Most students deal with some sort of anxiety or nervousness before an exam. According to a study conducted by Studytime NZ, at least two-thirds of students aged 15-18 cite dealing with stress over exams as a major challenge to learning. Half of students also answered that dealing with exams or exam techniques was a major hurdle. With exams being a significant obstacle to learning for many students, is there anything that can be done to make them less stressful?

Exam anxiety comes at different levels

Nearly every student gets at least a little bit nervous before a major exam. However, for some, the worry and stress can substantially affect their performance, even when they know the material. Study Time NZ defines high-level anxiety as having “intense feelings of fear and inadequacy or debilitating thoughts, which can make even the act of attending the exam extremely difficult”.

Generally, exam anxiety is more likely to happen in secondary school and beyond due to concerns over NCEA. But anxiety can be present at any level, and if you or your child is dealing with it, there are some helpful tips you can try to help reduce stress levels.

1.     Develop an exam routine

Coming up with a routine before an exam can help make them just that; a routine, something normal that happens regularly. This can include going to bed at the same time before an exam, eating the same meal at the same time on every exam day, listening to a specific song before the assessment begins, or even using a lucky pen/pencil. The goal is to make exam days just like any other day, which can be helpful for some people.

2.     Ask/Write down specific worries

If a child claims to be dealing with exam anxiety, it’s helpful to listen to and acknowledge that feeling. What specifically is worrisome about the exam? Is it fear of not knowing any of the questions? Of failing and having to repeat the course? That life will completely disintegrate and everything will be lost? Writing or talking out the stressful thoughts can be therapeutic for many, and many students report receiving higher exam grades after doing this.

3.     Choose sleep over additional studying

As long as studying has been regular—and not crammed in only on the evening before the exam—prioritising sleep over extra studying is beneficial and backed by many studies, including one on sleep loss and memory retention. Staying up a few extra hours than normal to try and learn more tends to have the opposite effect, as getting extra sleep helps the brain process information and allows for greater levels of alertness and attention to detail for the exam.

4.     Use good study habits

Studying is an important part of knowledge checking and mastery. However, many students report not knowing a good way to study. Because different people have different learning styles, what works for one may be ineffective for another. Once a student finds a method that works, it should be used consistently and regularly as part of the study routine. Some studying suggestions to try include:

  • Using flashcards with a brief mention of an important concept or vocabulary word on one side, with a detailed explanation on the other.
  • Teaching the material to someone who is unfamiliar with it and being able to explain it in simple terms.
  • Speaking the material or notes aloud instead of reading them in silence. For some, this greatly increases retention.
  • Trying a study group with other students in the same course.
  • For a more comprehensive list of study techniques, take a look at this list of study methods.

Using a tutor who can focus on 1-on-1 learning is particularly helpful for some students and allows them to talk and bounce ideas off of someone familiar with the material. To setup an appointment for tutoring for yourself or your child, call or contact us today.

Senior Woman in the Library

With more people working beyond the typical retirement age of 65 each year, tertiary education is an appealing option for people who are tired of their field and looking for work that is a better fit for them. However, many believe that returning to school after a long hiatus—sometimes one several decades long—is a dream that can’t be realized. Even the thought of going back for a new qualification can be daunting. After all, isn’t school different and full requirements nowadays?

It’s true that tertiary education has changed, but that doesn’t mean older students can’t adapt. In fact, just a few years back, the University of Auckland had an 84-year-old woman graduate with a Master of Arts. And she isn’t the only non-traditional student performing well in the modern school system. In 2005, 30% of students were age 40 or older—more than triple the number from 1995—and has only increased in the last decade and a half.

How do I get back into the flow of schoolwork?

One challenge that some older students have is initially getting back into the flow of steady schoolwork and classes. This can be particularly challenging when balancing work along with classwork. Because the transition can be difficult, many of New Zealand’s Universities, including Massey University, recommend taking one or two courses in the first semester.

Many classes are also moving towards a blended learning approach where some of the course is in-person at a specified time and another part is self-guided online with collaborative forums with other students. For mature students who struggle with technology, it’s crucial to gain experience and understanding of these platforms before attempting to juggle multiple complex courses at once.  

What if I need a little extra help?

