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Aug 24

With Matric mock exams looming large, an expert says there are a few ways to optimise limited study time during exams without resorting to cramming.

"While cramming may seem the most natural thing to do between papers, it is actually counter-productive and likely to increase anxiety and fatigue," says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information and Communications Technology at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education institution.*

She says there are creative – and entertaining - ways in which learners can utilise their time between papers, which will also ensure they maintain a good work-life balance during this taxing time.

"The most important thing to do just before the exams, is to take stock of where you are at, and then draw up a detailed roster for the next few weeks, which clearly shows how much time you have available between subjects. Then you need to decide how you are best going to use that time to ensure your preparation goes beyond reading textbooks over and over again."

Payne says there are 3 great ways to study while exams are in full swing, which go beyond repetitive and rote learning.


"By getting social, we don't mean diving into facebook or Instagram," she says.

Instead, learners should form study groups for individual subjects, which will allow them to take their understanding beyond the books.

"Set up a WhatsApp challenge with your friends, where you can send each other questions about a subject. This facilitates valuable discussions, deepening insight and highlighting areas you may have missed. Keep it fun but focused, and see if you can 'trip up' your friends with your questions. While it might not be so much fun finding out that there is something your friends know that you don't, this method helps you identify areas need work before it is too late." 


It is very important to exercise during exams, to give your body and mind a break. If you share a study timetable with your friends, you can optimise your time by, for instance, going for a run together during which time you can talk over upcoming papers, points you don't understand, and questions you believe are likely to arise.

"It is important that you and your friends synchronise your timetables, so that your breaks coincide for the most part. By ensuring your downtime is scheduled at the same time as theirs, you avoid a situation where you want to have a chat when they are focused on their work and vice versa," says Payne.

She adds that, by having the same breaks, learners can also act as a conscience for each other to check that everyone is working when they should be, as having to account to them may give one that extra bit of motivation to keep going.

"Then, when taking breaks together, you can talk over issues in a low-pressure environment such as while exercising. Your friends may have valuable insights and support to provide, just as you may be able to help them with your own unique insights. 

"Getting active together while not losing focus of the task at hand means you benefit from the feel-good chemicals released in your brain as a result of exercising and socialising, while at the same time increasing your depth of understanding of a subject," says Payne.


One of the best ways to cement your preparation with limited time on hand, is to write past exam papers, Payne says.

"Get your friends together and hold a mock exam, imitating the exam conditions with set times and no peeking in textbooks. Afterwards, switch papers with each person marking another's paper. This approach has the dual benefit of making you more comfortable with exam conditions, while also solidifying your knowledge in a low-pressure environment."

"It is very important to spread your time between all your subjects, and to not go down the rabbit hole of getting lost in only one subject, for instance Mathematics," says Payne. 

"At this stage of the game, balance is key, and goes a long way towards countering the negative impact of stress and anxiety.

"If you are serious about achieving the best marks to enable you access to the post-school opportunities you desire, introducing creative study methods such as the above will go a long way toward not only improving your performance, but also to cultivate a love of learning for its own sake, which is vitally important in a rapidly changing world of work," says Payne.


The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) is a division of the JSE-listed ADvTECH Group, Africa's largest private education provider. The IIE is the largest, most accredited registered private higher education institute in South Africa, and the only one accredited by The British Accreditation Council (BAC), the independent quality assurance authority that accredits private institutions in the UK. By law, private higher education institutions in South Africa may not call themselves Private Universities, although registered private institutions are subject to the same regulations, accreditation requirements and oversight as Public Universities.

The IIE has a history in education and training since 1909, and its brands - Rosebank CollegeVarsity CollegeThe Business School at Varsity College and Vega - are widely recognised and respected for producing workplace-ready graduates, many of whom become industry-leaders in their chosen fields. The IIE offers a wide range of qualifications, from post-graduate degrees to short courses, on 20 registered higher education campuses across South Africa.

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