Listen up Year 10's because the next 12 - 14 months are going to be all about you. This is it, the first major milestone in your life, where you get to show the world your brilliance. Are you nervous, fearful or are you excited and raring to go?
I know there are some schoolies who are disengaged and can't wait to get out, but I'm obviously addressing those who are working hard to achieve their best. My own Year 10 daughter received a text message from an out-of-town acquaintance, who announced that she didn't care about school anymore and just wants to leave and have babies. Whilst she's perfectly entitled to follow her bliss, my message is to those who seek a different path.
Now that you're back after your Easter break, your teachers are seeing your current Year 11's through their exams until the end of the school year. This means your teacher's attention has now swung around to focus on you. The Year 11's are at the stage where all that's left to do to is cross the finish line, so their teachers are now taking on more of a supporting role for them. This largely releases their time, attention and resources for you. This is great.
TAKE EVERYTHING THAT'S ON OFFER
My advice to you is to take as much of what's on offer as possible, even if you think you've got a good handle on your studies and revision. The way I look at it is this: If I was invited to go on a course on how to be Karan Scott, I'd go. Why, when you'd think I'd be the world expert on being me? Well, because there's always something new to learn, a different perspective to consider, a new nugget of information that perhaps didn't make it into your notebooks, and you can't revise what's not there. Accepting all offers of extracurricular assistance may also cover any work you may have missed due to having a bad day, or time off sick etc.
But there's another reason too. When you learn something for the very first time, your brain creates a new neural pathway. Every time you practice, rehearse, re-read and revise those neural pathways become deeper and stronger. This means things become automatic and more easily remembered during the exam itself, saving you time and allowing you to answer more questions, and giving you more time to check your answers before pens down.
I'm sure you know all about muscle memory, especially our rising sports and dance stars out there. The dictionary definition defines muscle memory as the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement. Well, this applies to your cognitive (mental) processes, as well as your physical ones.
Let's use multiplication as an example. Imagine you're sitting in an exam where multiplication is necessary. If you have learnt your multiplication tables off by heart, you will be able to answer the question more quickly, easily and efficiently than someone who hasn't. If you haven't learnt your multiplication tables by heart, you're going to have spend valuable time and mental energy working out the answer. This may lead to fewer questions being completed, or wrong answers being miscalculated due to time pressure, or sufficient time being left for you to check your work before pens down.
Whatever the subject, muscle memory is hugely important. This is why you must view your brain as a muscle, and strengthen it every day with tasks that will move you closer to achieving your goals, i.e.: great exam results in August 2020. So maybe do little and often during school holidays when you don't have to, to keep your brain active and alert. You science-y types will understand Newton's First Law of Motion, which teaches us that an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion, with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. So please seriously consider keeping your momentum going over the summer and Christmas, but always balancing it out with enough high quality rest and recuperation.
WHEN YOU THINK URGH!
If your school offers you extracurricular lessons - or interventions as they're referred to in my daughter's school - seriously consider taking as many as you can. For every intervention you sit through, you will be strengthening your cognitive (mental) muscle memory. You can only ever get smarter and better. No one, in the history of the world, has ever become dumber by reading and revising. No one!
I appreciate you might think: Urgh, not more time in school! but try to see the bigger picture. Take a look at the image below...
Now let's say you live to be 99 years-old, look at how much time you have in the adult working world to do the things you want to do, without having parents and teachers responsible for you. All things being equal, the vast majority of your life will be lived in freedom and with autonomy, so why not enjoy, and actively lean into, these few years you have left of being fed, clothed and provided for - to achieve all that you can achieve - before being thrust into the world of bill payments and cleaning your own toilet? You will never have it this easy again.
No, I know it may not be easy for you right now, and that exam anxiety is real, but if you can change the way you think about exams, you can change how you experience exams. Taking every single opportunity made available to you, by either your school, your parents, your friends and study buddies or private tutors, will only make your brain bigger, better, stronger faster - so why wouldn't you? By choosing to dedicate one tiny year of your long, long life, you are actively building yourself the strongest foundation possible. Then, from your strong GCSE foundation, you will be in the best possible position to achieve greatness in your A-levels or apprenticeship.
By doing your best in each moment, you will be putting yourself in the best possible position in the next moment.
Read that again.
You have this one small pocket of time, in the whole length of your life, to be free to study and make the best of yourself, without having to get a job to pay for rent and food. You will not (necessarily) have this time again, where your parents will support you to this degree. For your A-levels or apprenticeship, you will be 18 and a fully fledged adult, entitled to vote, drive, drink alcohol, and get into the discotheques. [BTW: I just used the term 'discotheques' to see if my daughter reads this, because I'll be in serious trouble for being embarrassing if she does *chuckle*].
BREATHE & REST
Keep perspective and learn how to breathe slowly and deeply, because this will help you to think better. In prehistoric times when sabre toothed tigers saw us as a tasty snack, we had two options: fight the beast or run away. Either decision would have required our bodies to divert blood to our arms and legs, and for adrenaline to start pumping to help fuel our fight or escape. Well, quite unbelievably, our operating systems are 20,000 years out of date, and we still go into fight or flight when under stress - however that stress may come about. So what can we do about it?
The short answer is to sneak up on up on your brain. How? By simply taking slow, deep breaths. By breathing slowly and deeply, your brain is left thinking: Well they can't be in danger if they have the time to breathe deeply, so there's no need for me to divert blood to their arms and legs, or flood the body with adrenaline that'll make their hearts race and their hands clammy. You can also use calming visualisations and meditation techniques to help wholesale, but these won't help you in the exam hall as much as mindful breathing. Mindful breathing is your first and best defense in the room, at the table, pens up.
TAKE A PMA
Try to develop a positive mental attitude (PMA) about this upcoming year. If you tell yourself it's going to be awful, there's more chance it will actually be awful, because we see what we're looking for and expect. If however you decide to take charge and decide this is all going to be an exhilarating adventure, then there's more chance you'll have fun and achieve more. Please note I said exhilarating not easy; in the same way roller-coasters are exhilarating not easy. There will be ups and downs, hair raising twists and turns, but so long as you hold on and remember to breathe, you're going to be absolutely fine.
Trust in the work you have already done, the effort you have already put in and the belief you already have in yourself. Take a PMA at every chance you get and breathe, breathe, breathe, whilst remembering this one last point: your attention directs your life. Keep asking yourself: where is my attention directed right now, and is it moving me closer to achievement (and rest counts as moving closer to achievement), or further away? If what you're doing (i.e.: not revising or attending interventions) is not moving you closer towards your goals, then you still have time to course correct.
Good luck, be great!