Back to school success strategies

Where did the summer go? Yes, it’s that time of year again when all we see in the shop windows and adverts on TV are the ‘Back to School’ bargains. The holidays are beginning to seem like a distant memory now. This time of the year doesn’t need to be daunting, it’s all about having the right perspective and an open mind. Whether you are starting a new school in first year or entering your final year, the beginning of the new school year can always be a fresh start. You choose … take that deep breath and remember to breathe, remember you’re in control. The first couple of days sets the pace for the rest of the year.


We know that having a simple strategy can make the most daunting task seem much more manageable. Here are some simple tips that can help you settle back and get you into your stride in school, called the Get-Set-Get habit.

  • Get organised, both at home and at school. Having a detailed diary of what you are doing each day lets you know where and when you are supposed to be doing something. It also ensures that you are able to get the balance right between doing enough study each day and still enjoying the other activities in your life. Your school journal is your best aid in helping you organise your homework and study. Remember to prioritise what homework needs to be done each evening. If possible, try and have a designated study area at home where you can do your homework and study without distraction. Finally, pack your bag the night before so you are not rushing in the morning.
  • Set goals for yourself for the year. If you have a clear idea of what it is you actually wish to achieve during the year this will give you focus and help keep you motivated. The beginning of the school year is a useful time to re-examine what you wish to get out of your time in school. Set yourself a mixture of both academic and personal goals. When you set your goals, record and reward your progress on achieving each one.
  • Get into the habit of ensuring you eat and sleep well. To be an effective learner and get the most out of school you need the right nourishment and sleep. Having a healthy full breakfast each morning sets you up for the day and stops you feeling sluggish and tired during class. It is also important for you to have a healthy lunch, the body and brain need energy to help them to keep going throughout the day. We all need sleep and nobody functions well when they don’t get enough sleep. As a young person you need about eight hours of sleep a night so your body can rest and recover fully. Try and get into the routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time each day along with avoiding distractions like the TV or iPad in your bedroom at night.

new-are-you-ready-back-to-school-bookbagHopefully these simple little tips will help you get ahead and stay ahead throughout the year. Remember, starting off is always the difficult part but once you’re back in the daily routine of it all, it will be Christmas before you even know it!


Anti-stress tips for exam time


I see that the good weather is here and the longer evenings, so that just means one thing – the exams are around the corner. I remember when I was in school trying to figure out who the genius was that decided that summer was a good time to have examinations; surely I had better things to be doing with myself in the good weather. I’m getting goose bumps even now thinking back to when I had exams, and I actually liked exams because I think I work better under pressure.

But that’s the thing, how do you work well under pressure or stress? Well stress can actually be positive, it’s a motivator. If you are any way like me you might never finish or even start anything unless you put yourself under pressure. Ask any sportsperson, they will tell you that they need the stress or pressure of competition to spur them on, motivate them to make that extra effort. However, our bodies can’t handle being under stress for long periods of time; this is when stress becomes distress and rather than working at our optimal level we end up burning out and crashing. So how do you manage your stress levels at exam time?

Let me share with you my BEST stress tips for students at exam time.


Breathe. This might sound rather foolish but actually when you get stressed your breathing tends to speed up and your ideas begin to run away with themselves. It’s important to slow down, and the easiest way to do this is by slowing your breathing; stop, take deep breaths. This simple action will slow down your mind and help you keep perspective. Remember there’s light at the end of the tunnel, exams have a beginning and an end. Once an exam is finished forget about it, move on to the next; you can’t control what you have already done, only prepare for the next. Before you know it they will be over and the rest of the summer will be before you.

Eat. The last thing you need to do is become sick during your exams and one way to avoid this is to have a healthy balanced diet running up to and during the exam period. Make sure you have daily portions of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet and if possible fish rich in omega 3. Remember you’re not just feeding the body but the brain as well and now more than ever your brain needs the right foods. I would highly recommend avoiding any artificial stimulants and sugar rushes from things like caffeine or energy drinks during the exams. All they do is give you boosts of energy and then leave your body and brain drained. I have seen numerous students during exams who simply come to a halt halfway through the exam when the effects of the energy drinks wear off. You need to maintain your stamina right to the end of the exam. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you can always have a bit of dark chocolate. This is good for you because it counteracts the stress hormone cortisol and releases endorphins which make you feel more positive.

