With the HSC in full swing, and year ten exams just around the corner, many of my clients are facing the pressure of exams. Here are my top-five tips for disabled students, to help you beat the exam blues. Most of them are appropriate for all students, so share them with your friends, and feel free to take the credit when they thank you.
Use the support you are offered
As a disabled student, you should have support in place that helps level the playing field for your exams. This can include being allowed extra time, sitting in your own room, having someone read or write for you, and even modified exam papers (this is not an exhaustive list). All of these supports are there to help you.
I’ve noticed that there is often a negative association with these supports. This can come from you feeling like you want to be treated no differently to other students. In some cases my clients are refusing to take the help offered because of the stigma they attach to it.
In short, you need to get over it.
This article by Stella Young tells her story about understanding that asking for help does not rob you of independence. Support for students with disabilities isn’t there to give you a different outcome- it’s there to help you achieve similar outcomes to other students through a different process. Every student has different approaches to study, and you should see your support mechanisms as another piece of your study approach. Use whatever you can to get the best results: that’s what every other student will be doing too.
Keep it regular
Whether you’re leaving school after your exams, or matriculating to the elective-rich environment of senior school or tertiary education, you’re in for some changes. You’ll be leaving a world of rigid timetables and spoon-fed homework assignments, and experiencing new freedom with how you organize your day. This means the responsibility of timetabling is (largely) yours.
Study vacations, free periods, non-exam days: these are not downtime. Plan your day so that you are keeping hours fairly similar to those you did at school. One of my clients, whose disability makes timetabling a real challenge, came up with the simple solution of sticking exactly to her class timetable. This means she’ll gradually get more free time as she completes each exam. You may be able to afford yourself a little more flexibility than this: do whatever works best for you.
Put down the books
This tip ties in very closely with the last, and it’s simple. You need to find downtime in your schedule. Remember that bit in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones where Jango Fett launches a seismic charge at Obi-Wan in the asteroid field?
Yes, I’m a nerd. Let’s move on.
That section of the film is remarkable because of how it sounded. For just a moment, there wasn’t any sound at all- total silence is very rare in film. It made the sound that came afterward spectacular and memorable. The designer talks about it here.
Scheduling yourself some relaxation time makes you more effective when you are working. Don’t feel guilty when you update your Facebook status, you’re actually helping your brain to refocus on the task at hand. The trick is to make your downtime part of your schedule and stick to it. And maybe check out the new Star Wars Blu-rays. They’re awesome.
Your body is a temple, not a schoolies party (yet)
This tip applies to everyone, but is particularly important if you have a tailored diet or take medication to help manage your disability. Everything you eat and drink has a direct effect on you. At this time of your life, energy drinks and time-compressing snacks seem like attractive choices, but you’re probably doing your exam chances more harm than good.
You need sleep, and given the stress you’re under, that sleep won’t come easy. Those of you that suffer anxiety or other mental health conditions are especially vulnerable right now. Help yourself by maintaining a healthy diet- this means cutting down on sugar and other stimulants. Most importantly, maintain your usual medications and be aware of the contraindications they can involve. Now is not a good time to be sick if you can help it.
You’re ready already
I’m sure you’ve had teachers, tutors, and other mentors tell you this, but it’s worth repeating. Cramming will get you nowhere. If you don’t know it now, you probably won’t know it on exam day.
This is just fine. The fact is, you’ve been preparing for these exams for a long time, and you’re ready.
In many ways, if you’re living with a disability, you’ve got an advantage over those who don’t in terms of your preparation for exams. You know what adversity and pressure can do, because you deal with it every day. The exams are just another thing that you can deal with. You have the training and expertise to manage your disability- and that’s a far bigger test than anything the Board of Studies can throw at you.
Breathe, and relax. You’ve got this covered.
If you have any great tips for surviving exams, please post a comment.