We know that feeling all too well. The temporary joy of lectures and tutorials being over followed by the wave of realisation that exam season is once again upon us. You look back and see the lectures you have occasionally traded for sleeping in, weeks of formative quizzes left undone, revision videos untouched. With exams catching up quick, is there any salvation left for the average university student?
Lucky you for stumbling upon this article, then!
The first step, pretentious as it may be, is to believe that you can weather the storm. If you spend even a second doubting your abilities, it will reflect on your grades, and we can’t have that happening, can we? Get yourself in the right state of mind before you begin. We won’t need focus just yet, simply determination.
Next, scurry over to Blackboard and look at the announcement section or the course outline. Your lecturer should have posted an exam guide of what to expect and which chapters will be tested; locate that information. Following, identify sub-concepts under the topics that will be tested. Write down every topic and its sub-concepts on a sheet of paper and add checkboxes next to each line. Now, you have a visualisation of everything you need to cover in however little time you may have left. You’re doing great!
Does the list seem long to you? Do not panic. The next step is to tackle the subject that will be tested first. There are conflicting suggestions as to whether you should start with the easiest or most complex topic, but I will leave that to your personal preference.
At this point of the semester, you should have already worked out two things: the time of day at when you best study and the location where you best focus.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend waking up early (around 6 or 7 in the morning) and getting straight to work. You’d be surprised at how much you can get done by lunchtime! During this peak productivity time, sit down at a desk with the minimal essentials and get to work. This desk can be anywhere from the one in your room to one in the many learning spaces on campus.
Throughout your workflow, attempt the following:
- Set your devices to ‘Do Not Disturb’ and put them out of your reach
- Stick to the Pomodoro technique and take longer breaks for every four sets you do
- Try your best to keep a good posture (helps with staying energised)
Naturally, revision then begins. I will refrain from telling you exactly how to revise since study methods differ from student to student and course to course. I will, however, share my preparation process for one of my modules, namely Metaphysics and Epistemology, and you can take from this what you will. Let’s assume one of the chapters in my essay-based exam: Knowledge.
I would first revise key terms (e.g. ‘knowledge’) and concepts (e.g. the tripartite analysis of knowledge). After, I will identify the dominant arguments in the field, namely the idea that “The tripartite analysis is necessary but not sufficient for knowledge, often resulting in what is known as Gettier cases”. What’s left for me to do, then, is to explore the many suggestions from distinguished philosophers on how to dispel the Gettier cases and present a comprehensive analysis of knowledge. Easier said than done, of course.
Given that my exam will consist of two essays, I naturally have to reference the works of said philosophers. I identify three of the strongest arguments that address the discourse and dive into the readings. I say three because I have factored in the exam word limit, and presenting any more than three arguments will allow more breadth but less depth, which might weaken the support for my thesis. As I go about my reading, I make careful notes about points that I’d likely cite as well as argumentative flaws to which objections can be raised.
Eventually, after considering the main arguments, I will end the study session with my own conclusion. In the case of this module, I would attempt to propose my solution to Gettier cases or even take the extreme end of things to ask if knowledge should be analysed in the first place. And just like that, I would have prepared everything I could potentially need while answering essay questions related to the topic of knowledge.
For non-essay-based exams such as Advanced Statistics and Macroeconomics 1, my fail-proof revision technique is to simply attempt practice quizzes and any additional supplied worksheets. ‘Practice is perfect’ is the one adage that I will never give up on, and I suggest you do the same! If you are allowed formula sheets for math-intensive exams, make sure to create your own, so you know precisely where each information is located instead of simply sourcing one online.
A final tip I have regarding the revision and preparation period is to emphasise continuity and consistency. It is more destructive than beneficial to study from 6 AM to 11 PM for two days and slack off for the next three days. Keep a consistent schedule; studying for five spaced-out hours every day is healthier than the scenario above.
Speaking of health, let’s talk about some habits to implement this exam season. Need I remind you that working out and exercising can make you more alert and focused? I have personally set a target to hit the gym three times a week in May. You could do something as simple as running on the treadmill for thirty minutes or opt for a complete workout. If you aren’t a gym person by nature, consider yoga, which can stimulate your brain to produce chemicals that promote calmness. Being mindful of and paying attention to your body can easily reduce stress.
I’d like to think you have seen the next tip coming: Sleep. If you are anything like me, you might have curated an extraordinary sleep schedule over the semester that involves staying awake during ungodly hours and sleeping well into your morning lectures. Now is the time to fix that. It’s recommended that you sleep before 11 PM and wake up before 8 AM; this way, you’re bound to fit in a spicy eight hours of sleep and be refreshed for the day to come. Sleeping at regular hours will also keep the fatigue away and improve your memory.
Don’t forget to fuel up as well! It’s tempting to snack mindlessly while studying (been there, done that), but consider alternatives such as brain foods (e.g. dark chocolate, nuts, berries, and avocados) instead. Try to stay away from excessive caffeine intake; though it may enhance your focus and energy for a few hours, the crash is the last thing you need this exam season.
It’s crucial that you don’t see exams as an enemy to be conquered or a monster to be slain. This kind of thinking will only increase your stress. Instead, view exams as a challenge, reviewing what you have learned this semester.
If that doesn’t help, a handy trick I have up my sleeve is to revisit the times I performed well academically for a confidence boost. It’s all about the fact that if you have done it before, you can most certainly do it again.
Mental resilience can sustain you through exam weeks. Think about all the lectures you have sat through and the amount of coursework you have accomplished—now is not the time to give up and render your past efforts futile!
I know it seems impossible to get over, but every second has to come to a pass, and every exam will too. Be excited about the summer that follows. Revise. Focus. Breathe. You’ve already come so far; I have full confidence that you will make it further. Good luck to everyone in this exam season!