Stress, panic, anxiety - these are all familiar feelings if you are preparing to sit for probably the most important exam of your life. Picture: iStockphoto

Take responsibility for your time and never procrastinate - sage advice from SA’s top education experts. By Marchelle Abrahams

Matriculants around the country are under pressure to deliver the goods if they want to get into the tertiary institution of their choice. Stress, panic, anxiety - these are all familiar feelings if you are preparing to sit for probably the most important exam of your life.

Dr Gillian Mooney, dean of Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, explains that pupils need to actively take control of their preparations now, and put in place a careful strategy.

“I don’t think it’s productive to throw your arms up and say nothing can be done. Time is pressurized, and this is the final push,” says the psychologist with more than 20 years experience. Strategic thinking and taking control can change things around.

Mooney’s field of expertise includes the implementation of teaching strategies that promotes the development of higher order skills. In other words, she’s the authority on how to use strategies that can work for you. According to her, the following tips can turn a poor performance into a good one.

Review your study roster

See where you can save or create time, and where you can put in an extra hour or 2 every day. Every little bit helps and the time you took to do a mock paper could mean the difference between being accepted into your course or institution of choice next year or not. 

Very importantly, stick to your roster and don’t fall victim to procrastination and constant re-arranging of said roster. Right now, you still have enough time to get through and master all your work. At the end of the month, that picture would have changed drastically.

Find alternative study methods

If you’re planning on taking a break and watching a movie on a Friday night, why not make that movie one which covers your setwork?  You’ll be approaching the subject from a different angle (and use even your downtime efficiently), which deepens your understanding of it.

For other subjects, you can find TED talks about topics you find particularly challenging. These will not only help you to better understand something, but are quite likely to also increase your enthusiasm and inject some much-needed inspiration into the study process.

The Department of Basic Education’s website has online resources available, like past exam papers, that you can test yourself with.

Get a tutor or form a study group

It is not too late to get someone to help you master your most frustrating subjects. There might be a retired teacher or recent graduate in your community who can help, or you can inquire at your school whether such assistance is available. 

Getting the insight and assistance of someone who is not your regular subject teacher can provide fresh perspective and approaches you may not have been aware of before.

Peer learning is another option if you can’t afford a tutor. Rope your classmates in and start an after-school study group.

Ask for resources from your future tertiary institution

Any good institution will be able to provide guidance and resources to their future students. For example, student counsellors can give some insights into how current performance matches future options, and what is required in terms of intervention to ensure you can access your first choice of qualification.
Additionally, good institutions will be able to provide you with practical resources, such as papers from previous years.

Don’t be discouraged

“The importance of prelims should not be underestimated, because they may very well influence your options down the line. For instance, a higher education institution may decide to withdraw a conditional offer if you did not perform well,” says Mooney.

“If you resolve right now to take stock and take action, and throw yourself into preparing for your finals, there is a very good chance that you can turn things around.”

Go cold turkey

Resolve to quit social media for a week, says education expert Nola Payne. It really does sound harder than it is, she adds. But if you remove social media distractions and their temptations completely for a set period, your devices will soon lose their time-sucking lustre.

Balance is important

Payne says although matrics should still make time to lead a balanced life – getting enough exercise and spending quality time with family and friends – they should be more careful than ever about not allowing time-leakage. Exercise, for instance, can be done with friends. Family time can be built around mealtimes.

Stay mindful

While you are studying, focus on nothing else. At night, when you go to bed, and in the morning when you wake up, think about your future. Payne believes that visualisation works. Visualise why you are putting in all the hard work now, and picture your future.