Final exams: Tips to help you shine

This period marks the apex of the year’s education calendar, particularly for students in primary and secondary school levels. As such, students at different levels will be or are already sitting their final examinations, which normally comes with examination stress. Below are tips from experts to help students go through the examination period successfully.
Candidates at Saint Ignace Primary School go through the examination papers on Monday. / Timothy Kisambira.
Candidates at Saint Ignace Primary School go through the examination papers on Monday. / Timothy Kisambira.

This period marks the apex of the year’s education calendar, particularly for students in primary and secondary school levels. As such, students at different levels will be or are already sitting their final examinations, which normally comes with examination stress. Below are tips from experts to help students go through the examination period successfully.

Make a revision timetable that works

Jean Marie Vianney Habumuremyi, a lecturer at University of Rwanda’s College of Education says that just like an architect wouldn’t begin a project without a blueprint, you can’t just open a book randomly one day, begin reading and hope for the best.

A solid revision timetable not only guarantees you cover everything you need to in time for the exam; but it also breaks everything down into more manageable chunks. 

“Keep it very simple or add extra fields, such as to note specific things you want to achieve in a session. Prioritise what subjects – or particular topics within those subjects you need to spend more time on”, he says.

Habumuremyi advises that every candidate should remember not to get cocky and neglect those subjects which they are strong at. You cannot know everything that examiners want to set. It is dangerous to read some areas and neglect others. Those who do it stand the risk of being out spotted,” he warns.

“Adjust to regular refreshers. Don’t just cover an area once and move on. If you do this, the material you study first will be a distant memory by the time you come to exams. Fit in time to revisit material. You can test yourself with past papers to check that it’s sticking,” he adds.

Approach subjects differently

Wilson Mugarura, the head teacher of King David Academy in Kigali, says certain study methods will suit some subjects better than others. This might depend on how intense the material is, how it will be assessed or simply how you best retain everything.

“The length of your study periods can also be flexible according to what works for you. For example, you might find that two 45 minute sessions of maths, with a break in between, are more productive but you can focus on your biology revision for longer periods of time

“Next, take stock of all the materials you’ll need for efficient studying. This may include study guides/notes, slides and handouts and use your materials, go through and assess your knowledge for each subject. Look carefully for any gaps in your knowledge that will be covered on your exams – these areas are where you’ll want to pay special attention when studying,” he says.

According to medics it is also important to pay attention to one’s body energy levels throughout the day. Some people have high energy levels in the morning; if that’s you, try scheduling your hardest study session early.

“Remember that your mind’s efficiency is dependent upon your body’s performance. Make sure to schedule time to get some exercise and also take breaks. Doing so will keep your stress levels down and give you a clear head,” says Marie Louise Nyirahabimana, a clinical psychologist working at HVP /Gatagara.

She says getting enough sleep is vital to allow the mind enough time to rest.

Staying long hours awake to read for exams may actually lead to failure. Nyirahabimana advises candidates to maintain their normal sleep patterns for maximum performance.

Family support

According to Rachel Nahimana, a mother of five, parents should look out for exam anxiety symptoms including bed-wetting in younger children, reluctance to go to school, sleep problems and lack of appetite.

“We all know that the exam season is a really difficult time. Parents can try to understand their children’s low or frustrated mood and give them time and space for revision by relaxing on chores and household tasks. It is vital too that parents find a balance between what they expect of their child and what is realistically attainable. Having too high expectations can feel unachievable and hopeless, whilst too low expectations can be equally demotivating,” she says.

Revisit past papers, join group discussions

Emmanuel Ndayisaba, a teacher at EP Gasabo, says students should take sufficient time to revisit old papers to develop better understanding on question approach. Some of the questions could be familiar and going through them would allow one to relate with or improve their responses.

Allocate enough time for individual revision but in case of difficult topics, students should consult their classmates and exchange ideas. Discussing with your colleagues helps you discover many things. It is not always true that the first person to consult should be a teacher, he says.

Jog your short-term memory

Ndayisaba argues that the night before the exam is not the time to be trying to get your head around new concepts.

“You should be trying to master keywords to jog your memory. Hopefully you will have distilled your notes into a couple of summary sheets. Go through these and try and tie the information together,” he advises.

