The country’s latest cohort of aspiring matriculants have started to write the 2016 National Senior Certificate examinations, probably the most knife-edge experience of their education so far.
This six-week process doesn’t just test what South African teens have learnt over the past 12 years; it also puts their self-esteem, outlook on life, courage and resilience on trial.
Raydene Naidoo, counselling psychologist and head of Work Integrated Learning at SACAP (the South African College of Applied Psychology) provides tips on how the current Grade 12 class can prepare for the mental, physical and emotional rigours ahead:
1. Know Yourself
“Before you draw up your study schedule, it’s important to take the time to do some self-reflection. You need to think about things like how much sleep you need, the activities that are important to supporting your well-being and whatever else you need to operate at your best academically,” she advises.
Think about, and then also make a list of your strengths and your weaknesses. This is very important because you want to make study plans and devise a schedule that optimises your strengths and mitigates your weaknesses.
For instance, it doesn’t help to decide to follow a recommended study schedule that involves four-hour blocks of dedicated study time if you are prone to get restless after an hour. It might work well for your friend, but if you do that, you are likely to study effectively for just one hour, and then waste three hours of every four-hour block you have scheduled with your struggles to keep focused and still.
You need to know yourself well, so that you are empowered to customize a study schedule that works optimally for you. If you know that you are distracted after an hour, you can devise a schedule that gives you regular short breaks that enable you to return to your desk and effectively pick up when you left off.”
2. Identify your peak times
“We all have particular times of day when we are most effective, and this differs from person to person. For instance, some people are raring to go in the mornings while others struggle to get themselves started. Some fade in the evenings and others find that they are highly productive at night when life around them is quieter and still.
“Once you know your peak times, schedule your most challenging studies exactly then, while topics and subjects that are much easier for you can be scheduled during your off-peak hours.”
3. Don’t just think about it, create your study timetable, share it and commit to it
“Give real form to your study timetable. Map it out in a graphic form. Make sure it includes your study breaks and covers all the work you need to do. Stick it up prominently in your study space so that you can see where you are at any moment, at a glance,” advises Naidoo.
Think of it as your trusty guide to help ensure you don’t get any last-minute surprises or setbacks. Sharing it with your peers and family members can also help to keep you on a committed track.
Monitor your progress on a daily basis. Some shifts and adjustments may be necessary in practice, but you need to make sure at all times that you have got all your topics and subjects covered according to the priorities.”
4. Plan for balance
Naidoo says study will take precedence over a lot of other things in your life at this time. However, you still need some balance in your life, and you can plan for this. It is important to look after your mental and emotional well-being as this affects your intellectual performance.
Even though you need to be very focused on your studies, you will still need time to relax, time for physical activity and time for socializing. While you will probably have to cut back on those times, you shouldn’t eliminate them completely. While you may not be able to spend three hours playing soccer four times a week, you can find the ways to schedule four ten minute runs around your neighbourhood that will help you to keep active, relieve stress and re-energise you.
“While you won’t be able to ‘binge-watch’ the latest TV series, you can still make the time to watch a favourite programme every now and then. And while, late-night parties are probably not the best idea while you are studying for matric, you can still schedule shorter, lower-key occasions in the company of friends that give perspective and provide support.”
5. Commit to your well-being
“Studying for, and writing your matric exams will probably rate as one of the most stressful experiences of your life. There’s no better time than to care deeply and well about yourself. The upside is that in being tested this way, you have the opportunity to discover new and deeper aspects of your strength and resilience.
You can think of the experience as being on a ‘Hero’s Journey’ where you want to be facing challenges with all your wits about you so that you can achieve the best results possible. For that to happen, you need to ensure your physical and emotional health. It’s important to eat healthily, get enough sleep, be physically active and feel connected to the people who support your success in life.”
Parents play an important role in supporting their matriculants and ensuring that they go into the exams in the best frame of mind possible. Naidoo has some tips to help parents best support their matriculant:
1. When facing a stressed and anxious matriculant, replace a ‘been there, done that, now you can too’ approach with ‘I understand’ and encouragement;
2. Acknowledge your child’s efforts. Noticing and affirming their choices such as turning down a party to study or going for a quick run before getting back to the books can lift the spirits and instil confidence;
3. Keep your expectations about this particular child’s Matric process and outcomes realistic and make adjustments if they are not. Each child is different, and your child currently going through matric won’t be going through it like older siblings might have;
4. See where you can help by temporarily relieving your matriculant of time-consuming family responsibilities. For instance, it is likely to be appreciated if they are not expected to say, babysit younger siblings as they might usually do;
5. Model a healthy balance by inviting them out for walk or suggesting watching a favourite TV programme when they’ve been locked in studies for hours.