This may well be due to my inexhaustible sampling of almost every exam tip I’ve ever heard- some are extremely efficient, some are pretty ridiculous. Entering my eighth series of exams, here are five that have saved me from the vicious sting of collegial failure.
1. Make a realistic timetable. Before you even start choosing which weeks to focus on, procrastinate with this first. Set out what you aim to have achieved by the end of every day and be generous with your breaks, so that working for the three of four hours will be worth the concentration, even if it ends up being a disappointing hour of beans on toast and Jeremy Kyle.
2. Use as many senses as possible. According to memory experts, ‘modalities’, or what we would call senses, hold the key to allow our nervous system to convert experience into both short and long term memory. Using more than one sense to memorise something therefore significantly increases the chances of our brain recalling one of the ways in we experienced it. In practice, you can take advantage of this by repeating everything out loud and (if you can bear listening to it) recording yourself reiterating notes on an iPhone or iPod can be an incredible help, especially for language and oral exams.
3. Don’t print out your notes. I’m of the somewhat questionable belief that writing things out connects to your lesser accessed subconscious, and does half the work for you. On a more realistic note, for anyone who uses a laptop during the year to take notes, writing things out under time pressure will get your lazy wrists ready to ache during exams, Rambo style.
4. Colour code EVERYTHING. I’ll admit that this is a mark left on me from six years in a single sex girls’ school, but it really does work. Become a highlighter-wielding Michelangelo, honestly. Using a different colour combination for each question you prepare and getting intimately familiar with the actual layout of the notes you’ve made increases the chances of developing a photographic memory of it, when trying to recall sections and quotes that have slipped your mind mid-exam. Additionally, writing on yellow paper I can confirm, is not just an urban myth; lawyers are definitely onto something.
5. Do not memorise essays- memorise information. Essay titles are sensitive creatures: they can dramatically change year to year, and even in the time between your lecturer’s assurances that the questions covered in tutorials will reflect what appears on the paper, and D-Day. Instead learn flexible information, which can suit whichever argument that you know you have the material to support. If you are preparing for essay-based exams it is also hugely important that you practice previous papers: first, to ascertain whether you are able to form a somewhat logical line of argument but mostly to check that you know enough to warrant an hour’s work of crazed scratching and wrist pain during the exam. Also, it is impossible to form a credible argument without planning your answer. Do this before you go anywhere near even contemplating your first word, but keep it to an absolute maximum of five minutes.
These tips have helped me skid right over the pass mark in very unlikely circumstances and allowed me to creep into percentages to be proud of in my better subjects for the last four years of college. Here’s to hoping that I’m not just crazy and that they’ll work for you too.