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Autism and exam stress: 10 tips from personal experience

Once I was sixteen, I took fourteen exams in three weeks.

Within the next two years, I took one other sixteen plus a bunch of resits too. At university, I took twenty-four.

I did all of them without having any concept about my Asperger Syndrome. Wanting again, figuring out that little reality may need helped.

So I’m no stranger to exams. This doesn’t mean I like them – I’m the guy who teaches autistic teenagers to organize for their GCSEs, and I still don’t like them. I see them as a essential evil: a way of displaying future employers how capable you’re in sure subjects (or at the very least, how succesful you’re at taking exams in sure topics), which can be painful at the time but will repay later.

Once I advised Autistic Not Bizarre’s Facebook group that I was writing this text [all links open in new windows], the information was met with enthusiasm. The same with my Patreon supporters too. Clearly my students and I aren’t alone find exams annoying, while also navigating autism-related points as nicely.

So here’s my recommendation to you, and it’s necessary that you simply decide and choose which elements of this article be just right for you. I can inform you what works for me and for others I do know, but finally it’s you who takes the exams so you need to choose your personal revision methods.

(A fast phrase for People studying this: the phrase “revision” is the phrase us Brits use to imply “studying”. I don’t quite know why.)

(And a quick phrase for British mother and father – in the event you’re reading this and on the lookout for advice for 11-year-olds taking their SATs, you and your youngsters might discover this text extra useful.)

1. Make a research timetable that works for you. (Oh yeah, and truly stick with it.)

I might spend whole afternoons planning a schedule for my revision/learning, and then spend the subsequent day and a half following it. Then I’d spend another afternoon planning a new schedule, and so on. Obviously, this was not preferrred.

But a great timetable can do wonders – not only for learning purposes, but for stress ranges too. (I don’t find out about you, but I’m far much less burdened once I truly know what I’m doing.)

So what ought to my timetable appear to be?

That’s solely as much as you. It should take a format that works for you and your brain – not everyone else’s. If planning hour-by-hour works for you, then do it. If planning whole-morning or whole-afternoon chunks works, then do this. For me, it was daily.

Again in 2006, in my second yr of a arithmetic degree, I took this screenshot of my revision timetable to send to a pal (youngsters today will never know the joy of MSN Messenger). And since I by no means bothered to delete it, here it’s.

Every column was a unique module. HW meant homework. Ass’ was brief for task. TKD meant tae kwon do and Focus was a church group I went to, as a result of I made positive to have a life in my free time.
And those numbers along side each column? They have been what order I might prioritise each module on each day. Notice how I left a few of them blank, so I wasn’t doing every part every single day.

This in all probability seems difficult on first look.

However it labored for me. It didn’t have to work for anyone else. (Again, you possibly can take recommendation from this or utterly ignore it, depending on what works for you.)

But when I’m timetabling each hour for weeks on end, gained’t that make me go crazy?

Probably. However extra probably, you’ll simply get drained after a while and stop following your timetable.

This is the reason I emphasise the necessary of permitting for breaks. Literally, have precise spaces in your timetable that say “have a break”.

It may be tempting (particularly if your brain is as focussed as mine is) to assume “well logically, the more time I spend studying the better I’ll do in the exam” – and although it’s logical, it’s not helpful when your mind keeps telling you that when you’re lying in bed or consuming your dinner. But breaks assist enormously. Once you’re consuming dinner, focus solely on having fun with your meals. Once you’re in mattress, focus solely on resting.

Put breaks in your timetable. Partly because they’ll help together with your power ranges, partly because they’ll make it easier to stay to your timetable, however mainly because you’ll deserve them.

Can my breaks embrace videogames?

That will depend on your degree of self-discipline.

I’m not going to inform you that videogames are the spawn of Satan or whatever. I know they may help with stress aid or rest. Sonic the Hedgehog was half my childhood.

But I additionally know individuals who performed so much World of Warcraft that they didn’t even hassle turning up for their exams. (This was ten years in the past, and since then they’ve lived their adulthoods with out instructional qualifications- just because they needed to collect walrus tusks or something on a videogame a decade earlier.)

