Short sprints are better than marathons in the run-up to exams

George Turnbull offers advice to pupils and parents on how to make the most of preparation while leaving time for much-needed recreation
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The Independent Online
As this summer term begins, thousands of students preparing for school exams will be sitting in a daze, worrying about their lack of progress, despite spending hours with their books.

Parents are often responsible for these marathon study sessions, in the belief that their prodigies are beavering away with enough time to spare to tidy their rooms and do chores that have not been tackled for ages.

Getting yourself started is often the highest hurdle. The secret is to work for 10 minutes only - initially. By doing nothing else during that time, even the most reluctant of you will become hooked and gain in confidence as the 10 minutes stretches into a 15-, 20- or 30-minute session.

Have a short break - you deserve it. Walk around the room or the garden - but don't watch TV. You can do that for the rest of your life, when you finally qualify. Begin again as you started, working for 10 or 15 minutes without interruption and you'll do it again with another 30 minutes of pure study and progress under your belt, or even longer.

Time management is important. All of us "waste" time to a greater or lesser degree and you are likely to be no different from anyone else. But if you grab the 15- or 30-minute periods throughout the day that you currently fritter away, enormous gains can be made.

Use the 30 minutes between arriving home and having your evening meal for one of your concentrated study sessions. Go to the school library for 30 minutes before classes start each day or during the lunch break. Any one of these would give you two-and-a-half hours of quality study time over a week, without even encroaching on your evenings or weekends. A combination of these will give you even more time.

By doing this, you could leave some evenings free for recreation, which we all need. A balance between work and play is important, and it can be achieved by planning ahead.

First, you need to know what you have to do and the time you have available. The syllabus book from the exam board will tell you what you have to do and past exam papers will show the sort of questions asked.

Do as many of these as possible to improve your technique and to ensure that you can do them in the time allowed. But before you get to that stage, you will have to get your own notes in order so that information can be retrieved quickly and efficiently.

Use a highlighter and write separate notes with the important details that you will need. You could make a chart to keep track of your progress.

Work with a friend if it helps, but make sure that you work. Vary the topics that you study in an evening and move on if you become stuck. Consult your teacher about any difficulty. Your parents, a neighbour or a friend's parents may be able to help. Do not be frightened to ask.

The writer is director of public relations for the Associated Examining Board and co-author of 'How to do better in Exams'. For a free copy write to Dept XDC, Barclays Bank, CRSD, Marefair, Northampton NNI ISG, quoting reference AEB1.

S T U D E N T' S C H E C K L I S T

l Work for 10 minutes only - initially.

l Use spare 15- or 30-minute periods to study.

l Know what you have to do and the time you have.

l Build recreation into your study programme.

l Track your progress and ask for help when needed.

l Work with a friend, if it helps, and you really do work.

P A R E N T' S C H E C K L I S T

l Be seen and not heard. Tea and a sympathetic ear helps.

l Don't nag or try to take control

l Don't offer bribes, like exotic holidays, mountain bikes, driving lessons or money. They don't work and actually add pressure.

l Provide a supportive environment

l Be part of the solution - not the problem.