With our 5th Year and Upper Sixth students on study leave and in the midst of public exams, and the rest of the school gearing up for end of year internal assessments next week, the school was eerily quiet yesterday as I showed around a visiting headteacher. Plenty of studious activity as we popped our heads into various classrooms.
How best to prepare for these exams? In my first Headmaster’s assembly of this year, back in September, I referenced an interesting article by Tim Harford who writes as The Undercover Economist. He pointed to a study which suggested that medical students training to be eye surgeons, who had taken a course in Art appreciation, were better at diagnosing eye diseases than those who hadn’t. The essence of the point he was making was that if you want to become a great ophthalmologist, you need to do more than just be able to pass your medical exams. Insight often comes when you take the time to do other things, in this case, engaging your brain in a critical appreciation of Art. It’s all about balance.
I was thus interested to read a recent article in the HMC weekly bulletin about school sport. A report by Professor Peter Clough, the Head of the Department of Psychology at Huddersfield University, showed that physical activity significantly improved mental toughness and can help students cope with the pressures of exams. I remember being part of a study during my rowing days at Oxford University which showed that student oarsmen and women whose training regimes gave them very little free time, ended up with better grades than average. This report certainly backs up my own observations after many years in education that sport boosts resilience and performance in the classroom.
In a school such as ours, where it’s cool to work hard and where (most!) students bring a great attitude to their studies, our boys and girls do put themselves under pressure to perform in exams. It is also understandable that parents can worry about their children taking time out of exam revision. However, my advice is that they will achieve better grades if they keep a healthy balance between mind and body by continuing sport and exercise in the run up to their exams.
Indeed, the Government is stepping up its efforts to get more school children to take part in character-building competitive sport, with Education Secretary Damian Hinds announcing that a new School Sport Action Plan is to be published soon. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-and-top-sports-bodies-to-help-children-play-more-sport.”
The HMC article concludes, ”…these findings strongly suggest that students revising for their GCSEs or A-levels should not abandon sport. Balance is important, and sport plays a vital role in preparing them for the pressures of the exam room. It can even help some young people thrive when in stressful situations.”