As a result of that’s the tough thing about videogames. They’re not simply addictive: they’re deliberately designed to be addictive. In World of Warcraft there’s all the time ‘just one more task’ to do. As an adult, I’ve lost entire weekends to the Civilization collection due to the ‘just one more turn’ nature of the games.

If your self-discipline is robust enough so that you can set an alarm for one hour’s time, and truly stop enjoying after that hour as an alternative of ‘just doing one more thing’, then sure – play videogames to rejoice well-deserved breaks.

For those who don’t have that self-discipline, then significantly – depart these missions till the summer time break.

2. Understanding what the query means is as necessary as figuring out how you can reply.

If I had cash for each time I noticed a scholar getting an answer mistaken as a result of they didn’t interpret the query appropriately, I’d be rich enough to retire. Typically it’s a reading error (which may typically be solved by reading the question twice). Typically the question’s just obscure.

With several subjects (English particularly), I’ve recognized a number of autistic college students who wrestle to interpret the questions. It’s in all probability our habit of literal considering. Key culprits embrace:

“What is your understanding of the topic discussed in this text?”

Which is incredibly obscure, but principally means “write about what you can learn by reading this text, and how the writer helps you learn it”. And in addition:

“How does the writer use language features to ________?”

Which may also sound obscure, until you’re clued up on what qualifies as ‘language features’.

Oh, and the final apply paper I did with my college students requested them to choose a second of their life they have been pleased with, and write about the way it benefited others. Which was a reasonably crap question to ask a era of scholars with vanity points. (For the document, you’re allowed to only invent stuff for those questions. The examiner will never know – and it’s a check of your writing expertise, not the way you’ve lived your life.)

My advice: find as many past exam papers as you’ll be able to (Google the subject, the identify of the exam board and the phrases “past papers”), read by means of the questions and assume “how would I answer this?” Then, if there are questions that confuse you, ask your instructor for a translation.

3. Write your personal materials if you would like.

I was the sort of baby who discovered concerning the solar system in school and all the time asked “why do they pressure us to recollect ‘My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets’? Isn’t it just easier to recollect ‘Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto’? (Yep- once I was your age, Pluto was a planet.)

I used to be 14 – a decade away from studying I was autistic – once I first realised my revision strategies have been totally different to everybody else’s. That I understood the ‘complicated’ methods much better than the simplified ‘student-friendly’ ones.

So from then on, I wrote my own miniature revision guides.

Not large ones – that may be far too time-consuming – however I’d rewrite the occasional web page from the precise revision guide in a approach that was accessible to me. It was easier than memorising methods that have been designed with non-autistic college students in thoughts.

And within the run-up to exams, I’d have A1-size sheets of notes spread across the partitions in every room. Each sheet can be an enormous poster of all the things I used to be discovering troublesome to recollect. One sheet for history, one for geography, and so on. That approach I might revise whereas casually strolling around the house, or simply staring into area (which I did all the time anyway, so I assumed I’d as nicely make it productive).

My mother and father have been joyful for me to do that. After the first few days, my sheets turned like a part of the wallpaper.

I didn’t take any photographs so I can’t present you what they have been like. But if I had something like this, I absolutely would have used it.

Oh, and it was enormously satisfying once I pulled down a poster after every exam. Watching the partitions get much less and much less coated in paper really helped me chill out.

4. You don’t have to do this alone.

In my faculty we had ‘study leave’ earlier than exam season: several weeks where lessons have been cancelled so that you had time to stay at residence and study at your personal tempo. It’s a terrific concept in precept. And I spent a number of research depart days round my pals’ houses: we’d spend the whole afternoon revising together, and the evening enjoying ourselves when the work was accomplished. It was a technique that labored nicely for us.

And this goes beyond meeting up with buddies. On half my research depart days I went into faculty or into college, specifically to ask for recommendation on things I used to be battling. Naturally I was nervous about annoying the employees, till I realised that 1) my grades have been essential enough for me to be annoying, and 2) this is literally what academics are paid for. (Years later I turned a main faculty instructor who fortunately hung out explaining issues after class, so I practised what I preached.)

So research with your folks. Go into faculty and ask your academics questions. Just since you’re not in classes doesn’t mean you’re forbidden from being in touch with anyone.

