What are exams? Exams are a memory exercise of what knowledge we have learnt. However, if you are dyslexic and have a poor memory like me, it’s actually more of an exam of how dyslexic you are. It is totally normal to feel nervous, worried, or even angry leading up to this. It may even feel like your brain is full. I remember I used to explain to my mum that it was as if my brain was a wardrobe with lots of drawers. Each drawer was a subject I was trying to hold information in. But quite often not all the information would fit and I used to get frustrated trying to squeeze drawers closed. You won’t have this feeling for long. When you are an adult you will find a lot of this knowledge isn’t really needed and you will get better at organising that wardrobe in your head. You will still have exams you may need to do but you will only have one topic to learn that is normally linked to your job. Whereas in school you are probably trying to cram in 14 different topics in your head. This is a lot for anyone let alone someone with dyslexia/Irlen’s.
How do I close that wardrobe I hear you say? Well, you won’t like this answer – but you need to organise yourself. One thing I cannot stress enough is organise your own learning – do what suits you not others. School no doubt will be boring you to death with revision, revision, revision – I know mine did. But annoying as it is, they are right – it does work! If you are dyslexic this is a must for you to be successful in your exam. I will be writing another article on the tips for revision which will help you organise.
However, lets focus on what you can do when your exams start:
Tips for before the exam week starts:
- Prepare your ‘exam kit’:
This is the time for you to get savvy with your equipment. If you are like me and loose stuff all the time, now is the time to prepare. Get a clear pencil case and treat yourself to new pens, pencils, rubbers, and anything you may need in an exam. Keep this in your bag the whole time separate from the rest your everyday school pencil case. You will then have no worries on running low on pens or not having something in the exam. Small but highly effective in not going crazy before the exam realising you only have a pen with no ink. If you have Irlen’s keep an overlay in there – you can cut a A4 one into strips to fit in the case. This can also double up as bookmarks for going back to pages in your exam where you may need more time to focus. If you do not have overlays a pens can also be used to save your place.
- Trouble focusing? Plan a treat for the end of exams:
One of my main barriers is that I struggle to focus or if I know I will struggle with a task I try to avoid it at all costs. For example, I have not been very motivated due to covid lately and this article should have been on my blog 2 weeks ago. But I have been doing silly tasks like decluttering my room and dying my hair every shade of a rainbow to avoid doing what I should/want to do as I know I won’t be having fun looking at screen with wiggly words. Do not push revision or get lazy in your exam. One way around this is to plan a treat. It doesn’t have to be a big treat for example at work I will say to myself you will work non-stop for hour and then you can go and get a biscuit and a coffee. In school, I used to be so focused on revision that I used to push friends away by accident however, I would purposely arrange a big meal or day out after exams finished to relax and reconnect again with them.
- Get an early night:
When it is the night before the exam you should have already done all your revision weeks before. Therefore, take this time to relax and save your energy. I know some parents will hate this as they will say you can squeeze some more revision in. However, if you haven’t learnt it by now you won’t. Take this time to have some fun and relax – have a movie night with popcorn. But most of all make sure you get an early night and have some sleep. Tomorrow will be a stressful and tiring day for you, and you need to be rested and alert to get that grade you have worked hard for and deserve.
During the exam:
- Don’t panic – Just try your best:
One main point is do not panic. I cannot count how many times I walked in and found my sit and then I just went to pieces in my exams. This does not help anyone. When your bum hits that chair just zone out into your exam bubble. Ignore everyone around you and tell yourself you’ve got this. You have been revising for ages for today and now you can show that exam marker what you know. Think positive. As my mum used to always say just try your best as that is all you can do and once you get your grades be proud of what you have achieved.
- Extra paper for brainstorms:
One thing school never tells you is that you can ask for extra paper. I only learnt this in my A-levels. As soon as you get into your exam ask for extra paper to brainstorm. I am currently using one now to help write this article. We often have so many ideas held in our head we get scared we will forget them. We then write so fast to try get them out that nothing makes sense on the page. If you ask for extra paper, you can get all your ideas out simply and you can then structure your answers better. You then can take your time and get the detail the exam markers are looking for AND they can read your writing. This is properly the best method for English exams. At the end of your exam, slot your brainstorm into the exam paper. If you run out of time the marker can see your ideas and where you were going with it. It won’t get you full marks but it may win you a couple.
- Work your exam paper back to front:
This is often what I did in science and maths exams. They tend to place the bigger mark questions at the back of the paper. When I was in school, I found the one-mark questions that teachers said where simple more difficult. Typically, the marks show how much time you should spend on a question. A one-mark question is meant to take one or two minutes to answer but I used take 20 minutes and run out of time to answer the higher mark questions. To combat this, I would just turn my exam over and start the bigger marked questions first which I used to find easier to answer. You do not need follow everyone else – Work your exam however, you find the easiest.
- Pick out the easy questions first:
Try to pick out all the questions you can answer straight away first. If you hesitate on a question just move on to the next and come back to it. You may even find the answer pops in while you answer another question. Mark it on your extra paper and go back to it so you don’t forget.
- Take a break if you need one:
If you find you are getting tired and need rest your eyes because the words are whizzing around. Then just take 2 min break. Just close the exam paper and sit back then go back to it. Obviously do not be like that for the whole exam but just give your eyes a rest. No one is going to take that paper away from you until they say it is the end. I used to hide my face on the desk in my arms as if I were sleeping to make it dark (in days of me not knowing I had Irlen’s). I would feel so much better and then I would continue with my exam. Don’t worry about what people will say if that’s what helps just do it.
- Proof read:
I hate proof reading so much as I find it difficult. However, it is important as you will miss words and your spelling will not be amazing. Spelling and grammar will count for 10% of your final grade. You can do it while you are doing your exam. Quite often you will find you have spelt a word wrong and know you have but you can’t get the right word. Don’t waste time worrying about it just underline it and move on. When you have extra time at the end just come back to it and then try to figure it out.
These may not seem like much but these all helped me and reduced my stress. At the end of an exam I could say I tried my hardest. When I got my grades, I was proud of them no matter what they were.
Don’t let your dyslexia beat you – its time for you to be in control for once!