Smart study hacks for the exams

4 min read   •   September 10, 2020
Danielle Barfoot

Examinations can be nerve-racking and stressful. And while a little stress can sometimes serve as a strong motivator, too much can affect your child’s ability to learn and perform during exams. One way to minimise – or at least manage – stress is to be prepared.


While nothing replaces hard work, some techniques can increase efficiency, boost productivity and improve concentration. While not every method will work for your child, it’s worth some trial and error to find the ones that do.


First, cover the basics


  • Plan: Develop a timetable and study routine tailored to your child’s grade, learning style and peak learning time.
  • Eat: Maintain proper nutrition by feeding your child healthy, nutritious meals and snacks. The brain needs food to function.
  • Sleep: Make sure your child gets plenty of rest while preparing for exams. Sleep affects cognitive function – it improves the ability to think clearly and logically and assimilates the information learned during the day.
  • Move: Science says that just 20 minutes of exercise can boost brainpower. Whether riding a bike or walking around the block, exercise will increase your child’s energy levels and reduce the effects of stress.
  • Relax: It may sound counterintuitive, but all work and no play is a recipe for disaster. So, allow your child to relax and rejuvenate by watching a movie, listening to music, or playing a sport.

Also read: Cool ways to beat summer boredom


Tried and tested

  • Practice, practice, practice: One secret weapon when preparing for upcoming exams is working through past papers. Practising sample answers to past exam questions can help train your child’s brain to retrieve information. It also helps pinpoint weak areas. In addition, it shows what to expect in terms of the format/wording of questions, so your child won’t get confused or tripped up during the actual exam.
  • Short sessions for the win: Taking a short break after 45 – 50 minutes of study helps the brain absorb more information while maintaining motivation and focus. Research suggests that for intense memorisation sessions – such as trying to learn names, dates and events, a foreign language or math formulae – sessions should be no longer than 20 – 30 minutes.
  • Make use of memory aids: Let your child use mind maps to connect ideas, draw diagrams to visualise information, create flashcards to memorise key concepts, definitions, quotes and formulas, or try mnemonic devices – a song, rhyme, sentence or phrase – to help remember and recall material. Whichever aid your child chooses, make it simple, logical and colourful – colour helps heighten attention.


Something slightly different

  • Speak up: If your child is struggling to grasp something, let them say it out loud instead of simply reading through it. You will be surprised how much more they retain when they have said it out loud.
  • Teach: The best way to test if your child really understands something is to ask them to try to teach it to someone else. This is a particularly good way to discover if they have a basic grasp of the concepts. If there’s no-one around, let your child teach a class of stuffed animals!
  • Listen to music: Listening to certain types of music while studying can enhance productivity, motivation and focus levels. Take note, though, that music should never be counterproductive or distracting.
  • Chew on it: Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but the act of chewing gum is a brain booster. Chewing gum raises alertness and attention, but only for periods of around 20 minutes – so employ this technique when your child is studying particularly tricky or difficult concepts.


What not to do

  • Don’t let your child study similar subjects one after another: Sandwiching History or Geography in between Maths and Science will help the brain absorb all three subjects much better.
  • Don’t let your child stay up all night before an exam: Make sure your child gets adequate rest the night before an exam.
  • Don’t let children spend all their time making elaborate study notes: The more time they spend making mini works of art, the less time they have to study.
  • Don’t let them leave studying until the last minute: Last-minute cramming is generally not the best way to approach an exam.
  • Don’t let your child freak out: Do whatever you can to help your child stay calm. If their stress levels spiral out of control, the brain will stop functioning.

Also read: Helpful tips for managing your child’s academic anxiety

Finally, as your child prepares for upcoming tests or exams, remember the words of Thomas Edison: “There is no substitute for hard work”.