Get exam ready: Learn skills to motivate yourself for exam time

We are running a five-day series by ALAN WHITE ahead of exam season. Alan is a second level teacher and Wellbeing Author. Today he looks at the topic of Motivation
Get exam ready: Learn skills to motivate yourself for exam time

"If adults find it difficult to stay focused and motivated when faced with a big challenge, imagine what it’s like for a teenager who is facing into, what is for them, the biggest exams of their lives!"

JANUARY can be a difficult month for all of us. This can be especially true for students who are facing into Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate exams. We have all experienced the feeling of beginning the New Year full of motivation and plans to make our new year’s resolutions stick this year, only to let them slip again within a few weeks.

New Year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to stick to, the reason being that, we try to take on too much or change too much too quickly. Undoing habits that we have built up over years need to be overcome slowly and over a relatively long period of time. This allows us to see the progress we are making and therefore maintain our motivation. When we try to do too much too quickly we inevitably become overwhelmed and often give up. We only have to look at gyms. Full in January and often empty by February.

If adults find it difficult to stay focused and motivated when faced with a big challenge, imagine what it’s like for a teenager who is facing into, what is for them, the biggest exams of their lives! Remaining focused and motivated over the next few months is very important but very challenging for leaving and Junior Certificate students. Learning skills on how to motivate themselves is crucial at this point, as well as having support from parents and teachers to remain as calm and focused as possible.

When it comes to motivation we must look first at what promotes it and what destroys it?

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that’s in front of them can quickly destroy a student’s motivation, however there are a number of things that they and the supporting adults in their life can do to promote it.


Ideally when it comes to achieving anything in life we begin by being motivated by an idea or a dream and then we take action. However when it comes to exams we very often find it hard to motivate ourselves. In this scenario it’s important to first take action. When it’s difficult to become motivated, taking action will allow us to build some momentum. Making progress, no matter how small, will motivate us to continue and persevere.


Obviously the focus of the next few months will be preparing for the exams. To be successful in anything there will inevitably be successes and setbacks along the way. To stay motivated it is important to celebrate the little successes, no matter how small, along the way. This might be a good result in a class test, a good study session or understanding a problem or concept that the students found difficult in the past.

By taking the time to acknowledge the little successes, students will feel that they are capable and making progress.

There will also be setback along the way and it’s important to help young people frame these setbacks in a realistic way. Often, when we experience a setback we identify it as a failure and define ourselves by this. For example, not doing well in a test and labelling ourselves a failure. When young people begin to think like this they begin to catastrophise, which is constantly thinking negatively about themselves and their ability. It’s at times like this that motivation can be lost and it’s crucial that they have someone there to support and encourage them through this setback, and remind them of all the good work they have done already and will do in the future.


Very often we are all guilty of only valuing outcomes and results. This can put a lot of stress on young people and can be frustrating, especially when results might not be where they want them to be. Results are obviously important but these will not improve unless the young person sees the value in the effort they are making. If a student is making an effort but not seeing the results they would like there could be a number of reasons why, such as study technique or organisation skills, which I will discuss over the coming days.

To support students and help them remain motivated, adults can recognise and praise effort rather than result and help them to see that through perseverance things will improve for them.


To stay motivated it’s important that we feel in control of our workload. When we fall behind it can become overwhelming and we can lose our motivation and allow apathy to set in. Developing structure and routine will help students feel more in control and therefore less likely to become stressed about the amount of revision they need to do.

Maintaining this sense of control relies on ensuring that students are organised, have a structured study plan, are taking care of their physical and mental wellbeing and have encouraging and supportive parents.

Over the coming week I will look at each of these topics, which will help to support students through the exam process.


Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and Wellbeing Author. He also facilitates wellbeing workshops for companies and organisations. For more information visit linkedin Alan White or facebook Changes Wellbeing.

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