Sleep. I know that when I don’t have a good night’s sleep I’m not going to be as effective the next day; my thinking becomes sluggish and all I’m doing is thinking about crawling back into the bed. You need between 7 and 8 hours of solid sleep each night and this doesn’t happen by chance. You need to have a structure for your exam days. Don’t sit up late at night studying, your brain is too tired to take anything extra in. If you do think you need to do some last-minute cramming, get up a bit earlier the next morning. Your brain will be that bit more refreshed. Keep your notes away from your bed and try to ensure that you turn off things like your phone or tablet as you also need to simply switch off before you can sleep. These things keep our brain thinking and active when what it really needs is to slow down. Remember sleep helps you remember, not by revising, but by preparing your body and brain for the exam the next day.

Talk. It is really important that if you do begin to feel overwhelmed by the whole experience you talk to somebody about it, friends, parents and even your teachers. Simply by talking about something can help you to get the right perspective. Sometimes you might find that you have unrealistic expectations for yourself or that others have unrealistic expectations of you. The only solution to all of this is to talk it out and keep it real for yourself. Don’t isolate yourself from your friends and family during exam time either. Downtime is so important to give yourself a chance to relax and rejuvenate. Try and get some relaxation and exercise in each day. One good solution to stress is to hear your own positive talk: reaffirm yourself by telling yourself that you are well able to cope and you are more than just some results of an exam. Keep positive!!

If, as Rudyard Kipling once said, “you can keep your head when all around are losing theirs,” then you’ll have no problem coping with the exams and achieving whatever goals you have set for yourself. Remember all you can do is your BEST and enjoy the future.



Five simple study tips for students


Here in the Super Generation we work with thousands of students each year, sharing with them our expertise in study skills and well-being. Yet recently my own nephews nabbed me in Granny’s, asking what they should be doing differently so that they can do well in their exams this summer. My sister happened to be standing beside me at the time and said, “Surely there are some simple steps that can make all the difference?” This made me stop and think, what would be the best advice I could give to help students, particularly at this time of the year.

So what can students do now – is it too late? Well the first thing to remember is that it is never too late. Do not start a massive countdown to the examinations as this will only put you under more pressure and stress you further. Did you know that your brain works less effectively if you are under constant stress, so whilst a little bit of pressure is good to motivate you and get you up and going, the last thing you need is to be distressed going into exams.


So here are a few simple tips that I shared with my nephews and which might help you too.

  1. Be organised – Draw up a timetable between now and the exams and fill in all your subjects, making sure each subject gets equal time, even the ones you don’t like. Your timetable should also include your recreational time. It’s really important that you maintain a balance, where you can have some down time to switch off.
  2. Mix and match – I bet just like everybody else you have certain subjects and topics that you like more than others and some you can’t even bear to open the book. Well what you do is make sure in your timetable that you have a variety each night of subjects and topics that you both dislike and like. Try to start and finish with subjects that you like as this will ease you into your study and leave you feeling a bit better at the end.
  3. Turn your distractions into rewards – We all love our mobile phone, TV, social media etc. yet these things can distract us from our study. Rather than wasting time trying to ‘detox’ or cut them out of your life between now and the exams, simply set yourself targets for what you want to achieve in your study and reward yourself with time set aside for these distractions.
  4. Break it down – the most valuable notes you will ever own are the ones you create yourself. It is easier for your brain to remember breaking down the topic yourself into its key parts and seeing how everything comes together rather than simply reading what someone else wrote. A one-page summary of a topic where everything is all together on the page is the best. You also need to read your notes regularly, writing out lovely notes and having them sit in a folder is not much good.
  5. Plan your paper – familiarise yourself with the exam paper. Not every question carries the same marks; know what topics you are strongest at. Go through past papers and past questions that you would have covered in class with your teacher.

The key is not to go wasting loads of time drawing up elaborate plans at this stage, just simply find out what you have to do and then do it.

But if you do find yourself getting stressed, talk to your parents, teachers or even your uncle. We have all been through it!


5 Tips to Manage Stress

Managing stress levels is an essential component of success. This is because cortisol, the hormone associated with being stressed, can actually interfere with memory, learning, and your ability to function on optimal levels in all areas of your life. Although a little bit of stress can be helpful in terms of increasing motivation and persistence, too much stress will become detrimental to your success.

Some of the most impactful things you can do to manage stress are some of the simplest things you can do such as:

1. Begin breathing deeply and stop breathing shallowly. Most people breath shallowly and this actually increases stress. Think about how relaxed you feel after you yawn, which is the body’s way of forcing deep breathing. Deep breathing also increases oxygen levels in the body and oxygen is a physiological relaxant. Additionally, deep breathing can help manage blood pressure, and high blood pressure is related to stress!

