Exams Learning Services Student-made Support Wellbeing

A student’s guide to exam stress

Exams are coming quickly and that means one thing is guaranteed – stress! And what can make it even more stressful is not knowing what the exam situation is going to be like. University exams, for me at least, are very different to what I was used to in high school and sixth form, which can be nerve-wracking as nothing is familiar. On top of that, if you need support  like myself and you’re  registered with DASS (Disability Advisory and Support Service), you may be receiving special exam arrangements such as extra time, breaks or a separate room. If you’ve never had these arrangements before, I’m here to give you the rundown of what to expect from exams at UoM!

The core principles of a university exam are the same as any other you’ve probably taken in the past – no phones, no notes, write in black or blue ink etc. But there are some things that make them a little different. The most important thing to remember about uni exams is to bring your student ID card. Remember to put it on your desk as it will be checked by the examiner.

Another thing about uni exams is that you are often allowed to leave before the time runs out if you are finished. This didn’t bother me too much as I’ve taken ABRSM music theory exams before and they let you do the same thing, but I can understand that this could freak some people out. Try not to worry about the people around you! Everyone copes differently in exam situations, whether that means they finish really quickly no matter how hard they found the exam, or they check their paper until the last second. What matters is your comfort, and if being able to leave the exam once you have finished suits you, then the option is there.

When I was preparing to sit my exams in January 2016, I was mildly concerned by the fact that my exams seemed to be in completely different buildings to my coursemates’. But as it turns out this was because I was the only one registered with DASS. If you have exam arrangements that include being in a separate room, this will be the same for you. All of my exams last year were in University Place whereas my coursemates’ were in various buildings across campus. This actually made it a lot easier for me and I stressed less that I was in the wrong place.

You also probably won’t be expecting to find that people who take exams in a separate room are from all manner of subjects – I sat a lot of my English Language exams next to people taking Politics, Maths and Geography! It may seem a little weird at first but trust me, it’s fine. Everyone is given a slip of paper with their individual finishing time dependent on how long the exam is, any extra time they may receive and any breaks they may take. The invigilators are super helpful and try to make everything as smooth as possible.

Now that you know exactly what exams are going to feel like, here are some tips for looking after yourself over the exam period from someone who’s done it all before and came out unscathed:

  • Stay hydrated – this is just a tip for life in general but it’s also way easier to concentrate and take things in when you’re properly hydrated! Always keep water handy when you’re studying (it’s allowed in most, if not all, of the study spaces on campus) and take a clear, label less water bottle into the exam.
  • Remember to take breaks – now by this I don’t mean “I’ve read one chapter of my book, I think I’ll watch an entire season of Brooklyn Nine Nine!” (definitely not speaking from experience…) I try to stick to a system of 30-40 minutes work followed by a ten minute break!
  • Keep snacks around – keeping snacks around may seem like a strange idea but if you have snacks then you’re less likely to procrastinate studying by leaving to go and get food. Healthy snacks are preferable but don’t forget to treat yourself every once in a while! You’re working hard; you deserve it.
  • Get some rest – while not everyone can get eight hours sleep a night, it’s important to maintain a healthy and regular sleep cycle. Cramming into the early hours may seem like a good idea but an exhausted brain isn’t going to retain ANY of that vocab you just memorised. Trying to have a regular bedtime and getting up relatively early will help you in the long run (even if it feels god awful for the first few days).
  • Get colourful – colours help you to remember things! Make your notes pretty and it’ll make writing them a bit less tedious, as well as helping you to distinguish key points more easily!
  • Study with friends – you have to be careful with this one as I know how easily ‘studying’ can turn into a Netflix binge, but if you can find people who are willing to help you learn and you can do the same for them then definitely work together to revise!
  • Don’t keep quiet – if you’re experiencing any trouble over the exam period, don’t be afraid to talk to people. Your lecturers, academic advisors and peers are there for you and you can always contact the University Counselling Service.

Good luck to everyone with their exams and I hope you have a wonderful rest of the year!