Fortunately, most schools have a plethora of resources these days to help any student willing to put in a little extra time and effort. Creating a study group with other students is one viable option, and schools also have tutors for many courses available on a self-referral basis. One potential drawback with the tutoring option is that many times the tutor is a student themselves instead of a teacher, so may have difficulty imparting the information they’ve learned to someone else.

To avoid this possible drawback, there are several off-campus tutoring services that use professionally-trained teachers to teach subjects instead of student tutors. This means that students have the combination of a knowledgeable mentor who also knows how to properly instruct their protégé and bring out his or her full potential. From essay writing to speed reading and even a little bit of science, if you’re looking for assistance getting back into tertiary education as a mature student, our team can help.


Slow processing speed affects many students around the world

There are many different learning styles that people exhibit based on how their individual minds work. Some are visual, preferring to read passages, while some others are auditory and better ascertain new information through sounds. Some students complete homework and tests quickly, while others take much longer than the expected time and use the full duration for tests—and then some. Often, the latter group deals with slow processing speed, something that can influence nearly every aspect of their lives.

What is slow processing speed?

In his article, “Understanding, Diagnosing, and Coping with Slow Processing Speed”, author Steven Butnik explains that slow processing speed is when someone requires extra time to accomplish tasks compared to the average person. He emphasizes that slow processing speed is not a learning disorder, something that is echoed by scholars throughout the field.

Slow processing speed is not a learning disability in and of itself, but is many times present in people with ADHD and other disabilities. Consequently, it is frequently misidentified as a disorder by teachers or even parents. However, one can have slow processing speed and not have difficulty learning information. In fact, there are many students with slow processing who are highly intelligent and considered to be gifted. These “twice-exceptional” students are often frustrated because they are able to figure out complicated and difficult subject matters but take an increased amount of time to process and formulate their thoughts.

How can I help a student with slow processing speed?

Remember first and foremost that slow processing speed is often extremely frustrating for the individual, more so than the people around him or her. Constantly telling them to hurry up is rarely helpful. There are many ways to helpincluding:

  • Use a timer for tasks that take much longer than they should. Letting them know how long they’ve spent can often help them be better with time awareness.
  • Limit distractions when possible. For example, covering up all questions on a homework assignment except the current one they are working on can aid in focus.
  • Allow for more time for tasks when possible. This takes some of the stress away and can even reduce the amount of time they require.

Try an after-school tutor and let them know about your concerns

Because time is a primary factor for students with slow processing speed, increasing the amount of time available can offer a great boost to their learning skills. One way to do this is to use a qualified tutoring service with tutors who are aware of slow processing speed and have experience managing and engaging students who have it. By giving these students a little bit of extra time with someone who can focus on them alone, many are able to gain more confidence in their abilities and become better learners overall. 


Many people have trouble with reading. For some, this is due to a learning disorder such as ADHD or Dyslexia. For others, it may be an issue with slow processing speed that causes them to take more time to comprehend written words and directions. And some never find out what the cause is at all. One of these less-diagnosed causes is Irlen Syndrome

What Is Irlen Syndrome?

Estimated to affect as much as 14% of the population, Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder. It affects how the brain processes visual information. Often, text is seen as slightly blurry or with a “halo” effect at the edges. People with Irlen Syndrome tend to have light sensitivity, reading problems, concentration problems, and difficulties with writing as a result. Frequent headaches, especially during reading, is a common sign of Irlen Syndrome and tends to be accompanied by tiredness and skipping words or lines when reading.

Poor depth perception is another symptom which can result in difficulties with ball sports, stairs, driving, and even social problems such as judging proper personal space distance. Another common consequence of Irlen Syndrome is loss of self-esteem, as people with undiagnosed Irlen Syndrome compare themselves to “successful” readers and come to believe that they are “dumb”.

Many people are unaware of Irlen Syndrome, and live their entire lives not knowing that they have it. This means that they never get to use any kind of aids or remedies to ameliorate their symptoms and become good readers.

What causes Irlen Syndrome?

While Irlen Syndrome seems to run in families and many studies have noted hereditary markers, it is not purely genetic. The cause of Irlen Syndrome seems to be a problem in the visual pathway between the eye and the brain, a problem that causes visual processing to fail to synchronize, which leads to perceptual dysfunction.

Researchers discovered another interesting correlation when delving into Irlen Syndrome. As stated above, approximately 14% of the general population may have Irlen Syndrome. That number jumps up significantly for people with a learning or reading difficulty. Nearly half of people in this category also have Irlen Syndrome, along with about 1/3 of people on the autism spectrum and 1/3 of those with a concentration or attention problem such as ADHD.