2. Exercise is a key factor in helping to manage stress levels. When you exercise your body releases endorphins, a hormone which causes the body to feel good. This feel-good hormone actually helps the body improve stress levels.

3. Get enough sleep. Sleep is essential when we’re stressed. When we don’t get enough sleep our stress levels sky rocket and we become far less able to manage our emotions and complete projects successfully. Furthermore, your body repairs itself when you sleep. And sleep is necessary for your immune system to function optimally.

4. Eating healthy high-quality foods. Often when people feel stressed they start to rely on junk foods to get by. They may reach for sugary desserts to treat themselves or to forget the day. However, these foods only serve to make stress worse because they do not nourish the body. Foods filled with preservatives and sugar only serve to make our immune system work overtime, causing more stress in the body, and making it harder to recover during these difficult periods.

5. Talk to others about what’s stressing you. Whether you talk to a friend, a family member, or a counsellor, talking about what’s stressing you out will undoubtedly help you function better. It will also help clear your mind of your stressor so that you can be more focused on what it is you need to do to succeed.

Forgetting is normal – The forgetting curve

Forgetting is actually a natural process and follows a normal and expected curve. Our minds are meant to forget certain information when it is no longer relevant to our lives. So our brains allow us to forget information that is no longer relevant to us.

The forgetting curve

Memory is retained depending upon the strength of the memory and the time that has elapsed since forming that memory. Stronger memories are kept for a longer period of time, and more recent memories are remembered more easily than distant memories from our past. The forgetting curve shows that we tend to forget about half of all information that we learn in just a matter of a few weeks or even days if we do not consciously review it and attempt to retain those memories longer.

The meaningfulness of the material is also related to how quickly we forget new material we have learned. We are far more likely to forget things that are not very relevant and meaningful to our day-to-day lives than those which are an important piece of our communities and ourselves. For example, although we may not consciously try to remember our wedding day we will likely retain that memory for a long time due to its meaningfulness, whereas what you ate for breakfast last week Tuesday is probably already forgotten.

Repetition seems to be the key to retaining memories longer. And the intervals between repetition would ideally begin close together (days after the initial material is learned) and then can be repeated at longer and longer intervals until finally you only need to review the material every few years to retain the memories and the information involved.

The value of one-page summaries when studying

Successful students tend to be organised students and they generally have one-page summaries of key topics and chapters.

1. One-page summaries help to condense just the most important information into an easy to view and review format.
2. Picking out the key information and putting it on a single page helps you to see the relationship between the important information.
3. Review is the key to long-term memory. It is not possible to regularly re-read a book, but it is very easy to review a one-page summary on a regular basis.
4. One-page summaries force you to condense information and make decisions about what is important. This will help you successfully integrate the information from each chapter or topic.

To create a one-page summary, break down the information into an outline where you create main headings from the chapter and then create subheadings beneath each that outline what’s most important.

Keep the notes to the bare minimum, indicating the important concepts and ideas so that your review later will be really focused on what’s important. Focus on the bigger ideas so that you have a great overview of what was covered in the chapter once you return to your notes later. When it’s time for the exam return to your one-page summaries and review only these so that you don’t have to wade through all of your lecture notes or all of the chapters for the information that’s most important to study!

student at study

The Growth Mindset

What do you feel that you deserve in life? What are your beliefs about what’s possible for you? Most of what you’re capable of in life is determined by your attitude towards yourself and towards your potential. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck discusses the difference between the ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets in her work ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’.

When you believe that your personality is set, that you cannot change, you have what is considered a ‘fixed’ mindset. A person with a ‘fixed’ mindset feels that all of their potential is predetermined and that their intelligence, creativity, character, and personality traits are all static and will never change. Those with a fixed mindset believe that they should strive for success and avoid failures by all means possible because failures affirm that they are not skilled or smart.

When you believe that your personality is flexible, that you are always changing, and that who you are is an ever-evolving picture, you have what is considered a ‘growth’ mindset. People with a ‘growth’ mind-set believe that they thrive on the challenges and struggles in life and see these as opportunities to grow. Those with a growth mindset don’t see failure as the end of trying to achieve something, but as an impetus to try harder and reapply our skills in new ways.

