The SchoolsCompared Revision Guide 2022. Part 2: The Motivation Toolbox and How to dig yourself out of a revision rut when it all gets too much.
If revision pressures make you feel unable to focus, low on motivation to study, or simply too stressed to think, you’re really not alone. Even the best of us falls victim to procrastination from time to time. But unless you nip it in the bud, it’s all too easy for one bad day to degenerate into ongoing avoidance, which then creates a vicious circle as feelings of stress or panic make it harder to get back on track.
“Firstly, do not worry,” says Alessandro Capozzi, Head of Sixth Form at Kings InterHigh:
“Most students struggle at different times during their revision, and it is completely natural, but there are some habits you can develop to help.”
Here, some of the UAE’s top students and revision experts share their advice for digging yourself out of a revision slump:
Break it down
Alessandro Capozzi, Head of Sixth Form at Kings InterHigh says:
“Try breaking down your revision topics into smaller chunks so they feel less daunting, and you build in motivational ‘mini successes’ when you complete a chunk. How to do this? Break subjects into subtopics on your revision timetable, planning out time to cover individual units and breaking it down into smaller topics – rather than just stating ‘History’. This also means you’ve mapped out how you will cover all the content you have been taught – very neat!”
Work out why
Use the “Five Why Analysis” to work out what’s causing your tendency to procrastinate, says Jemma Arnold, Head of Year 11, GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis:
“I would start by asking the student if there are any barriers that might be causing their lack of motivation or focus. Quite often, if we can identify the root cause, we can find solutions to these barriers that are leading to these feelings. To facilitate such conversations, I sometimes use a technique called the Five Why Analysis, which involves sitting with a student with a stack of sticky notes to help them identify why they feel how they feel. This can go a long way to helping them feel heard and valued, and can be a motivator in itself. Once we identify the root causes and barriers, we can work together, together with their parents if necessary, on the solutions.”
If you’ve been stuck in a revision rut for some time, consider talking to a teacher about it, or ask a parent or friend to go through the “Five Why” analysis with you – it’s a lot easier to do if you’ve got someone else there prompting you.
Tweak your mindset
Not all revision days will go well, says Rawan Najim, a Year 12 student at Al Bateen Academy who achieved Level 9s in all of his 10 IGCSE subjects.
“Appreciating the fact that the amount of work you do is going to vary from day to day is key. You will undoubtedly have bad days when you just can’t get anything done, but that’s ok. Instead of panicking and forcing it, just take a break, replenish your energy, and move forward. Do your best everyday but remember that your best changes from day to day and that’s fine. If you accept that and adjust your mindset accordingly, I truly believe you can achieve anything you set your mind to.”
Optimise your focus time
The dread of being chained to your desk for hours of revision can be enough to demotivate in itself. Instead of aiming for hours and hours of studying and feeling overwhelmed by the prospect, try just 25 minutes of studying at a time. This technique – known as the Pomodoro method – was one of the most popular recommendations from the top UAE students we spoke to.
“Research shows that for most people the optimal focus range is around 25-35 minutes, after which it will begin to exponentially deteriorate if you don’t take a break,” says Moeed Hafeez, a student at Al Yasmina Academy who achieved nine level 9s at GCSE and an A* in ICT. “The Pomodoro method is centre and around this idea. After every 25 minutes you can take a five-minute break doing something fun. In a way refreshing your focus and keeping you going. You could also work with friends who keep you accountable or use ‘study with me’ videos on YouTube.”
Look at your environment
“My biggest piece of advice if you’re struggling to focus would be to implement a small but valuable change to your system of revising,” says Vandana Subramanian, Tutor Class Representative, Student Head of Year 11, and Member of Student Council at GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis.
“For example, a change in your work environment can help you concentrate better. Organising your desk might motivate you to continue revising. Some people find it better to study with another person and encourage each other to keep studying. Get creative and come up with different ways to make learning fun for you; enjoying what you learn is sometimes the best motivator.”
Say “NO!” to the stress spiral
Stylianos Zuburtikudis, a 16-year-old Brighton College Abu Dhabi student who made it into the Top 15 of the World Scholar’s Cup competition in 2019, has some blunt, but sage, advice:
“It is easier to do a small chunk of revision than to stress about an exam.”
Refusing to give in to panic is advice echoed by Ibrahim Nour Eddin, a Year 12 student from Al Yasmina Academy in Abu Dhabi, who also recommends taking a more philosophical approach:
“I never stress out before exams as it is very inefficient. Although it is easier said than done, I try leaving the stress aside by partaking in a hobby or activity I enjoy, such as playing football. Remember that progress is the most vital part of your studies. It does not matter whether you are currently struggling, the most important thing is next time you make an improvement on your previous grades.”
