Time to hit the books

IT'S that time of year again and exams are looming. Today education reporter JAMES MARSTON asks students at one Ipswich high school, if they are starting to feel the pressure.

IT'S that time of year again and exams are looming. Today education reporter JAMES MARSTON asks students at one Ipswich high school, if they are starting to feel the pressure.

DO you remember what it was like?

Hours and hours of revision. The worry. The pressure.

As the nation's 16, 17 and 18-year-olds get stuck into the run up to GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels later this month, the stress is already beginning to take its toll. At St Alban's Catholic High School in Ipswich, assistant headteacher and head of sixth form Clare Sullivan has seen it all before.


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She said: “This is a manic time of year. We have just sent all the coursework to the moderators and now we are concentrating on ensuring students are as well prepared as they can be for their exams.”

Out of the 850 students at StAlban's, about 270 are preparing for exams.

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Clare said: “The whole of years 11, 12, and 13 are revising. It is a lot of work for them. I am very proud of how they are approaching this time of year, and how seriously they are taking their exams.”

But what's the best way to revise? Should students spend hours and hours reading and making notes?

Clare said: “There is no better way to revise. It is more important they are doing some and doing it well rather than the quantity of time. If it is an hour of high quality revision is probably better then three hours when their minds are half on the tv or music.”

So should parents shut their teenagers away without a tv or music?

Clare said: “I suppose two hours a night would be ideal, but different people revise in different ways. Most people find it easier and more effective to lock away the stereo, the MP3 player and particularly the mobile phone.”

Clare admits self discipline isn't always easy. She said: “I took an AS level in critical thinking last year. I found it difficult. I found myself texting my niece who was also revising, and suddenly things like cleaning the house seems a good idea.”

At St Alban's, most youngsters take advantage of supervised revision classes at the end of every day.

Clare said: “The ones who are most worried about the exams are those who are worried anyway or those who suddenly realised they haven't done enough during the year.

“Nerves can affect performance, you either do well or panic and fall apart. It is our job to build up confidence of those who are scared. The revision classes are not supervised but they are recommended and most do them. They are taken by teachers and they go through different revision techniques and go over different topics.”

The website www.samlearning.com is also recommended to St Alban's students. Claire said: “The website has helped push grades up.”

Claire said there are three main ways of revising

Using a tape recorder and listening to audio notes.

Making and reading notes.

Making and studying diagrams.

Her three revision tips are:

1 Get enough sleep

2 Eat properly

3 Mix work and leisure time sensibly.

Clare added: “Those stories that appear every year saying exams are easier, are devastating for students and for us. They work very hard and there is a lot of pressure. Exams are difficult and no one should underestimate that.”

Are students under too much pressure? Is your family struggling with the stress? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Weblink www.samlearning.com

Alistair Bradley, age 17, year 12.

Studying: AS-level maths, physics, chemistry and German.

“It's going okay at the moment. It's not really that stressful. I'm revising at school and at home. I don't count the hours though.

“The exams aren't worrying me too much and I'm not really nervous. I go through the textbook and find something I can't do. I look at past papers and pick out bits I can't do then learn it.”

Roberto Tella, age 15, year 11.

Studying: Eight GCSEs.

“I'm doing about an hour a night at the moment. I've made a list of topics in each subject and I cover three areas of the topic and make notes. I use a revision guide and go over the notes again before I go to bed.

“The pressure is ok. I am a bit nervous about the exams so I will have to try to relax. If I don't feel like revising then I don't as it makes it worse.”

Tom Walters, age 15, year 11.

Studying: 12 GCSEs.

“I am doing about an hour and a half a day on top of the school work. I work after I've had my tea. I've got eight exams.

“I chose a subject and topic and go over it suing revision guides. I am not too worried about the exams. I'm not feeling too much pressure.”

Jack Wilson, age 16, year 12.

Studying: Maths, physics, chemistry, biology AS-level.

“I aim for three hours a day but it's nearer two at the moment. I have a time table. I start at 4pm and finish at about 6.30pm. If I have a lot to do I might go back to it later.

“I'm starting to feel the pressure now and its making me work harder. Perhaps I should have worried a bit earlier. I am setting aside time to relax as well. I am getting nervous about the exams. I've got them all again at the end of next year.”

Charlotte Davies, age 17, year 12.

Studying: Biology, chemistry, psychology, critical thinking AS-level.