Growth-v-Fixed mindset

These two mindsets determine the way we behave in the world. When we approach things from a growth mindset we will try harder, get up and try again after failures, and generally be more resilient. A fixed mindset results in behaviours such as playing it safe and not sticking your neck out for new opportunities because of the risk of failure, avoiding criticism, and settling for what’s “good enough” rather than what we might be fully capable of if we extended ourselves.

So the view that you adopt about yourself fundamentally affects your life on all levels. It affects the jobs you take, the risks you take, whether you’re willing to try something new, your belief in what your potential is, what you’re capable of, and the type of person you want to be, and whether you apply yourself to achieving things you value as compared to things that seem achievable.


When you have a fixed mindset, there is no room for experimentation and learning through error because those things mean that you fall on the negative side of the self-judgement spectrum.

When you have a growth mindset your life becomes a garden that you can nurture. Just as a gardener wouldn’t say, “I can’t grow tomatoes” because of one bad growing season, those with a growth mindset can see that failures and setbacks do not mean that they have failed. They see each experience, each life experiment, each opportunity as a means for growth and development. They always believe that they can get better and that every piece of them can be honed, developed, and nurtured.

Those with a growth mindset nurture a passion for growth and learning. Deliberate practice and effort can result in greater and greater achievement. And that life is not pre-determined by a certain set of standards set at birth but instead by how much you’re willing to apply yourself and put yourself out there. This results in a sense of determination and persistence towards goals that are not stymied by the first setback.


On October 11-13 in the RDS, we attended Ireland’s largest ever youth summit: Zeminar.

There were youth groups from all over the country showing their products and services and we were delighted to find ourselves in the Well-being Gym in the Industries Hall.

We had the opportunity to talk to thousands of students and their teachers from schools all over the country, from Donegal to Kerry, and Galway to Malahide. It was great to see so many schools were interested in our well-being and emotional resilience programmes and wanted us to go to their schools.

On day 2 Feidhlim had the pleasure to present in the main hall of Zeminar, giving a flavour of our daily workshop, entitled “Make it Happen: Building Emotional Resilience for Academic Achievement”.

Feidhlim presenting to the main hall of Zeminar on day 2.

Feidhlim presenting to the main hall of Zeminar on day 2.

There were over 1000 people watching Feidhlim do his thing, including Niall Breslin, who was on just after Feidhlim, and who was very impressed with our Ways to Well-being programme.

Bressie and Feidhlim with our Ways to Well-being programme book.

Bressie and Feidhlim with our Ways to Well-being programme book.

















All of our workshops were packed out, and we were very excited to see so many Youthreach programmes interested in what we had to do. Hopefully we’ll be out to all of them and lots more schools over the coming months.

If you would like to know more about the seminars we provide, click the Seminars link at the top of the page.

The Super Generation at Zeminar

We will be at Zeminar in the RDS from October 11th – 13th. Zeminar is an exciting new social enterprise created to bring all those invested in the development and well-being of young people in Ireland to one place. On Wednesday we will be presenting on the main stage; and we will be hosting workshops every day. The theme of the talk and workshops is “Make it happen: Building emotional resilience for academic achievement.”

Zeminar is an event for Generation Z, particularly those aged between 15 and 20, and their parents, teachers, mentors and coaches. Zeminar is facilitating the introduction of young people to some of the best and most innovative organisations on this island. Throughout the event there will be workshops, influential speakers, essential resources and fun activities. Attendees will leave the event with new knowledge to help them live happier, safer, and more fulfilling lives.

Zeminar will be the most inclusive event for the young people of Ireland, catering for up to 30,000 attendees and their teachers/mentors, so we are quite excited to attend. There will be professionals and experts exhibiting and hosting workshops, showcasing their message in interactive ways. Their mandate will be to engage attendees and transfer impactful skills that can be taken away by students in order to facilitate more satisfying and productive lives.

Teachers will also have the opportunity to access an entire range of resources either by participating in the main event or at the dedicated Teachers Lounge, where complimentary refreshments will be served. Many of our contributors will double their efforts by not only speaking on the main stage but also tailoring content to the needs of teachers on our Teacher Stage.

All in all Zeminar is set to be a great few days. You can find more information here and you can get your tickets by clicking here.