Go to sleep
It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the most constructive thing you can do for your revision plan is to have a snooze. A burnt-out brain is not going to retain useful information, and sticking to a regular sleep schedule will help. Deeksha Chaudhuri, a Year 12 at Al Bateen Academy who received all Level 9s in her GCSEs, says:
“Please don’t exhaust yourself and overestimate how much you can study in a day. Everyone needs rest and time to relax even during exams! I made time to work out and practise my violin every day and had 30-minute breaks in between study sessions. You need to allow yourself, 8-9 hours of sleep every night. This will allow your brain to fully function the next day- your concentration levels will remain high and you will have more energy throughout the day. Do not make the mistake of staying up too late revision as this helps no one in the morning when you’re exhausted.”
Take a musical time out
When everything seems to be going wrong, take a restful, but time-limited, breather, says Nikoleta Todorova, a 15-year-old student at Brighton College Abu Dhabi who achieved a Silver award in the British Physics Olympiad. “When I am stressed, I usually go on YouTube and I listen to three of my favourite songs. After I listen to the songs, I return to my studies.”
Be gentle with yourself
Sometimes the stress of impending exams can make students think they have to endure a punishing revision regime, but you won’t see the benefits if you aren’t looking after yourself. Research says that skipping breakfast reduces pupil learning significantly – as does lack of sleep. Pupils should make sure they rest, eat well and even practice mindfulness to ensure they can approach exams calmly and with confidence. Rebecca Bendoumi, English Teacher at Al Mamoura Academy says:
“There has been a lot of research based on what foods we choose to eat and how we fuel our bodies during times of revision, it is important to eat a nourishing breakfast and healthy meals, making sure we are well hydrated by choosing water over caffeinated drinks like coffee, which trigger our fight or flight brain and causes more anxiety.
Know that it’s OK to be nervous
Exams are stressful, and today’s teens have been through a far more chaotic journey to get to these particular exams than any other cohort. But nervousness is part of the pressure – and that can be OK, says Ben Parkes, Deputy Head of the Senior School at Kent College Dubai:
“Nerves keep you focused. It is OK to feel nervous, in fact you should feel nervous! Nerves are a sign of your commitment to succeeding. Embrace them and when you sit in that exam hall, remind yourself that you know the information being asked of you. During an exam, if you lose your trail of thought, take a couple of seconds, realign your focus and then continue knocking it out of the park.”
The Motivation Toolbox – open when it all just gets too much…
Lacking in focus and motivation, or willpower starting to flag? These pearls of wisdom from educationalists, experts, subject specialists, students and school leaders were specially written for you to help and keep you on track.
“’The secret to getting ahead is getting started’. It is ultimately consistency that will get you the results that you want or doing a little each day rather than leaving everything to the last minute and feeling overwhelmed.”
Rebecca Bendoumi, English Teacher at Al Mamoura Academy
“Exams are daunting because learning is hard, as it should be – that’s why there’s a sense of achievement when you manage to solve a problem or learn something new and challenging!”
“If you’re feeling worried, ask for help now – it is not too late! As Audrey Hepburn commented, ‘Nothing is impossible: the word itself says ‘I’m possible!’”
Jennifer Connell – Assistant Head Secondary (Years 12-13), Brighton College Abu Dhabi
“The earlier pupils learn how to revise the better. All children will learn in a different way and that is exactly the same for revision, and the quicker they learn what works for them, the better their chances of success in exam situations.”
“And when parents ask me how they can support their child with revision, my answer is always the same – you just need to be there for them, showing unending patience, interest and enthusiasm.”
Mr Nicholas Radbourne, Director of Studies, Senior School, Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai
“I always tell my students: ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’ by Benjamin Franklin.”
Zaheera Haujee, Associate Assistant Principal – Curriculum and Achievement at Al Yasmina Academy
‘”It doesn’t matter what others are doing. It matters what YOU are doing.”
And be kind to yourself; as long as you are happy with your efforts, be proud of your results.’
Tim Hollis, Head of the Senior School at Kent College Dubai
“The most helpful piece of advice that I’ve been given is to study as hard as you can and be proud of whatever grade you’ve achieved because it’s YOUR best. Another piece of advice I’ve received is not to compare your grades with people so that you only have to meet your expectations and not others’.
Leena Safareeni, Al Yasmina Academy, who received seven grade 9s and one grade 8 at GCSE, plus Distinction in Media Production BTEC.
“The most helpful piece of advice that I have ever received is that you will always feel there is someone better, even if you’re Albert Einstein. So work the hardest YOU can, and try the best YOU can because at the end of the day you will know no matter what you gave yourself the best opportunity to succeed.”
Moeed Hafeez, Al Yasmina Academy (nine grade 9s at GCSE and A* in ICT)
“Everyone has been through the experience of studying for exams, and so there are lots of people you can reach out to for support. Always keep perspective on the challenges that you face, there are often many young people that have to contend with the same exam pressures as you, but also additional responsibilities and challenges based on factors such as their location, family background, income. Always be grateful for what you have, and believe that you can always overcome the hurdles.”
Amit Patel, Teacher of Economics & Head of Sixth Form at Brighton College Abu Dhabi
“Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations”
Mark Duffy, House Master and Teacher of Physical Education at Brighton College Abu Dhabi
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