Studying for Exams in Boarding – From the Head of Boarding


Applying the Five Ps and More – ‘Perfect preparation predicts powerful performance’

This is an old saying, but how do boarders prepare for exams in the boarding setting? This is a timely question, as Year 12 Mock exams are now underway and Year 11 final exams will be coming up early in next term.

There has been some very good information published for both students and parents about preparing for exams.  This article from Head of Boarding, Leanne McTavish, looks at how this advice can be applied specifically to boarders.

I think all of the following are very important during exam time.

  1. Try not to look at the mountain. Thinking about the total number of exams still to do, or the number of chapters still to revise or the hours of study ahead in the coming months can be an overwhelming thought. I encourage all students to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  Concentrate on the process. This might include a ‘to-do list’ for the day ahead. It definitely means thinking about the plan for the next hour of study. For example: “completing the short answer section of the 2017 WACE Economics exam”. Breaking study into small chunks like this gives a sense of achievement at the end of each hour.

When studying in a Boarding setting, students need to concentrate on their own study goals. Exams are about running your own race. Comparative conversations can cause some anxiety if the feeling is others are doing more.

  1. Keeping a good study routine is critical. A study timetable that sets out a daily plan helps significantly.  It means that preparation is planned and hopefully not left until the last minute. Boarding is so advantageous when trying to keep a routine.  The girls have been in a study routine since they began as boarders many years earlier. Study has been at the same time each day and they have been woken at the same time each day.  These are examples of how boarding teaches routine and because it is something the girls are well used to it becomes second nature by the time Year 11 and Year 12 are around.
  2. Look after yourself. At exam time it is so important for students to continue with exercise each day (hopefully in the fresh air), to get good sleep and eat regular, healthy meals. The temptation to snack on high sugar foods and, worse still, drink caffeinated drinks should be avoided.  Caffeinated drinks can certainly interfere with sleep quality.  The girls in Boarding are given three regular meals every day with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables served at dinner each day.  They do not need to spend time thinking about their own food.  The river is very close here at Santa Maria and this is a lovely place for the girls to exercise.
  3. Access assistance and resources. For each subject, students should keep a list of questions that they encounter that cause difficulty.  It is important to access help.
  • make an appointment to ask the teacher
  • perhaps get help from another expert source
  • refer to a textbook
  • look at a sample answer.



Once the question is sorted, appropriate notes/diagrams are made and practice has been tried, it can be crossed off the list. The Boarders again have a wonderful advantage. They have such close access to all of their teachers and other important school facilities.

  1. Two weeks prior to any exam, students should switch to doing actual exam questions. Notes can be placed to one side and used as assistance to answer early practice questions. Study closer to the exam should be done under exam conditions with time allocations taken into account.
  2. Parenting a Year 12 during exams can be an absolute rollercoaster of stress and tears and also relief and happiness. For boarding parents, these moments are often over the phone. It can feel like your response is not helping and the distance creates an unwanted barrier to the miracle hug. Please know that words of reassurance are very calming and most often an exam student is fine to carry on once they have offloaded (and unfortunately left mum/dad feeling shattered). Just by being on the end of a phone you are helping. But what should boarding parents say?
  • Encourage a boarder to do something for their own care…take a hot shower, make a cup of tea, go for a walk or have a nap. Whatever you know makes your child feel rejuvenated
  • Talk about today…. set some reasonable goals together for the immediate future. Take the focus off what has already happened and do not allow too much consideration of what’s ahead.
  • Tell your boarder some positives. Reassure them of their ability and how much they are loved

Parents should call the house supervisor and communicate concerns if they are still worried.
Lastly, a card or message that arrives close to the morning of the first exam can help settle the nerves.

  1. Be prepared. Boy scouts have a very helpful motto for exam students. Have a full new-ish set of stationary, fresh batteries in the required calculators, a water bottle that meets the required guidelines and something warm to pull on in the exam room if it gets cold.  It is much better to have all of this ready days before the exam. It creates stress if students are scrambling on the morning of an exam. Perhaps Boarding parents can send a “care pack” to the boarding house or make sure this is all sorted whilst the girls are home?







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