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Many thousands of matrics are starting to wake up to the realisation that trouble looms large on the horizon because they have not sufficiently prepared for their final exams. But although the temptation might be to just throw in the towel, there is still hope for achieving results you can be proud of, an educational expert says.

“Not everyone will approach their exam knowing that they have done all they could to prepare over the past 12 years, and this gives rise to tremendous anxiety,” says Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of the Independent Institute of Education.

But by changing your mindset and taking five important steps, your marks could still qualify you for entry into a stimulating field and exciting career, she says.

Students who have procrastinated until the bitter end (and many highly intelligent young people fall into this category) should immediately do the following (now, not tomorrow):

1) Breathe, accept your situation, and resolve to do all you can to rectify it

As with many problems, the first step required for change is acknowledgment of the problem. “Be honest with yourself and face the fact that you have not yet done enough to do as well as you would have liked. Then, resolve to throw all you have into making these last few weeks count. That means being ruthless about distractions, and studying like you have never studied before. It is only a few weeks from your life, but they are a few weeks that could make a world of difference to your future prospects.”

2) Assess the damage

Look at all your subjects and at all the materials you need to study. Again, be ruthless. Make sure that you have not forgotten anything. Once you know what you have to work with and what you need to catch up on, move on to step 3 (and don’t feel overwhelmed).

3) Take time to draw up a study roster

Forget “rest time”, party time and staying up to date with “important” TV shows, Candy Crush or your friends and frenemies’ facebook updates. All your time should now be focused on your final exam, and only your final exam.

“There will be plenty of time to play once you’re done – and then you’ll deserve it,” says Coughlan. “Allow yourself to draw up a detailed study roster which includes time for a second round of revision, if possible. But don’t spend all your time planning either! It’s time to get to work.”

4) Now stick to it

Once you’ve drawn up your study roster, you may realise that things are not as bleak as you imagined them to be, and that you still have adequate time left to study. But don’t be drawn into procrastination again, Coughlan warns. “Your roster is your lifeline now, and you should cling to it and make it work for you.”

5) For best results, study using the PROVE method

  • Practise by writing past papers or example questions rather than just reading
  • Refresh by making sure you are eating, sleeping and exercising enough (but beware of using these activities to procrastinate!)
  • Organise yourself, your time and your work. Having a neat working environment and a clear plan for what you need to do and study every day, as well as having the relevant materials sorted and on hand, will go a long way to reduce anxiety and optimise your learning.
  • Visualise by using colour and mind maps and other strategies rather than just words, so that you can use more of your brain, and
  • Explain by answering questions or telling friends or relatives about your work. It is not until you have tried to explain what you know that you can assess if you know enough to answer the questions.

“It is possible that you have neglected your work to such a degree that you could potentially no longer qualify for studying in the field that you wanted,” says Coughlan.

“However every effort you make now will ensure your chances are improved, and that you could enter another field that could prove equally if not more satisfying, or that you could work your way back into your first choice of course by, for instance, first studying for a qualification that will give you entry into your field of dreams.

“If you put in the work now you may very well find that you still have fantastic options available to you when your results arrive, and you’ll be in a position to make decisions about your future knowing that when it counted, you put in your very best effort and it paid off. And even if it is too late to make your Plan A work immediately, you still have enough time to give Plan B your best shot.