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Studying can be a challenging task, especially for students with learning disabilities, autism, ADHD or any other difficulty that may impact on their performance. Exams can also be very stressful. Stress is a normal response to exams but stress and anxiety may be more prevalent in those with disabilities because of the new challenges that come with studying and sitting an exam. Exams may be new; they are often sat in an unfamiliar environment at a different time, with new environmental stimuli – lights, sounds and smells. Exam questions might be phrased different or the response might be required in a new format. Executive functioning difficulties common in autism, ADHD and many learning disabilities, can make planning, organising and prioritising difficult in an exam (e.g. spending too much time on the first essay and not leaving enough time to answer subsequent questions). Being prepared for an exam can help minimize stress – we have put together some tips for preparing with exams.
Practical strategies for study
- Practice the exam at home using past exams if you have access to these.
- Prepare essays in advance if the questions are known
- Study in a similar environment to the exam (i.e. quiet space with minimal distractions).
- Use techniques to create associations between new information with familiar concepts.
- Break concepts and topics into small manageable sections.
- Crazy phrases-Helpful for remembering a list of items in order. For example a sentence to remember the planets in order could be My Very Eager Mother Just Served us Nine Pizzas ; Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.
- Acronyms- When the order of information doesn’t matter you can create a word out of the first letter of each item that will help prompt retrieval e.g. MRS C GREN (an acronym used to remember necessary features of living organisms; Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Cells, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion and Nutrition)
- Using visuals such as mind maps, charts or diagrams.
- Colour code relevant information into segments.
- Make flash cards with definitions of concepts and practicing reciting these
- Watch a video on the topic to see how someone else explains it.
- Draw cartoons or pictures or symbols to add meaning to new ideas.
Other useful tips for preparing
- Find out the time and place of the exam well in advance
- Find out what the procedures will be (and practice these)
- Make a list of things to take to the exam (e.g. stationery, water).
- Practice relaxation techniques for managing anxiety (e.g. breathing, visualization).
- If it is going to be an early test – get up that same time for weeks in advance.
- Give yourself enough time to study – start early.
NCEA also offers internal credits so speak to your school if exams are a concern to you and your child. They can also have set up special assessment conditions for your child. Please note that this is a general overview of difficulties people may experience and strategies that may be useful for studying. Contact us if you require any specific information tailored specifically to your child and their diagnosis.
Article by Rebecca Armstrong MAppPsy, Parent to Parent Researcher