5. Avoiding the tough stuff gained’t make it go away.

I had a good friend throughout my A-Ranges who was struggling together with her English. Two months before our exams, she had her own technique of dealing with these struggles.

She simply stopped turning up for lessons and hoped for one of the best.

It took her a month to return, and shock shock, she was even further behind than earlier than. And once I requested her why she was avoiding the lessons, her solely reply was:

“I don’t know… I think I was hoping it would all just go away.”

It didn’t make sense, and deep down she knew it. And the exam came just as shortly anyway. (Incredibly she acquired a superb mark, largely because of revising in a means that worked for her. So in case you’ve been lacking classes your self, it’s not too late.)

I typically tell students that it’s completely understandable to really feel nervous and harassed about exams. However should you’re going to feel nervous and burdened, you may as nicely be around people who can truly allow you to with it.

6. Keep the hell away from power drinks.

Power drinks exploded onto the scene once I was at university. And at first, I purchased a number of of them believing they’d truly assist me research. I imply, the scholar union shop was packed to the ceiling with them, so they need to help with revision, right?

Age and maturity have made me realise that they weren’t within the shop as a result of they helped us. They have been within the store as a result of they bought properly.

Some supermarkets in Britain have truly banned the sale of power drinks to under-16s due to health considerations. (They’re primarily heart-related, but they will also offer you diarrhoea. Which is somewhat distracting within the exam.)

And in my experience, they didn’t even work. I solely felt 5% extra awake, and even that was in all probability psychosomatic. (As in, I simply advised myself I was more awake and that alone made me really feel awake. Like that one pal who drinks a non-alcoholic beer considering it’s alcoholic, and then all of the sudden begins appearing drunk.)

If you wish to know easy methods to conserve or build up power, comply with the recommendation on this sensible PSA.

That’s right – get some sleep.

I do know why it’s tempting to remain up till 1am every night time, getting up at 7am, cramming in as a lot as attainable. Because the more time you spend awake, the more opportunities you must fill your mind, right?

Truly, no. The mind is so a lot better at learning when it’s correctly awake, somewhat than just being stored awake. Lately once I watch a TV episode on Netflix at 1am, I have to observe it again the subsequent day because I don’t keep in mind what occurred. (And this can be a mind with three university levels, that would identify 91 species of dinosaur from reminiscence on the age of seven. Because I received my sleep back then.)

Oh, and have you ever observed the way you’re often a lot much less burdened after an honest night time’s sleep?

Sleep matters. Get some.

And screw power drinks. They’re overpriced, dangerous in your well being, make little difference, and make individuals assume they will go with out the down-time that humans have spent hundreds of years needing.

7. What to do the night time earlier than the exam:

I know time is restricted, but I might not advocate learning into the deep hours of the night time. In case you’ve had a very good timetable and stuck to it, you’ll have put in sufficient hours anyway.

If learning late at night time works for you, then truthful sufficient. But only if you can do so with out feeling burdened. If late-night revision stresses you out, don’t do it. You’ll be able to’t afford for that stress to carry over into the morning.

And when you want rest time, choose a TV episode as an alternative of a online game. TV exhibits have a ‘just one more episode’ lure just like videogames, but the episode breaks are more distinctive and it’s simpler to notice the alternatives to say “ok, that’s enough- time to sleep”.

8. What to do the morning of the exam:

Have breakfast.

Primary advice. But do it.

And don’t reach for an power drink- have a glass of orange juice. It tastes a lot better, and it’s more healthy. (And completely don’t do what certainly one of my classmates did and drink a 2-litre bottle of Coke before a two and a half hour history exam!)

I’ve heard some individuals recommend that revising on the morning of the exam is a nasty concept and it causes further stress. If that’s the case with you, don’t do it.

In my case although, bringing a ultimate sheet of notes to the surface of the exam hall helped me – both academically and with my nervousness. The sheet would include the previous few issues I wanted some extra time with, and I’d convey it so far as I might without getting into the exam corridor with it.

Find snug garments to wear in the event you can (obviously you’ll want to stay inside the faculty’s uniform coverage). Convey water into the exam in the event you’re allowed. Should you assume you could get the sniffles, deliver tissues. Oh, and deliver a number of pens/pencils, not only one.