Clear Aims and a Clear Mind = Clear Chances of Success

Exams_0Getting into a study routine is a tricky business. There’s plenty of other things to entertain you on an evening after a hard day at school. But somewhere in your mind is that voice telling you that you should be studying because you’ve so much to study. Fear not, because the chances of you studying can be increased by a slight adjustment to your thought process. Yes, a change of attitude can help lift you off the couch and into the world of study. While studying does involve a certain amount of effort on your part as a student, there is no reason for this effort to be a constant struggle to open up a book and look over some notes! The key to success lies in you first of all developing a very clear understanding of what you need to do. If you have that clarity, it will be a lot easier to begin your study process! Approaching study with a clear mind is an idea I have recently developed having worked with students on study skills over a number of years with The Super Generation. Responses from a survey conducted by students in examination years in 2013/14 have yielded some interesting results and I’d like to share with you some advice that developed from my research. Take note first of all that nobody can promise you automatic success in your examinations, you’ve got to make it happen yourself.


supergsmileThink Happy Thoughts

Students surveyed demonstrated interesting relationships between thinking positively and feeling confident about their ability to study. Those students who were more positive about learning and studying generally tended to have more belief in themselves too. Fill your mind with positive thoughts and think about your potential success in your exams, and this will help you grow in confidence. No matter what happens over the year, your experiences can always be looked at in a positive way!


003-SuperG-MeetingGet control – Set a Goal

Goal setting has long been a successful tool for many students. Goal setting will help you grow in confidence too. Students surveyed in 2013/14 who were setting goals and dividing up subjects into topics were more confident about their examinations. Set yourself clear, specific goals for your examinations and begin to work backwards from those goals by finding possible solutions to achieving them. Throughout the year, remind yourself regularly of your goals: put them up on your wall; make them your desktop background or screen saver; let your parents or teachers know what they are. Constantly remind yourself of these goals, because they can work as an adrenalin shot for your motivation!


001-superG-tipsTest Your Memory

Most students find writing out a few key words and phrases from a book will be enough to ensure they can put the books away and have a guilt free evening watching TV. Wrongo! While note-taking is an important process of studying (it helps whittle down the important information you’ll need for the exam), a crucial step in securing the information is to double-check you can actually recall (remember) it. Finish every study session with a quick memory test, either by scribbling down the information from your memory or physically saying the words out loud. This exercise will ensure you are practising exactly what you need to do for your exam, and will help build your confidence by showing you can actually remember stuff! You may not get every bit of information out of your head on the first attempt, but the more you practise recalling the information, the easier it gets.


Monitor your progress

One excellent strategy for keeping yourself on a clear path to success is to ensure you record what parts of each subject you have studied. This will show that you’re in control of your learning and that you know either what you have already studied or what you would like to go back over. It is recommended that you revise each topic for your subjects around 5 times throughout the year, so don’t lose focus on how many times you need to look at something. Create a chart for each of your subjects, write down when you have viewed a topic and tick off how many times you have practiced recalling the information for that topic. Keep yourself in control all the time, and record all the great work you do!


Remember Exam Formats

My final piece advice to help you stay clear-headed throughout the year is to ensure you know what is required in each of your examinations. Students can be put off studying because of an overwhelming feeling of not knowing what to study or how much to study for each subject. If you have a clear idea of what each examination entails (the number of questions required to answer, how much choice you have, the amount of time it will take, how many marks for each question) then you will have a better understanding of how much time you will need to spend on the subjects and its topics. Some students will put study off because they have not a clue what is going to be asked in their exams or how it will be asked. As a result, the automatic assumption is ‘I must study everything because they’ll ask me everything’. Again, be smart and remind yourself of how each examination will look, and this will help clear your mind.

Unfortunately, studying for the Leaving Certificate does require a certain amount of effort on your part, that’s just the nature of the beast. I do not promise all A grades in your examinations by using this advice – nobody can promise that – but what I can promise is that following these steps will give you a better chance of studying like an A grade student. You’ve got to take control of your chances. In the words of Pádraig Harrington, who, when asked was his success in professional golf down to luck replied “the harder I train the luckier I seem to get”. I will leave you with these parting sentiments: you will not always see hard work as ‘hard work’ if you attempt it on a regular basis – it will simply become ‘work’. Secondly, if you sit down, have a good think about your strengths and what you want to achieve, clear your mind and follow the steps outlined above, you’ll have a better chance of knuckling down with the study, which will only leave you with a greater chance of success. Best of luck in the exams and keep your mind clear and focused.


Aidan Harwood
Aidan a former Super Generation trainer investiaged the effectiveness of the study skills delivered by The Super Generation as part of this MSc in Education from Trinity College Dublin in early 2014. He is now teaching history in a secondary school in the UK.