Ask Susan: ‘I Find it Difficult to Study for Exams’

Dear Aunt Susan,

My mom suggested I write to you. I am in Grade 10 and every time we write exams I find it very difficult. There’s even a lump in my stomach because of all the stress. I find it difficult to start studying and because of that I always seem to have too little time. My marks are not good. My mom had me tested, and there is nothing wrong with me. I have dreams of studying law, but if I continue to do so poorly I may have to bury that dream.

Carin


Dear Carin,

Queen of the Andes

Whatever you do, hold on to your dreams. Some people blossom early, others only later in life. The ‘Queen of the Andes’ is a rather small plant, but once it blooms, it grows to be up to 30 feet high! Maybe you only need to change a few things so that you too, can start blooming.

One of the most common reasons students find it difficult to study, is because of a lack of concentration. Once you start studying it is important to stay focused and not let your thoughts wander.

Wandering thoughts when you have to study

There are different reasons why your thoughts may wander when you have to study:

  • Things and events that distract your attention and make you lose focus: Voices, movements, a phone that rings, loud music etc. Get rid of these distractions!
  • A lack of training and practice: Concentration is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced.
  • A lack of motivation and a lack of interest in the subject matter: You may not like the subject, may find that you are not good at it and therefore you do not want to study it; if you are not interested you will find it very difficult, even impossible, to concentrate.
  • Your brain is overladen: You try to learn too much in too little time.
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Effective concentration

To really concentrate effectively, you have to do the following:

  • Divide the work into smaller parts and do not try to memorize everything in one session.
  • According to research we achieve the best results if we also divide our time into equal parts; those who alternate a long study session with a short one will remember less that those who divide their study periods more proportionally. You may want to study for 30 minutes, relax for 10 minutes and then start the next 30-minute session. Do not even think about your studies during your 10-minute breaks.
  • Every now and then test your knowledge about the work you have already studied, to make sure that you remember it. Once you reach a point where you really remember everything, keep on studying; this will ensure that you do not forget parts of the work come tomorrow or the day after. By doing this you give your brain the opportunity to concentrate and absorb information, and afterwards to relax while the information is entrusted to your memory.
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How to enhance your concentration

You can also do the following to enhance your concentration:

  1. Find a comfortable, pleasant place where you can study, a place where there will not be any distractions to lure your attention. Make it a habit to use this place for all your homework and studying.
  2. Ensure that there is enough light and that you enjoy fresh air.
  3. Eliminate all noise, and especially music, while you study.
  4. Try to develop an active interest in the subject that you are studying.
  5. Set realistic goals and ensure that you reach them.
  6. Use all your senses: Write out what you have to learn and draw diagrams, pictures, cartoons of the subject matter, so that you can see it; say it out loud – or chant parts of it or sing it to a simple tune – so that you can hear it; and use your body, for example your hands, to physically emphasize the words so you can almost feel the subject.
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Regards,

Susan


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More about Susan

Susan is an educational specialist in the field of learning problems and dyslexia and has a B.A. Honors in Psychology and B.D. degree from the University of Pretoria. Early in her professional career Susan was instrumental in training over 3000 teachers and tutors, providing them with the foundational and practical understanding to facilitate cognitive development amongst children who struggle to read and write. With over 25 years of research to her name Susan conceptualized the Edublox teaching and learning methods that have helped thousands of children who were struggling academically to read, learn and achieve. In 2007, Susan opened the first Edublox reading and learning clinic and now there are 25 Edublox clinics internationally. Her proudest moments are when she sees a child who had severe learning difficulties come top of their class after one or two years at Edublox. Susan always takes time to collect the ‘hero’ stories of learners whose self-esteem is lifted as their marks improve.