Coping with exams
The Do’s and Don’ts for preparing for, and handling exam season.
The majority of us will have to sit exams in our lives. Whether we like it or not, it’s relatively impossible to avoid them. Learning to cope with both the revision process and exam period for myself has definitely been a work in progress throughout my academic life. Despite having sat two years of university, I would still say that each year I am continuing to learn better methods of dealing with them, especially as someone who deals relatively badly with the stress and anxiety of exam pressure and academia in general. So, I’ve listed below some of my top tips and tricks to help you throughout your exams. If you think I’ve missed any, drop them in the comment section below.
- Don’t overreach in terms of your daily goals!
This is something I fall short with EVERY TIME! Setting yourself ridiculous expectations will be your own biggest downfall, it will make anything you do not seem good enough and you’ll never feel like you’re achieving anything. So, second tip is…
- Set yourself realistic goals!
I don’t really use revision timetables because every year I spend hours drawing one up, allocating time for each day, only to completely ignore it when I actually begin. If they work for you then great, by all means maximise their use if they aid your time management. Instead I set myself rough goals of what I should have completed by either the end of the day of the end of the week, and work as hard as I can to meet those goals. I also make these to-do lists small and manageable, set a few ‘must completes’ and then anything else on the list that I get to is just a bonus. It’s soooo important to remember that we are only human, our brains can only deal with, process, and remember a certain amount of info at one time! Rushing to cram it all in will only detriment your learning process. Be kind to yourself.
- Keep stocked up on food and drink.
If I said that I only ate carrots and hummus and fruit during revision I would be lying…I practically lived off crisps, chocolate, coffee and pasta this year (lol), however, as long as you feel well physically and mentally, I strongly believe that during a period as stressful (and emotional) as exams, eat whatever you want that will make you happy. Try and strive for a balance so you’re at least getting all the nutrients you need, but don’t suddenly act like comfort food is the spawn of saran. And drink water!! A lot of it! eep a big bottle on your desk near you and it will be harder for you to forget. .And keep stocked up on energy providing food like brown pasta/rice etc. Taking vitamin tablets every day is also a good idea, especially if you are slacking off on the veggies.
This one might be a personal/nerd preference, but I love stocking up on new pens, good quality paper, and revision cards SO MUCH. It makes such a difference for me, be it psychological or not. Start as you mean to go on and invest in the tools you need to make your revision notes vibrant and clear to read because it really does make a difference having your notes visually clear and bright.
- Making your notes clear, condensed, and colourful.
How you actually physically lay out your revision is very much dependent on your subjects and personal preference. I personally work very visually, and benefit the most from hand-writing notes. I start off by condensing notes on a topic into a word document which I highlight on Word, and print out. From there I condense them into handwritten notes (spider-diagrams, bullet points etc), and then again into 5-6 revision cards for each topic. For me, highlighters and coloured pens are key: I will have historians in blue, key points in red, facts in green, for example. This is obviously dependent on the individual, but for me it ingrains it in my mind much more – I can be sat in an exam and think ‘what was highlighted pink and written in green half way down that revision card?’ and it can help jolt a memory. Find out what works for you!
The night before my A-Level Politics exam I had three hours sleep and then threw up the next morning (it was tragic). I did well in the exam but felt like I was dying in the process (I was genuinely having heart palpitations lol). Sleep is so incredibly important: although the recommended eight hours might not be achievable, at least try and get six minimum the night before an exam. It truly does affect how alert you are, and if you have an afternoon exam you will slump before you even go in.
- Put yourself in a calm situation pre-exam.
There is nothing I hate more than being around people before an exam, especially people sitting the same one. Listening to someone discuss things you have never heard of throws you off track so much and completely messes up your focus. I am lucky to have a park next to my campus, so pre-exam I walked around that a couple of times before I headed into the exam.
- Exceptional circumstances.
This is very much dependent on your institution/school, but if you have been suffering with a long term health issue that has taken up time in terms of doctors appointments, illnesses etc, you have the option to apply for exceptional circumstances, meaning said issue will be taken into account with your exam results.
- Jot down anything you think you will forget once the exam has begun, and answer your strongest question first.
Obviously, again this is dependent on your subject and exam format. For me, I answer three essays in three hours. I jot down any historians, authors, and dates that I think I will forget so I can refer back to them. Answering your strongest question first means you ensure you will do it justice and really have one solid answer to show off with, and won’t be thrown off by answering a difficult one. Otherwise you run the risk of 1. running out of time or 2. forgetting something in the course of the exam and then messing up your best chance of showcasing how much you know.
Lastly, but most importantly, remember that exams, regardless of the level you are sitting them at, are not the be all and end all of life, no matter how much pressure you are under or how much you have riding on said exam. From experience, both personally and from friends over the years, messing up, not getting what you wanted, and even completely failing an exam can be rectified. Retaking can be an option, and there is always the chance to change the course you had set out, and whilst this may not be appealing or what you had planned, alternatives do exist. One day you will look back and realise that whatever happened, everything turned out alright in the end.
People our age are under immense pressure in our education systems, and I honestly don’t think we get enough credit! So remember to give yourself a pat on the back, and just do the best you can, because at the end of the day that really is all you can do.