By Laetitia L ESF
On Monday the 18th February, the Frankfurt S7 started writing their PreBAC exams: two dazed weeks that passed in a rush from one subject to another, with mathematical expressions merging into sleep and waking merging into a writing-fever as soon as the orange digits of the aula’s clock turned from 8:59 to 9:00.
Now that rush is slipping into hazy memory, though as I write, there are only one and a half weeks between then and now. We may know what we have achieved, but we also know what we will have to do again in the spring, when we will once again sit amidst the rows of tables in our aula. That is, if COVID-19 doesn’t intervene.
So, what mistakes have we made this time? What could we have done better? What went well?
For all future and current students, I’m writing down some of the most useful lessons I’ve learnt about studying, preparing yourself, and writing the PreBAC. For the few to whom these will be truly new, I hope you will glean something that will help you succeed.
- Start Early. Here’s How.
You don’t need to spend every spare minute hunched over your books or peering at the computer to achieve excellent marks. But it will help to start early.
The best technique to do that is either to make notes when you finish a topic in school, when the teaching is still fresh on your mind, or to decide on a deadline when you want to start making your months. For example, four months in advance. Four months??!!
Yes. This will make studying less intense and more consistent. You’ll be able to shuffle through your notes from time to time, ingraining more information with less effort. If you’re lucky, you’ll even be able to spend the last month before the exams, not with learning the information, but with applying it. Practice, practice, practice from your school’s BAC archive.
And if you’re a procrastinator, treat studying like homework: one small bit at a time. Today, put “L1: choosing quotes,” on your homework list. Tomorrow, put “Biology” on the Friday slot in your homework calendar, and take a break in between.
- Specify how you want to study for every exam
Different subjects require different study techniques, some of which are less time-consuming than others. For me, I need to:
- Practice for Maths
- Have a mix of note-making and practice for Chemistry
- Make notes, memorise dates with flashcards and research topics for History
- Learn vocabulary and write for the languages
- Make posters, read (“Campbell Biology”) and practice with old exams for Biology.
The last is in italics, because I discovered this revising technique just this year – and it is much less time-consuming than note-writing, with a similar outcome. So, if you have biology as a subject, give it a try! Hang some colourful posters up on your walls and, from time to time, allow your gaze to sweep over them.
- If you’re on holiday, build a routine.
“A few days break. I promise, just a few days. I’ll be productive afterwards – I really will. I promise.”
The main problem for students is starting a study routine when you just want to take a break. Telling yourself you’ll study now. Even if you really don’t want to.
The best way to manage some work every day, in my opinion, is to give yourself the morning off and set up a working time in the afternoon. “Every day at 13:00,” I told myself, “I’ll be at the desk.” And at 13:00, I was always there (bar Christmas day), writing notes for history, researching the workings of pH indicators or practicing math PreBAC questions. It felt productive, but still free because of the morning I could spend as I liked.
Bonus: the strict timing will also change the feeling of going to your desk from a dreary chore, driven by your fear or your sense of obligation, to a general part of your day.
- Build your confidence.
Before the exams, many students silently spiral into doubts about their performance. I don’t know this. I can’t do math. I’m never going to manage!
But how are you going to do well if you don’t believe you can?
So, try to get into the habit of telling yourself something kind, something positive, at random intervals during the day. That you are good at chemistry, even if you don’t believe it yet. That your brain is capable. That you are intelligent. That you will do well.
You don’t need to be cocky. But won’t it feel better to come in knowing you can do this? You are the only one with the power to change your belief in yourself. What’s stopping you?
- Sleep and Take Breaks
It may seem impossible to sleep at 21:00 but setting my alarm half an hour earlier – and not needing to learn every detail on the day before the exam – made it possible. And it’s never a bad idea to start doing this a couple of weeks before the exams, establishing a rhythm and giving your brain sleep-reserves.
Of course, there are hundreds of ways sleep will elude you. But there are also hundreds of ways to combat insomnia. Try to have fun with new techniques to fall asleep: imagine an image and let it move; count your favourite movie characters; invent a new creature in your head. Allow yourself to be creative.
And if you haven’t slept well in several days, take a social break in the evening. Phase 10 with my family did the trick on the day before my history exam, finally dispelling the numbers and equations from my dreamscape.
- Exam Technique
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, know which techniques may save you from losing marks while writing the exam, some of which are:
- Work out how long you want to work on each part of the exams, whose structure you’ll know about beforehand (e.g. the languages).
- Read the question, highlight the key points (especially the command words), answer the question, and reread the question and your answer to see if you answered what was actually being asked. True, this will take a few seconds, but it’ll save you some points if you can’t check back over your work later.
- Try a question, but if it’s taking too long, highlight it and skip to the next one.
- Don’t leave any questions blank! If you don’t know what the right answer is, guess. Even a response that seems silly could get you some marks.
Lastly, calm down. Be kind to yourself. You can do this.