HSC exam guide: maximising study and minimising stress

Start by studying in 20 minute blocks and resting for 5-10 minutes in between. Shutterstock

Understanding and managing what contributes to good performance is essential to reduce stress levels for exams. Preparation is the key to performance. This must start early, allowing time to build confidence with the subject matter and assist your memory recall.

To perform well in exams you need to think about “training” a range of skills. These include good study techniques, distraction control, persistence, discipline, positive self-talk, good time management and emotional management, productive sleep and enough rest.

Getting organised

To begin: set up your study space, organise your study materials, turn off your phone and hide social media. Next, review the subject outline and any previous exams your teacher has provided for you or that are online.

You will feel less anxious at exam time if you have practised writing and reviewing essays, short answers and multiple-choice tests. If you are not used to writing for long periods of time with a pen, then practise this skill as well.

You wouldn’t run a marathon without prior preparation. Shutterstock

To reduce stress, be prepared and work out a schedule so you can get through the reading and research. Don’t just wade through piles of study notes.

Think about it like this: if you were planning to run a marathon, you wouldn’t wait until a couple of days before to start preparing. Developing a plan will give you a feeling of being in control as you progress towards your goals; you need to invest time and effort, just like the marathon runner.

A well-structured daily schedule will help you to balance study, work, exercise, nutrition and recreation.

When planning, think about the best time of the day/night for study. What does your body clock tell you about your peak performance times? Set these times for the subjects you find more difficult. Cluster your subjects so you have two subjects a day.

Being nice to your brain

How long can you concentrate without getting distracted? Start small with 20-minute chunks of study time and build up to longer periods. Then reward yourself: do some stretches, take a power nap or a 5-10 minute walk - this will rest your mind. Then get back to it!

Repeat this process for two hours. After two hours, it is important to give your brain incubation time. Take a 30-minute break, have some fun as a reward and enjoy a healthy snack like berries, bananas, apples or even dark chocolate - it’s rich in flavonoids and helps improve blood flow to the brain and boost cognitive skills.

Set a timer for these reward times to remind you the 30 minutes of fun is over and get back to studying for another two hours. Discipline is a habit, developed using positive self-talk to constantly remind yourself of your end goal. If you don’t practise you can’t run the marathon!

It is important to link what you already know about the subject to the knowledge you’re acquiring through study. This will aid memory retention and retrieval. Then use different modes of learning: read out loud; make colourful diagrams or mind maps; develop concise dot-point revision notes, voice record and listen back to your notes, or watch recommended talks or programs that reinforce material you are studying.

Study buddies

Group study can combat boredom. Shutterstock

Studying alone can get boring and monotonous. A study group has a positive social aspect, which can make you feel more confident and comfortable about studying. Typically comprised of four to six students, a study group can offer the opportunity to engage in a more in-depth discussion with your peers.

Sharing information can reduce procrastination, keep you active and make you less likely to put off studying. Hearing perspectives from study group members who reason differently from you enhances critical thinking skills, as we all learn in different ways.

Does cramming work?

Reading your notes or essays the night before your exam is not the best type of study. You need to spend time thinking about the materials you have been reading, and connecting it to what you already know using your critical thinking skills. This doesn’t happen overnight, but it will make the retrieval of your knowledge much easier in the exam.

Mind map or list the important concepts and key topics. Read what you did wrong in your formative assessments and think about how you could have done better. Test your knowledge, think up an essay question and write an essay plan and check it against the key concepts.

Critical thinking can’t only begin the night before. This is a process that takes time and hopefully this process has been taking place all year.


Gia Shoobridge also contributed to this article.