We are satisfied that the examinations were fair and valid and credible, Umalusi council chairman Prof John Volmink said. Picture: Jason Boud

Cape Town - It’s make or break time for thousands of matric pupils across the country. What happens in the next weeks will have a great influence on their futures, and it appears pupils are being proactive in taking the extra measures needed to pass their final exams.

Non-profit organisation Mindset Learn Xtra provides a set of free revision resources and services aimed at helping tens of thousands of grade 10 to 12 pupils.

Pupils can get help in mathematics, physical science, life science and mathematical literacy by going to Mxit, Facebook, Twitter or on television.

In addition to these subjects, they can also get help with accounting, geography, and English first language.

According to Mindset Learn, their television show – broadcast on DStv on channel 319 and TopTV on channel 319 – has an average weekly reach of 400 000. The average hourly reach is 30 000, and the programme’s statistics reveal the average time spent watching is 30 minutes.

Their website records about 40 000 visits a month, and monthly resources are viewed an average of 59 000 times.

As of last week, the Facebook page had 18 750 “likes”, with 2 030 sharing posts with their friends on the same day.

The weekly Facebook reach is about 33 000.

Spokesman Goodman Chauke says the organisation runs revision programmes during February (for those writing supplementary exams), July (their winter school), and during October and November (for those preparing for the final exam).

The highest numbers of queries filter through for mathematics, physical science and accounting.

Structuring and study time

The structuring of study time should be based on personal preference, says Mindset Learn spokesman Goodman Chauke.

“Some people function best early in the morning – larks – while others function best at night – owls. In all cases, however, you need to get enough sleep.

“Studies have shown that the brain is far less receptive to high level input when it is not rested,” says Chauke. Pupils need six hours of sleep at night, and studying throughout the night is never a good idea.

He says it’s important to have a plan in place that is realistic and achievable. “It can be very demotivating to try to follow a study plan that is too rigorous and can lead to you abandoning the plan entirely,” suggests Chauke.

And it’s never too early to start your study plan.

“The longer you give yourself, the more time you have to discover and work on those areas that are weak. You also give yourself more time to go and find the support you need,” says Chauke.

He adds that it’s important to give yourself two to three days of focused study per subject before each exam.

Often it is best to design a plan noting what exams will be written when, what subjects require the most attention and what subjects you feel most comfortable with. Try to alternate the plan between subjects you are strong in with those that need more work.

Design a plan around 45- to 60- minute study blocks with 10 to 15-minute breaks between each, says Chauke.

“The brain works in cycles and it is a waste of time trying to study for longer periods when nothing is going in,” says Chauke.

He suggests taking breaks away from the study environment. For example: after every three study blocks, it’s a good idea to take extended breaks. Physical activity is recommended.

Techniques like mind mapping can help visual pupils, while auditory-orientated pupils could try recording themselves delivering a summary of work and then playing it back to themselves. Many cellphones have this function.

Kinaesthetic-orientated pupils could use physical objects placed in particular locations to resemble a 3D physical mind map and then walk between these objects repeating what each one represents.

In all cases, though, it is very important to work through past exam papers, as this is how the actual exams will be done.

Studying in groups is also a good idea as there are likely to be different strengths and weaknesses and pupils will have an opportunity to help each other.

Study tips

* Success can’t be guaranteed by only studying the night before an exam.

* Write down the dates of your preliminary and final Grade 12 exam timetable so that you can plan a study timetable for all subjects.

* Don’t spend more than two hours a day on one topic. Don’t try and squeeze too much into one session. By covering smaller sections of work, you’ll master them quicker.

* Don’t just read through your notes or textbook. Be active by making summary checklists or mind maps. Highlight the important facts, formulae and definitions you’ll need to memorise. You may find it useful to say definitions out loud.

* When using questions from previous exam papers, you should try and answer the questions without looking at your notes or solutions; time yourself: you should be answering at a rate of one mark per minute; if you didn’t get the question right, try it again after a few days. Whatever happens, don’t be discouraged.

Boost your brain power during study time

The term “brain food” is more than a myth. And with matrics cramming as much as possible before their final school exams, few are aware of how the food they eat affects the process.

In fact, certain foods can enhance the studying process and others hamper it.

Nutritionist Katherine Megaw says one should think of brains as factories.

We use our brains all year round, but come exam time, pupils need to maximise the efficiency of the brain. That is why our bodies need the right fuel, and not just “any load of empty calories”, says Megaw.

She says a young person’s body needs a good, stable routine and schedule of eating, because this enhances the brain’s output.

Megaw lists the top brain foods as mostly proteins, healthy fats and high-fibre starches.

Proteins include chicken, meat, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, eggs, chickpeas, lentils and dairy.

The benefit of proteins, says Megaw, is that they supply the brain and muscles with fuel to endure long hours of studying. They also maximise the energy load to ensure it’s evenly distributed throughout the day. Fatty fish contains omega 3, which is essential for brain function.

“Protein is a sustainable source of energy. It also contains iron, which carries oxygen to the brain tissue,” says Megaw.

Healthy fats include avocado, olives, olive and canola oil, flaxseed oil, nuts and butters. These contain fats, which help with memory, and the brain is capable of using some of these fats for energy.

High-fibre starches include wholegrain breads, oats, quinoa, millet, rice, sweet potatoes, starchy veggies and fruits. The fibre is important in keeping the digestive system going and functioning optimally. These foods also contain the whole range of vitamins from the vitamin B group – good for the nervous system and brain memory – to vitamin C and vitamin A – good for your immune system so that you can stay healthy during exams. Other nutrients and minerals include magnesium and zinc which boost your brain’s alertness and your immune system.

While some foods will assist with studying, there are some absolute no-nos, says Megaw. The foods to avoid include sweet, sugary treats like chocolate and cake, and white breads and other refined starches are no good either.

Alcohol must also be avoided, as it affects the ability to concentrate and places a lot of strain on the liver. Megaw warns that while caffeine may give an initial boost, too much of the stimulant will cause a quick drop just as soon as it leaves the system.

A common response to the stress of the looming finals is either overeating, or not eating at all.

“Both are equally harmful to the body. Overeating tends to place a lot of stress on the digestive system and tires you out as all your blood flow and energy goes to digesting and not enough to your brain. Undereating will result in too little brain food to accomplish the task at hand,” says Megaw.

Megaw suggests that parents sit down with their child to put together a meal plan and schedule for the exam period.

“Assist your child by having the food on the plan available, and ensure they are easy to prepare and are foods they enjoy.”

Eating tips for the big exam day

Ideal breakfast food includes high-protein smoothies for those who are too nervous to eat. A smoothie should consist of 125ml yogurt, 2 fruit, 10g protein powder, 125ml milk, 1 tablespoon of seed mix.

For those who can stomach solids, a bowl of oats and a boiled egg will keep you satisfied for the duration of your exam.

Drinks lots of water throughout the day, as your brain is an organ which loves water.

Taking a multivitamin with good levels of vitamin B and omega 3 will be helpful.

Scheduling meals throughout the day is critical. After breakfast, have a high protein snack, followed by a healthy lunch. Supper should also be high protein with lots of salad and veggies.

* For more information on healthy eating, visit www.nutripaeds.co.za - Cape Argus