How to behave in the examination room

Wellaris Kanamugire, a teacher at College Ape Rugunga, advises students to reach school on time. Plan to arrive at the scheduled room 15 minutes before the scheduled start of an exam because arriving before exam time is good enough for one to breathe and relax before commencing the paper, he adds

“Once the exam starts, carefully read all instructions as ignorance of any guideline will not be accepted as an excuse for violation. If there are instructions that are not clear, consult with the invigilators for clarity.

“Before attempting the questions, take adequate time to go through all the questions and understand. Start with the ones you can answer comfortably, then tackle the challenging ones. Let the marks allocated guide you on the amount of time you need to tackle the questions to avoid time wasting. Cross any draft that you don’t want marked and allow some time to go through the work before submitting,” he says.

Do the easiest questions first

Kanamugire says there is no reason to do the questions in the order they are printed on the exam sheet. There are a couple of reasons for this; firstly, getting the first question done well will help calm you and get you focused for the rest of the exam. Secondly, he says often you will get an easy question done quicker so you will be ahead of schedule from the start. It also means that by the end of the exam you will have more time to spend on the more difficult questions.

Do not talk in exam room

Habumuremyi advises students to observe silence before, during and after the exam. Trying to talk to other students will be considered as disturbance and can be seen as misconduct and attempting to cheat, therefore, make sure you do not have anything to ask when exam commences. “In case you need attention, raise your hand so that an invigilator can attend to you. Sometimes one can fall sick during the exam or feel hard-pressed; seek permission to get out.”

Don’t panic

Alice Uwingabire , a counselor, urges students to try and keep level headed throughout the exam. One of the main reasons for stress at exam time is the lack of control. Students get stressed because they don’t know what is coming up.

“One of the best things you can do to calm yourself is to visualise yourself in the exam hall. Reading the paper and picking out the questions you are going to do early on will help calm you as it removes the stress caused by the unknown of what’s coming up,” she said.

Don’t have a negative thinking

Uwingabire says lots of students worry about making mistakes and worry about spelling words incorrectly. “Remember you’re being marked positively not negatively so everything you write is getting you marks.”

Don’t leave out questions

Valerie Mukabagire , a teacher at Camp Kigali, says the main reason students underperform in exams is not because they answer questions badly but because they leave out questions. As a rule of the thumb, every question you leave out will drop you by a grade.

Don’t run out of time

Mukabagire says a good trick is to write your question schedule with actual times onto the cover of your answer book while the papers are being handed out.

“This way, if you look at your watch and it’s saying 11:10am, you know exactly how much of your exam you should have done. Also, make sure you stick to your schedule. Many students run overtime perfecting answers maybe gaining 3 marks at the expense of not doing a whole 50-mark question,” he says.

Don’t get stuck on a question

Mukabagire advises that if you get a particularly hard question don’t sit there panicking about it. The best thing you can do is having a quick think about it, mark it with a highlighter and move on to another question. The chances are that by the time you come back to it your subconscious mind will have already set you up to make an attempt at it, he adds.

Don’t bother looking around the exam hall

Habumuremyi says one of the most common things students do, especially in exams they find difficult, is to look around and try to see how their classmates are doing.

“There is really no point in doing this and it is likely that seeing others furiously writing away will only serve to stress you further rather concentrate on your own exam and try and keep your focus on your own paper. Once you finish an exam don’t spend half the day worrying about what went wrong and how you could have improved it.

“Chatting with friends after every exam will only fill you with frustrating regrets. When you hand in your paper, forget about that subject. You need to focus your attention on next examination,” he says.

Don’t leave an exam early

Educators argue that there is always something you can do to improve your answers. Read back over your work and make sure you’ve answered all parts of all questions. Try to read your answers as if you were the examiner and you were correcting someone else’s work. Remember the changes you make in these last few minutes could bring up your grade.

Finally, a well-balanced, healthy diet can also improve mood-swings, ensuring your body and brain have enough fuel is important when maintaining healthy nervous and digestive systems and therefore regulating your mood.

Brian Ntaganzwa, a nutritionist expert, says since the examination period is very energy demanding, nutritionists advise that both parents and schools have to ensure that students meet their nutritional requirements.