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Revising for and sitting exams when living with a brain tumour

Exams are challenging at the best of times. But if you’re living with a brain tumour, you’re also likely to be struggling with fatigue, concentration or memory problems, making them even more difficult.

Here, consultant clinical psychologist, Dr Susanna Waern, and some of our wonderful young adult community, share their eight top tips on getting through exam season.

1. Find out what help is available early on

Many young people with brain tumours – in particular those who have been treated with radiotherapy – may find it harder to learn. This could be due to problems with memory, concentration or processing speed – the ability to process information and respond to it.

If you have problems learning, and you don’t already have access arrangements in place (for example, extra time, rest breaks, using a computer), ask your parents to arrange a meeting with a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) of Exams Officer as soon as possible to discuss whether there are any arrangements that would apply to you.

If you had your tumour and treatment a long time ago, schools often believe that it no longer affects you. However, being very young at the time of treatment for a brain tumour is actually associated with more academic difficulties.

Ask your hospital for more information about how your tumour and treatment may affect your learning and pass that on to the SENCO.

Communicate with your teachers as much as you can. The more they know about your situation, the more they can help.

Molly Howarth – Young Ambassador

Find out more about exam adjustments

Learn more about the additional support that might be available to you as move through higher education.

2. Start early

When it comes to revision, being as organised as possible is a real advantage.

Start revising early to make sure you have enough time to get through everything. Switching your phone to silent when you revise is important too, as constant disruptions will make it hard to get into a subject.

Most importantly, remember to have regular breaks and to do something fun and relaxing during them.

3. Find the right techniques for you

If you struggle to remember information, try to revise in different ways.

Rather than just reading the same information over and over again, write it down, read it out loud, or draw pictures to help you remember. Practice retrieving information by telling family members or friends about what you have learnt.

To revise effectively, make sure you find the right techniques for you. Methods I’ve found helpful include using mnemonics to remember processes, recording myself reading out key information, testing myself with flash cards and reading my notes out loud to help embed them into my memory.

Lily Addley

4. Try mind mapping

When you’re having difficulty concentrating, it’s harder to comprehend, structure and recall information. But there is one technique that can really help.

Molly adds: “Mind mapping is a visual form of note taking that offers an overview of a topic and its complex information. It’s great for putting everything about a topic in one space and makes revision seem a lot less daunting.”

Find out more about mind mapping at www.mindmapping.com

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5. Look over past papers

Past papers can be a great way to prepare yourself for the sorts of topics that might come up, identify learning gaps and reduce anxiety around exam papers.

Past papers are the way forward! Not only are they great for practicing recall but they also help you familiarise yourself with the question styles and types of answers required. If you look at enough papers, you can start to see patterns in the types of questions or topics that might come up too

Molly Howarth – Young Ambassador

6. Take regular breaks

When you’re studying or sitting exams it can feel as if it’s taking over your life, so it’s important to look after your well-being.

If you suffer from fatigue, it’s even more important to have regular breaks and revise in small chunks. Try to eat well, get sufficient sleep and exercise as this will help with fatigue. Try to limit your screen time as this will have a negative impact on your sleep. During the exam, you would benefit from having rest breaks too.

7. Try Mindfulness

Feeling anxious in the run-up to exams is normal, but it can make revision even harder.

Mindfulness can be very helpful in terms of managing stress or difficult emotions. Some people who try mindfulness say it did not work for them, but like learning to play an instrument or a new language, you have to practise to get the benefits.

Just 5-10 minutes of mindfulness a day can help. There are apps available which have specific meditations to help with study, stress and sleep.

8. Don’t panic

Everyone feels nervous during exams but if you start panicking in the exam room, take a few deep breaths and focus your attention on that. If you don’t know the answer to a question, move to the next one and start answering the ones that you feel more confident about.

Don’t leave the exam room early, even if you finish early or are convinced you don’t know any more questions – just stay until the end and try to relax. Sometimes information comes back to us when we don’t push it”

Eight quick revision tips by Lily Addley

  1. Revise topics in smaller chunks, as it helps you to remember them.
  2. Use mind maps to summarise.
  3. Rewrite your notes as repetition will help you to understand better.
  4. Use mnemonics to remember processes.
  5. Record yourself reading out key information.
  6. Read your notes out loud to help embed them into your memory.
  7. Test yourself regularly with flashcards, exam question etc.
  8. Make sure you sleep properly to help your brain function well.