When it comes to successful exam revision, it’s all in the motivation, as Hilary Wilce explains.
For some students, the new school year means retake exams looming ahead. For many others, there will be new tests and exams coming down the line. How do you revise successfully for these, without succumbing to distraction or despair?
Classic revision tips usually suggest mechanical aides, such as index cards and mind maps. They suggest eating and drinking well, and getting good exercise and sleep. They may touch on the importance of rewards, treats and leisure breaks.
All good advice, but successful revision actually starts – and can end – with motivation. Because with good motivation in place you can do anything. And without it, nothing works.
Central to good motivation is the belief system you bring to revision. If you’re a student who thinks it’s the worst chore in the world, and that nothing can change that, then you might as well give up now because every minute you spend doing it will be a debilitating battle with yourself. Instead, look to find a way in which you can feel excited or determined about doing what it takes to get good results.
“With good motivation in place you can do anything. And without it, nothing works”
According to Tony Higgins, director of Columbia Business School Motivation Science Centre, in New York, all of us do things because we like feeling effective. That’s why people willingly put themselves through the torture of marathons and Tough Mudder events. But people vary in what makes them feel effective. For some, doing well in exams is an aspirational thing. They think, ‘If I do well in this maths exam, it means I can move on and up, and nearer my goal of getting into the sixth form, or becoming a vet, or an IT specialist, or doing something else which I haven’t yet decided on, but which is going to be great!’ Their willingness to buckle down and revise is all based on future goals and intentions.
For others, their main driving force is the terror of what will happen if they don’t do well. They badly want the safety and security of not slipping up, making a mistake and failing.
So here are six quick tips to get good revision motivation into place:
• Work out whether you’re someone more pulled by ambition or pushed by fear of failure.
• Think briefly but honestly about how you’ll feel if you open your exam results and see that you haven’t done well.
• Now imagine how it will feel to have done well. Shut your eyes and see it in technicolour. What are people saying to you, how are you feeling? How does your whole world look, now that you’ve done what you set out to do?
• Write down a clear affirmation of what you are doing and why. “I am revising as hard as I can to do well in my exams because…” Read this before every revision session.
• Write down some positive affirmations about yourself and how you can do this, turning negatives into positives if necessary. “I know I can do this because, although I procrastinate and find it hard to focus, I also know I can always dig down and find willpower when I really need it.” Read this before every revision session.
• Be aware of pitfalls along the road and plan how to deal with them. If you know you get bored and want to give up before your allotted time, tell yourself that when that happens you will just do 10 more minutes. If you know you are always distracted by fetching snacks and drinks, tell yourself you are a healthy person who only drinks water during revision time. Then feel proud of your self-control.
When wavering, bring to mind the classic Henry Ford quote: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” And once you’ve got a good mindset in place, remember that you can use all the usual revision tips with a willingness and positivity that wasn’t there before.
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