It’s that time of the year again, when we buckle down and desperately turn to our classmates and say “What were we supposed to cover again?!”
University exams are nearly upon us. As I enter my ninth exam season I reflect on the many tips and lessons I learned in my time
1) Study smart
I tried the old “highlight everything in bright colours and I’m sure it’ll sink in” technique in my first year of college but I quickly found myself staring at certain terms and being completely lost. Check this out.
It turns out highlighters don’t have magical powers, unfortunately.
I found the best way to learn was to go through old exam papers and write down bullet points of all the main points and references I’d want to mention. Given that there tends to be quite a bit of repetition of questions over the years this reinforced the main information I needed to learn.
If you don’t have time to do this, even just hand-writing out definitions, case-names and quotes is a scientifically proven way to help you better remember information.
It’s even better if you write them out neatly on a page so you can refresh your memory while sitting outside the exam hall.
Additionally, know what you need to know. Lecturers often drop hints in the run up to exams, or stick to the same exam formats year after year.
I’ve had situations where I’ve covered only half of the topics and then found out I couldn’t answer any of the questions on the paper, or wasted time covering a topic the lecturer said wouldn’t come up.
2) Take care of yourself
There is nothing worse than sitting exams while ill. Stress tends to take a toll on your body, so you need to compensate with extra sleep, covering yourself up when out in cold weather and not pushing yourself so hard that your body decides to give up and throw in the towel.
Additionally, while it is tempting to only eat Koka Noodles and drink Red Bull, man cannot survive on junk food alone.
Exam season is a marathon so you need to give yourself some good food in order to have the energy to keep going. Have an apple. Eat porridge in the morning. Chow down on some vegetables.
3) Use your break time wisely
When I get that familiar headache that comes with staring at a computer screen for a few hours straight, I’m always tempted to then watch something on that same computer screen.
But I’ve found that I can reduce or get rid of that headache by taking my dogs for a quick walk around the corner, going downstairs and making myself a cup of tea, or doing a few stretches to loosen up.
Find something which will help you concentrate and return to your study refreshed.
4) Sleep is better than cramming
The evidence is in – you are much better off going into an exam well-rested than pulling an all-nighter according to researchers at UCLA.
The reason would seem obvious. When you haven’t slept it is hard to focus and harder to remember the information you need.
Sleep is also important for the brain to store information that you learned during the day. Things only get worse if you cram a few days in a row for successive exams.
5) Avoid distractions
Ah, procrastination. It has served me well over the years, ensuring that my room was spotless, I had written a novel (never published), learned all the words to ‘The Boxer’ by Simon and Garfunkel learned how to do the Thriller dance as seen in 13 Going On 30.
But you eventually get to a point where you know if you don’t stop procrastinating, you will be screwed.
Tried and test techniques for me include downloading StayFocusd onto my browser, which limits the times during which you can access certain sites, such as Facebook, Youtube and Tumblr. When studying permitted I turned off my WiFi altogether so I wouldn’t get notified about incoming emails. I also turned my phone onto airplane mode.
Try and find a place you can focus, whether that’s the library in your university, a nearby café or your bedroom.
Finally have a list of things you need to do in order to not allow yourself to drift off into doing other things.
Then when you have finished studying, finish studying so that leisure time and study time don’t bleed into one amorphous blob.
6) If all else fails…
If you left everything until the last minute, have no time, never showed up to class and never studied during the year, remember that this is only one semester.
Learn from your mistakes, and figure out realistic ways to improve next year. Ask friends for tips, figure out what the most effective studying method is for you, go to your classes even if the notes are already online.
Best of luck!