Helping them prepare psychologically for exams


Successful exam preparation involves developing successful study habits and overcoming those key psychological barriers. Patricia Orlunwo Ikiriko offers vital advice to help you prepare your students.

Effective study habits are a prerequisite for putting students on a path towards educational excellence. However, there is a wide range of issues confronting students which can inhibit their academic performance. 

It is not just study techniques that can affect students’ results, but also hidden, psychological factors that must be identified in order to alter negative perceptions. It is the job of the teacher to identify the underlying attitudes and perceptions that are inhibiting academic performance and to stimulate alternative attitudes and perceptions which can contribute to active participation in learning and studying.

Psychological fears

Teachers should aim to offer genuine and relevant solutions to the hidden psychological fears that prevent students from attempting to actualise their dreams. Teachers may manage much of students’ learning in that they create lesson plans which adhere to the curriculum and are therefore designed to give students the knowledge necessary to pass exams. They may also offer guidance as to how to schedule periods of revision prior to exams. 

However, teachers seldom spend time explaining the wide range of psychological issues that can inhibit and impact adversely upon students’ academic performance and success. They often even fail to teach in a manner that would encourage and enable the process of learning, preferring instead to simply lecture their students – the equivalent of throwing knowledge out and hoping that some of it sticks. 

Learning can be greatly enhanced if students have the ability to manage the process for themselves. To do this, students need to: 

  • Develop the ability to manage their time.

  • Structure their study periods.

  • Break-down large tasks into more manageable ones.

  • Set achievable goals and objectives.

  • Persevere even under difficult circumstances.

  • Establish ways in which they may monitor and measure their learning progress.

  • Adjust their learning strategies as necessary.

  • Determine how they might overcome any difficulties they encounter in the process. 

Sometimes students feel afraid that the study task at hand is so big that they cannot accomplish it on their own. Shrinking from it instead, they may then feel emotionally battered when they fail. They become increasingly anxious when it comes to learning or trying any new thing.

Numerous studies have revealed that individual differences exist among students in terms of the following constructs: 

  • Self-concept (self-perception, which may be negative or positive).

  • Self-efficacy (belief in one’s abilities, low or high).

  • Self-esteem (self-confidence, which may be low or high).

  • Attitudes (summary evaluation of behaviour).

  • Locus of control (the perceived causation of events, which may be internal or external to the self). 

Each of these psychological factors is associated with either failure or achievement in academic contexts, emotional stability or instability, confidence or a lack of confidence, and psychological wellbeing or a lack of wellbeing, or even disturbance. 

Understanding and creating an environment free from fear and threat would enable students to face up to the challenges of studying and learning, and to develop the ability to pick up and master the process of simply getting started. The overall objective of education is to both encourage and empower students to develop the ability to think freely and rationally; to organise themselves, time and their work; and to approach tests and examinations with confidence.

Students who leave school with the autonomy to set their own learning goals and with the confidence of knowing how to achieve those goals are much better equipped to learn throughout their lives. Learning is less about the simple acquisition of knowledge and more about questioning, reasoning, understanding, and gaining wisdom. When someone knows how to learn, they become an active controller of their own learning rather than a passive consumer of education.

Learning environments

The majority of students’ learning time is spent in formal education, whether school, college or university. This in turn means that the climate and culture of an educational establishment is vitally important for the creation of an effective learning environment. Rigid strictures as to what is acceptable or ideal will alienate more students than it will embrace, and will ultimately prove harmful to learning. 

When teachers create a culture that welcomes discovery, challenge, and personal development, they will encourage learning far more effectively than those seeking to impose norms of dress, values and thought. If a student feels alienated and disengaged from the learning context in the educational establishment that they attend, their potential to master fundamental concepts, and to develop effective learning skills, is likely to be adversely affected.

Key techniques

To improve students’ academic performance, it is important to teach techniques for improving self-evaluation, being more optimistic, self-confident, and taking responsibility for one’s own study outcomes. 

Certain skills that are taught will stand students in good stead, not only for passing exams, but also throughout their life course. It is essential to instil the right techniques for improving attitudes, such as starting each day in positive state of mind to improve personal productivity. 

Such training may help students to develop a good understanding of themselves, redirect a disruptive attitude towards a more constructive one – and enhance the mental connections they have already established.

This will ensure that they are fully engaged in class and encourage them to respect the teacher’s authority. The teacher’s ability to engage students in the association of ideas, debating real-world problems, will create a sound basis for recall, helping them to remember the principles applied and creating an engaging, enlarging and enriching of experience and showing understanding of the various strands that make up a topic.

Engaging students in right learning strategies is vital skill that teachers can pass on to students to enhance the learning process.

10 tips for good study habits

  • Develop a goal for your studies, which will serve as your ultimate motivator when things get tough.

  • Make a study plan by simply writing down how you can attain your goals daily, making lists is a key part of the planning process. 

  • Conquer procrastination and fear. 

  • Adopt the 80/20 rule: put in a few hours of serious, concentrated study, eliminating distractions and focusing on your workload, leave time for yourself/chores. 

  • Multi-tasking has been found to have negative impact on academic performance – practise focusing on one task until completion, rather than doing many things simultaneously with only partial attention and fractured intention.

  • Adhere to your study schedule with expectations of a specific result. 

  • Identify your own particular learning style and develop effective study techniques.

  • Develop devices like mind-maps. Various studies have found that mind-maps appeal to both sides of the brain: they are linked and logical to keep our “left brain” happy and yet are clever and creative to appeal to our “right brain”. We use our brain optimally when we can satisfy both hemispheres.

  • Use the correct study methods and strategic time-management.

  • Hard work is the rule of educational excellence, so imbibe discipline, decision, determination.

  • Patricia Orlunwo Ikiriko is the author of The Successful Student (£12.99, Panoma Press) which is available now.


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