltily close your laptop, hide your phone or switch the TV off because you really will be “hitting the books”.

Sorry, there is no secret formula

Drinking magical potions or smoking dagga are not likely to help pupils writing their matric examinations.

Although several former matric pupils said they had heard of such myths, including people selling “magical powder” which purportedly boosts concentration and memory levels, the KwaZulu-Natal education department said hard work is the key to writing successful examinations.

Vusi Dlamini, from the department of health’s pharmaceutical services, warned against the use of dagga. “Dagga can actually disturb a person. While users may feel euphoria, which could make them feel positive, it’s a drug and will harm the brain… “

Dlamini said pupils should guard against depriving themselves of sleep as this could backfire.

“Anti-sleeping pills are not recommended. When a body is tired, it’s tired… If you study non-stop, it may actually become counter-produtive as your body can give in when you need it most. It will collapse if sustained by anti-sleep medication. Pupils need to give themselves enough time to rest.

“The best thing to do is to study well in time and regularly so that it becomes a habit. They need to revise and ensure that what they have learned stays in the mind. Practice makes perfect, that will never change.”

Department of education spokeswoman Mbali Thusi said the department had received no reports of the magic powders.

Thusi said: “What is really important is to study, there’s no secret formula – it all comes down to hard work and determination.”

Thusi said those students who started preparing for their exams early would do well.

As part of their preparations, pupils are advised to follow a healthy diet.

Johannesburg-based teacher and qualified psychologist Claire Marketos recommends loads of healthy “brain food” such as fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain bread and cereals, unsalted nuts and water. - Agiza Hlongwane

Learn to study smartly

Drinking loads of coffee while cramming for hours on end is how some anxious Grade 12 pupils are preparing for their NSC exams that start on October 24.

But it’s the last thing you should do if you want to study effectively, experts warn.

Daren Denholm, a Durban memory expert and founder of Power Studying, says 21 key strategies that can be used to maximise studying are available on his website.

All-important is the right attitude and desire to do well.

“Revision is key, because if you don’t revise what you study, you will forget it within 24 hours. To do well you must have a very good revision strategy and at the end of the week consolidate all the work you have learnt thus far.”

He says most people have a problem with short-term memory and forget things very easily, but pupils who do well have a structured approach to studying. “You should never have a study session without allocating the time and amount of work you want to cover during that time. You must avoid countless hours of unproductive study,” he says.

“Your diet and exercise are important and if you don’t get these under control, you will burn out. Power studying is about how much you remember and actually understand.”

Felix Mshololo, principal of Menzi High School, who has achieved a 100 percent matric pass rate for the past few years, agreed that revision was the most critical in these last two weeks.

“Pupils should be at school, as they need the supervision of teachers who will be able to help with difficult subjects. Their teachers should be their best friends right now.”

Denholm, who participates in the world memory championships, has been the top competitor in Africa for the past five years.

“Anxious Grade 12 pupils need to have the right frame of mind. When you are mentally fit you will remember more. Also get into the right zone before you study. Wear earplugs or earmuffs to block out noise and get into a relaxed state to help you absorb more. Spend a few minutes before every study session taking deep breaths and just relaxing.

“You should have loads of water while you study, as your brain feeds on water, and avoid fizzy drinks and artificial sugars. Omega three and six are also good as they help insulate the mileage neuron pathways to the brain.”

Professor Kobus Maree, an educational psychologist and lecturer at the University of Pretoria, advised pupils to obtain copies of previous exam papers and complete them in “exam conditions”.

“Pupils should write the papers during the allocated time in one sitting to mentally prepare for the exam without taking breaks and wandering around. They should get someone to mark the paper to identify their weak areas.”

Maree said pupils needed to know their goals and aim to achieve them.

“These should be long-term goals focusing not only on a career, but on how to one day contribute towards the country’s development. Research has shown that people who have long-term goals achieve better in life.

“It’s hard for Grade 12 pupils to see their friends going out and having a good time. They will want to join them. They must sacrifice short-term wants in favour of long-term goals, and have fun once the exams are over.”

He advises against cramming and suggests study groups where pupils can work on different subjects and get help.

“But they still need to go home and study on their own. The Department of Education’s website has exemplars, past year papers and excellent study guides.

“Self-esteem also affects performance: if you believe you will do well, generally you will.”

He provided a few tips for the exam venue:

* Read all instructions carefully.

*l Get at least seven hours sleep before an exam.

* While writing the exam, keep an eye on the clock to know how much time you have.

* If you get tense in the exam, the colour green helps you to relax, so focus on something green for a few minutes.

* If you hit a blank, close your eyes and think of a place you associate with relaxation.

* Stretch your arms, legs and neck in between exam questions to stay relaxed.

* If there is a question you can’t answer immediately, leave space and continue. Never stop to try to remember the answer. Trust your brain, the answer will come back to you.

Maree says sometimes problems nag during the exam, like parents getting divorced, or a rocky romance.

“The brain wants to deal with the issue now, so write down all your concerns and you will deal with them after the exam. With your mind clear and focused, you can concentrate on studying and doing well.

“My last piece of advice is to remove negative words from your vocabulary. Instead of viewing the exam as an obstacle, look at it as an exciting challenge, and when you do well you have your whole future ahead of you,” he says.

Finally, a word of warning from provincial education spokesman Sihle Mlotshwa.

Pupils who carry study material with them into the exam room will, if caught, face suspension of up to three years depending, on the severity of the matter.

“All pupils are told about this before starting their exams, so they should avoid cheating and rather put in the hard work.”

* Visit www.powerstudying.com for more studytips. - Charmel Bowan

* www.education.gov.za has previous exam papers, exemplars and study [email protected] - Sunday Tribune