The fail-safe revision mistakes you should avoid

by Ilaria Lonigro - 2014.06.06
The fail-safe revision mistakes you should avoid
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There are just a few days to go before secondary school pupils take their high school diploma exams (maturità), which start in Italy on 18 June. Thousands of students are poring over textbooks for the final revision. It's a shame, however, that by doing this they're likely to unwittingly make some mistakes.

For example, it's a mistake to focus only on notes taken during the year. “For an excellent exam performance, you need different ideas: you should use varied sources and texts, not just the ones you studied in class,” says Antonella Beconi, who has passed a lot of final year exams: 22 to be precise, as a teacher of English and German, before becoming, eight years ago, a professor of Italian at various universities in Europe and Australia. But the errors school leavers need to watch out for don't end there.

“Last-minute revision won't change much. The important thing is to study regularly throughout the year,” she says. A day before the exam, it's a good idea to shut your books. It's a mistake to study the day before. It's much better to go for a nice walk with friends, to relax and not get stressed,” she concludes.

Psychologist and psychotherapist Chiara Cimbro agrees. “You shouldn't spend all your time inside revising by yourself, nor should you be out all the time to distract yourself. The trick is to study consistently and regularly but to have breaks to refresh yourself and think about other things,” she advises. She adds that a common mistake is to ignore your body's warning signals. “You shouldn't draw up rigid schedules and unchangeable timetables for daily study: it's essential to listen to your body, which tells us when it needs sleep, food or fun.”

What about comparisons with classmates? According to the psychologist it's wrong to use your friends as your benchmark for revision. “It's ok to talk about it, so long as you know that each person has a different educational journey during their years at high school.”

And once exams have started, don't lose your concentration. “Don't go all out in the first exam, with the risk of burning out after the first few. Pace your physical and mental energies throughout all the exams, both written and oral,” warns Chiara Cimbro. Lastly, whatever the final results, for better or worse, keep things in perspective. The psychologist says assuringly: “Your high school diploma grade is only one small part of your life. A common mistake is to think that this is the only occasion you have in life to show what you can do: it's not, there will be many more.”

A week before the exams, it looks like a herd of elephants just ran through your room? It doesn't matter. Psychotherapist Lucia Portella says: “It's important to ask at home to be supported and relieved of family duties.” The night before the big day, do you feel like you don't know anything? “Obviously that's not the case. It's enough to look over the chapter summaries of your subjects,” says the psychotherapist, who believes that breathing exercises can beat stress. During oral exams, avoid speaking too quickly. “Promise yourself you will speak slowly, so you can find better links between one subject and another,” says Portella.

Another important tip on dealing with anxiety comes from Francesco Salvadori, child and adolescent psychiatrist and psychotherapist. “On no account take anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines. Besides causing attention and memory loss, they take away your 'fighting instinct', which is how anxiety helps us cope with life's difficulties, including school exams,” says the doctor. And remember: “Do not listen to anxious classmates who spread panic with anecdotes and urban legends. Remember that the exams aren't there to fail school leavers, but to give them credit for their preparation.”

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