“I start work at about 6.30pm and work until about 9pm. I use mind maps (spider diagram)and flash cards and I do one topic a night.

“I am feeling the pressure. I talk to friends about it. We are all in the same position. I've got 21 exams which I am scared about. There are so many of them. They are spread out though.”

Holly Murphy, age 16, year 12.

Studying: English, history, RE, psychology, general studies AS-level.

“I start revising when I get home. I have a cup of tea and then half an hour of relaxation then an hour and a half of revision.

“I am also revising at school and in lesson time. I am stressed out about the exams. I am sitting 13. I didn't realise how soon they were. In RE we don't have any coursework so it all rests on the exam.”

Ellie Knul, age 16, year 12.

Studying: History, drama, psychology, RE, politics, and general studies AS-level.

“I do 20 minutes on one subject, then a break, then 20 minutes on another subject for a few hours. I make sure I am going to bed early by about 9pm or 9.30pm. If I'm tired I can't concentrate.

“I've got 15 exams and I am worried about them. I am going to do as much as I can and hope for the best.”

Danielle Whiting, age 16, year 11.

Studying: 10 GCSEs.

“I have a revision timetable I try to stick to. I have set revision for each subject. I do revision classes every night at school then two or three hours at home. I need to know I am prepared for the exams so when I walk in I feel confident.

“I want to be a doctor and I need to get good grades. I feel under pressure. I am using the sam learning website and revision guides.”

Christian Killeen, age 15, year 11.

Studying: 10 GCSEs.

“I have revision classes every night except for Friday which is my social time. I work until 5pm at school and then about an hour at home.

“I do about half and hour on a subject make notes and write down key facts then 10minute's break then another subject.

“I have about 15 exams. I am getting more nervous by the minute but I'm trying to keep on top of the work and the pressure is not too bad at the moment. My parents are helping me.”

1 Help your child revise by re-arranging the family's schedules and priorities. Be lenient about chores and untidiness, give them a break and understand lost tempers and moodiness.

2 Don't blame or nag them. It's never too late to study, revise or ask for help. Help them sort out a revision schedule or talk to the school about what they advise

3 Don't go in for bribes. Encourage them to work for their own satisfaction and schedule small and frequent rewards for effort. Suggest a special evening out or treat to look forward to.

4 Make sure they have a comfortable place to work. Accept that some people CAN revise better with music or the TV on in the corner. If you don't have a suitable spot, make it easy for them to go elsewhere.

5 Be calm, positive and reassuring and put the whole thing into perspective. They can always take an exam again.

6 Get them ready for an exam. Encourage them to get all their pens and pencils ready the night before and try to get them to go to bed at a reasonable time. Next day try to organise a special breakfast and then go through a check list with them to make sure they have everything they need.

7 After each exam, allow them to talk it through but don't dwell on it. Focus on getting through the next exam or next event.

8 Exam results mark the end of one, and the beginning of another phase, in your child's life and yours. This can be unsettling and difficult so let them voice their worries and expectations and listen out for any underlying serious problems.

9 Plan an event to mark the end of the results. Whatever they are, have some fun now. Make it clear that you love and value your child for themselves, not for what happened in an exam.

10 For further help visit website www.parentlineplus.org.uk

Increased competition for university places means students face more pressure than ever. While it's natural to feel a little nervous, some students may become anxious or depressed, and feel unable to cope.

Signs to watch out for include irrational panic attacks, being uninterested in others' company, loss of appetite, complaining about sleepless nights or being unable to get up in the morning, and taking no pleasure in life outside revision.

All work and no play is not the way to exam success, and GP Dr Rosemary Leonard said: “Getting out and doing something really physical is very important, whether it's playing tennis, kicking a football around or having a game of rugby. It's good to get out there and have a run around - or join an exercise or yoga class.”

Studying teens should get involved in some form of exercise every day if possible, or at least every other day.

For some students, the end of exams can be almost as stressful as revising, as they panic about not having worked hard enough. She said: “Don't beat yourself up if you think you've done something wrong, move on to the next one. Once they're over, put them behind you and don't get stuck mulling over them.”

If students find revising a real chore, herbal products could ease the pressure. Brain-boosting gingko extract and holy basil are among the ingredients in New Chapter's Supercritical Neurozyme supplement.

While gingko extract has been found to enhance cognitive function, holy basil helps to improve anxiety and depression by reducing the amount of stress hormone cortisol released in times of tension.

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