Also, be selective about who you speak to. Happiness could also be contagious, however so is worry. For those who’re outdoors the exam hall around a bunch of people who find themselves panicking, move away from them. If attainable, speak to someone who’s much less careworn concerning the exam than you.

(The exception to this rule is when you have a pal who’s apprehensive. Be happy to attempt calming them down and being supportive. However do it in a method that spreads your rest to them, quite than taking over board their stress.)

9. What to do through the exam:

I’ll use bullet-points for this one.

  • Know that you simply’re just a few hours away from being free from this exam.
  • Read every question earlier than answering. Then reread it. You solely get marks should you answer the precise question.
  • In English exams the place you might have additional materials to read, read the exam questions first. You then’ll know what you’re searching for in the additional material.
  • Underline the necessary stuff. All the time.
  • If you end a sentence, reread it to see if it is sensible.
  • Be sure to’ve obtained your timings right. This means taking a look at what number of marks every query is value. If in case you have 90 minutes for an 80-mark maths exam, spend roughly one minute per mark (but when it is advisable to go a tiny bit over, don’t be afraid to).
  • If you should skip a question, achieve this. Don’t spend ten minutes on a one-mark question you don’t get. (Equally though, don’t simply skip a query since you don’t prefer it at first glance. Have a attempt before skipping it.)
  • If you could sometimes take thirty seconds to chill out and look around the room, achieve this. Just don’t flip it into a number of minutes.
  • Keep in mind how much you need to succeed.

10. And eventually, the immortal words of an previous lecturer of mine…

One among my lecturers – maybe probably the most quotable educator I’ve ever recognized – as soon as came out with this lovely advice to a roomful of anxious college students.

“When you’re sat in the exam, do not panic. If you feel a bit of stress, just look out the window at the sky or a tree, and remember how small and how unimportant this exam is. I used to do that.”

-Professor Anvar Shukurov, sometime around 2007.

And if that was ok for the Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, it was ok for me.

(Nicely, nowadays he’s the Professor of Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics. However the point nonetheless stands.)

Exams could also be value taking critically, however they gained’t determine whether or not you get married or have youngsters. They could give you a chance to do yourself proud, but they aren’t the exclusive key to dwelling an exquisite life.

On an analogous notice, it may be value searching by means of this text about SATs (that are end of main faculty checks for British 11-year-olds, however a number of points apply to taking checks usually). Particularly, read the purpose in the direction of the top the place it tells you what these exams measure and what they don’t. Long story brief, your value as an individual just isn’t outlined by your educational means. The standard of your character is measured by things that these exams can never determine.

And that’s it from me – I’d wish to wish all of you all the easiest in your exams, and I hope this article helps even when just a bit bit. You’re greater than welcome to hitch Autistic Not Bizarre’s Fb group, and I also make advice movies on YouTube. Finally (primarily for adults studying this), writing for Autistic Not Bizarre has turn out to be my job because of my superior Patreon supporters: so should you find my work useful, be happy to look around my web page to see if any of the rewards stand out to you.

(Also, I’m comfortable to send out printable versions of this text to those who’d discover it helpful. Simply send me a message by way of Fb.)

Every now and then I do article extensions for my Patreon supporters, as a thank you for serving to me do this for a dwelling. For many who help me on the applicable degree (or need to), tips 11 to 15 about autism and exam stress could be found right here. Hope they assist!

Take care, and all the most effective to all of you.

Chris Bonnello / Captain Quirk

Are you uninterested in characters with special needs being tokenised and based mostly on stereotypes, or being the victims fairly than the heroes? This novel might curiosity you!

Underdogs, a near-future dystopia novel where the heroes are youngsters with special needs, is quickly to be launched by way of Unbound Publishing. A character-driven struggle story which pitches twelve individuals towards a military of hundreds of thousands, it balances intense motion with a deeply developed neurodiverse forged. link for British readers

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Pre-order hyperlink for the already-commissioned sequel!

Chris Bonnello is a national and worldwide autism speaker, obtainable to steer talks and training periods from the attitude of an autistic former instructor. For further info please click here (opens in new window).


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