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Tests and exams

tests; exams; focus; motivation; concentration;


What's the difference?

Tests are used to help you and the teacher. They let you know if you have understood something that you have been learning and they help the teacher plan what needs to be done to help you.

In Primary school you may have tests like spelling, tables, comprehension (say com-pre-hen-shun). Comprehension means how much you have understood from reading and listening.

Tests are a way of making sure you have the right tools to do a job.

Exams are usually rather more formal.

You may take exams in a variety of subjects eg. music, karate, first aid, to see if you have reached that level and can move on to the next.

You may sit an exam to see if you can go to a particular high school.

When you get older you may sit exams in year 11 or 12 to see whether you score high enough to go on to University or further study.

Exams can be written, oral, practical or even all three. Practical means that you can show what you know by doing something. Oral is when you have to say the answer out loud, eg to show that you can understand a language you are learning.

Stress and pressure

Some people seem to be really good at tests and exams. Some people are not. This could be because they haven't done enough work or studied hard enough but it can also mean that they really have problems doing exams or even tests.

Everyone feels nervous about tests and exams but some people just become so stressed that they do badly even though they have worked really hard and know the work.

Stress gets in the way of them being able to do their best.

If you get really stressed then look at the topic 'Stress - learning to relax' for some tips.

How to prepare

  • Get into the habit of doing homework properly and in time. Our topic about Homework may help you.
  • Ask the teacher if you don't understand something.
  • Ask the teacher how to improve your work.
  • Have a tidy study area at home where you haven't got heaps of stuff around to distract you - distract is another way of saying side-tracked or getting off task.
  • Studying with someone can be helpful, but only if you stick to the task, otherwise working alone is best. You will have to do the test or exam on your own.
  • Plan and make a timetable for study time, leisure time and physical activity time so that you keep a balance in your life.
  • Are you a 'morning lark' or a 'night owl'? Make your study time when you are most alert and energetic. If you are tired and sleepy when you are studying you are wasting your time.
  • Cramming stuff into your brain just before a test or exam doesn't work. You are more likely to forget what you have already learned and go into a panic.
  • Work on the hard stuff first and save the subjects you enjoy for after.
  • Practise out loud if you have to do an oral presentation, try it out on family and friends so that you build up your confidence.
  • Practise on old exam papers, if you can, so that you will feel more confident about recognizing what to do.

Nowadays we are all used to looking things up on the internet. But we still have to use our own memories, especially during tests and exams. So learn, practise and remember.

Know what to expect

What kind of test or exam is it?

  • A simple 1 - 20 like a spelling test?
  • Multiple choice questions, where you are given lots of answers and have to choose the best fit?
  • Do you have to write or tick or circle?
    studying for a test

Get hold of last year's test so that you know what kind of thing to expect.

  • In South Australia there are Literacy and Numeracy tests in years 3, 5, 7 and 9, known as NAPLAN. Your teacher will probably show you what old tests look like and help you practise how to read the instructions, follow them and find out which areas you need to work on.
  • Some time after these tests you will get a printout. This will show you the areas in which you did really well, what you need to practise more and what you need to learn.
  • Exams in music etc, are usually very clear about what you need to achieve to pass that level. Your teacher or coach will make sure that you know what to expect.
    the classroom

On the day

  • Stay calm.
  • Read all instructions carefully.
  • Read all questions carefully.
  • Read both sides of each page.
  • Work out which questions you will answer if you have a choice.
  • Do a quick plan if you have to write an essay or story. Just write down key words so that you stay on track and don't ramble on and on!
  • Answer all the compulsory questions - the ones you have to answer.
  • Some exams give points for right answers but take points off for wrong answers. Is this that kind of test? Ask the teacher before you start. If you are not sure of an answer it may be better to leave it out.

Check your work when you have finished, starting with the instructions to make sure you did what you were asked to do.

  • Did you have to answer every question, some questions, or a number of questions from each section? Check that you have done this.
  • Check your spelling and punctuation. Have you missed any words out and does it make sense?

If you feel a panic coming on then practise breathing slowly and deeply until you feel better.

If you finish early, give yourself a few minutes to relax then start checking your work. Finishing first may give you a lift but… did you do both sides, get answers in the right order, etc?

Helping your parents

Parents and caregivers want you to do well. They want to help you do well.

They can be great at lots of things when you are doing a test. They can hear you practise, time you, watch you and encourage you.

As you get older parents may not be able to help in these ways any more for a variety of reasons.

Some parents who still want to be really helpful think that they can help if they…well…nag you! You know the sort of thing I mean.
"Have you done your homework?"
"You can't work with that loud music, switch it off."
"Go and study now!"

You can help your parents by:

  • Showing them that you have regular study habits.
  • Showing them your study plan with the built in leisure and activity time.
  • Getting them to test you on some things.
  • Asking them to be an audience.
  • Letting them see you studying.
  • Showing what you are doing.
  • Teaching them about what you have learnt. (Hey! It's fun to be the 'expert' for a change and it will help you too as you may have to find different ways to help them understand.)
    studying for tests

What kids say

  • "I like tests. They're OK." Alice
  • "Always have a good sleep before the day of the exam. You don't want to be tired." Joran
  • "Don't start trying to learn the day before the test."
  • "Keep trying and you might pass!" Samantha
  • "I don't like doing a test because I get scared." Della
  • "My mum nags me when I do my homework. "Yak, yak, yak," "Yes mum".
  • "I like tests because I like the maths and spelling in them." Sam
  • "Keep on concentrating, study a lot and have a lot of sleep."
  • "I sit down and start learning as soon as I know there's a test."

Dr Kate says

Tests can really help you to know where you are at and what you need to do to improve.

Exams can be really stressful because they are usually something that you need to pass if you want to go on to the next level.

Nowadays high school exams are not as scary as they used to be because term work can be counted too. If you work really hard during the year and keep up well, then everything will not depend on the exam results. And if you don't do as well as you hoped it isn't the end of the world. There are many pathways to your chosen career and many ways to reach your goal.

Have confidence in yourself, ask for help and advice along the way and KEEP TRYING!

Don't say 'I can't do this'. Say 'I can't do this YET'. You owe it to yourself to be the best you can be.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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