How does one discover if they have Irlen Syndrome?

If someone has several symptoms of Irlen Syndrome, there are several self-tests available. has both a short and a long self-test that give immediate answers about if a professional evaluation is recommended or not. There are official screening centres in New Zealand (On Track Learning is one) that can run more comprehensive tests and then refer to an Irlen Diagnostician if required.

How is Irlen Syndrome Treated?

Currently, Irlen Syndrome is not curable, but there are ways to mitigate the visual processing issues.

Irlen Screeners can provide specific coloured overlays for people to lay on the text that they are reading to alleviate symptoms.

Irlen Diagnosticians ascertain the exact tint necessary to put into Irlen spectral filters that are worn as glasses. These special filters help with everyday issues such as light sensitivity, glare, depth perception, night driving, or copying from a board.

The overlays that an Irlen Screener can offer to put on text are often a different colour to the Diagnostician’s recommended Irlen tinted spectral filters that the eyes see through.

The Irlen Method involves using coloured overlays or tinted filters in glasses in order to filter out specific wavelengths of light. This filtering helps correct the processing problems and can greatly improve some symptoms.

Irlen Syndrome is not an optometric problem, which is why the glasses are referred to as filters rather than lenses. However, some people do have tinted lenses that resolve both optometric and perceptual problems.

What if you suspect someone you know has Irlen Syndrome?

If you or someone you know has difficulties with reading, especially if they don’t otherwise have a learning or attention disorder, Irlen Syndrome may be the cause. Many students are able to significantly increase their abilities and scores in school through the use of the Irlen Method. There are many testimonials and success stories from students who were able to study and learn more effectively, and taking a test can confirm or rule out Irlen Syndrome as a possibility.

See us at On Track Learning if you think that an Irlen Screening may be useful for you.


When a student has a neurological disadvantage that causes him or her to have difficulties processing written information, the student has an increased chance of lagging behind classmates. Reading is essential in nearly every class and subject in school to comprehend instructions and course material, with most people agreeing that reading is the most important life skill.

This means that conditions such as Dyslexia create a significant barrier and a strenuous challenge; a challenge that must be overcome to bolster learning. But when teachers have to focus on the needs of over a dozen students at a time, how can someone with reading hardships get the help and attention he or she needs?

The Cellfield Intervention assists in creating new neural pathways

Up until recently, it was thought that neural pathways were permanent and could not be rewired—recent research has proven this to be inaccurate. Cellfield uses this information and understanding of neuroplasticity to help students make the connection between letters and their corresponding sounds. Reading requires continuous processing of fast-moving visual and auditory information, information that is processed differently when someone has Dyslexia.

The intervention is split into 10 sessions of one hour each which are typically completed over a 10-day period. Before the intervention beings, students are assessed using the British Dyslexia Screening Test that measures skills such as phonological awareness and working memory. Each student is also put through three tests: Vocabulary, Word Attack, and Comprehension. An optometrist will also assess the student for eccentricity and instability, a condition that makes it difficult for the eyes to fixate on the beginning of a word and move to the end.

In a mere 10 days, new, quicker and more effective neurological pathways are developed, allowing for students to make as much as a two-year gain in their Word Attack and Comprehension skills. From that point, most students find that they are better able to process information and are less stressed and more competent learners.

For more information on Cellfield and its effectiveness, read the information in this study.

What if my child has trouble with reading but isn’t Dyslexic?

Dyslexia is a primary focus of Cellfield but isn’t a requirement for the program. Many types of students are suitable for Cellfield, including those that have poor reading and/or writing skills, do not have basic sound/letter correspondence skills, have weak working memory or difficulty recalling what they read, as well as children with problems controlling eye movements. Students with Irlen Syndrome may also benefit from the program, particularly since Irlen Syndrome is present in approximately half of people who have reading or learning problems.

Students with extreme concentration issues or those that do not yet have basic sound/letter correspondence skills are not best suited for Cellfield. Because of the computer usage and software required, medical clearance will be required for students with epilepsy or sensitivity to bright lights.

Where is a Cellfield Centre near me?

If you are interested in Cellfield, there are numerous locations throughout New Zealand where you can go. In the Invercargill area, you can visit or email Patria at with any questions or to set up an appointment.