The holidays are over, and this can only mean one thing - the dreaded January exams are just around the corner.
However, while the January exams bring a fair share of doom, gloom, stress, and panic, they don’t need to. I like to make things simple, so let’s break down studying for exams to a more manageable concept: it’s just reinforcing a bunch of stuff you’ve already learned (hopefully).
And with the right approach, you can make this whole process a lot more manageable. Well, we’ve been through the exam mill our fair share of times, and we’ve picked up a collection of pretty great tips along the way.
Tempering your exam stress is all about taking back control of your learning. One of the best ways to do this is by simply figuring out where and when you’re going to study. Draw up a schedule -- a MANAGEABLE one at that. Then, just try your best to follow it. It might take a day or three to get into the groove, but before long you’ll be well used to your new schedule.
Then there’s your space. Wherever you’re studying, keep it neat and tidy. It might seem like too small a change to make a difference, but trust us, an organised workspace helps shape an organised mind.
Since we talked about drawing up a manageable schedule, it’ll help if you take plenty of short breaks in between, or in the middle of study sessions. There’s only so much information a brain can absorb. It’s so important to give yourself time to breathe and let some things sink in, before all those notes turn to mush in your head.
We’re big fans of the 40/10 routine. 40 minutes plugged in, working hard and focused, followed by a 10 minute breather, before diving back into another 40 minutes. And how to use those 10 minutes? However you like, they’re yours! But do try to stand up, walk around a little, and leave the room, or maybe even go outside for some fresh air.
The weight of exams can weigh heavy on your shoulders, but it really helps if you can turn your mind away from it completely when you’re doing something else. Stress, in fairness, can be a motivator, but it always catches us up in the end and brings us down again. To that end, it’s crucial to enjoy and make the most of your downtime.
This will be much, much easier if you’ve followed your schedule and got enough work done that day or evening. This way, you say to yourself, “I’ve done what I was supposed to do today. Now I can relax for a while.”
“Cramming” through the night before an exam can be disastrous. Trying to do an exam when all you need is sleep is a waking nightmare, as quite simply, the brain just doesn’t do its job when it’s unrested. Try to prioritise a good night’s sleep over a few extra notes which a sleep deprived, coffee-addled brain wouldn’t even remember. It’ll pay off.
This doesn't only apply to the night before an exam either. Make sure that during your entire exam-prep time, you get enough sleep to wake up feeling energised and ready to study some more.
A responsible, helpful study group that is. Some classmates might actually be detrimental to you, if all you do is distract one another. But with the right company, you can find and fill gaps in each other’s knowledge.
However, don’t replace your own solo study time entirely—that’s still the most important part. But once or twice a week, it could pay off to meet up with some fellow students, throw some ideas around and help each other through the exams.
It’s oh so easy to get sucked into the endless scroll on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok. For the time being at least, it’s a good idea to slow things down on that front. Tinker with your device’s settings to limit the amount of time you spend online, or better yet, delete those apps until you’re over your exams.
It’s a sacrifice, I know, but it’s an easy one to make in the grand scheme of things. And it’ll free up so much of your time which could be put to better use.
Big(ish) cards showing small, digestible amounts of information, or questions and answers on the front and back. Flashcards are an absolute game changer.
They’re a great visual aid for studying, and you can stick them up around your walls or desk if you want a constant reminder. Even the act of making your flashcards is a fantastic way of organising and memorising important information, since you’ll have to think about what’s essential and what can be ignored. You could make your own by hand, or go to the likes of Cram or Quizlet to make digital and printable versions.
You have two options here: Go to your lecturers and say pretty please, or go to our good old friend Google. Try to pick up past papers from recent years. Look for patterns between the questions asked, and get yourself used to the format of the exam.
However, don’t be overly reliant on past papers as a method of predicting what’s going to be on your exam. After all, examiners love to throw curveballs into the equation to test your knowledge of everything you’ve learned. But spending a few hours a week working on previous tests will really help get you into the groove. Set the same time limit that you’ll have during the real exam, so that you can get your working rhythm just right before the big day.
OK, maybe stealing a popular saying from the US Navy Seals is a bit much, but they make a great point. Rushing only leads to sloppiness. Give yourself time, take that time, stay calm and relaxed, and do your work right.
If it all gets a bit difficult to manage in the moment, try closing your eyes and taking ten long, deep and easy breaths. Restore that slow pace, that calm, and that smoothness. Now, you’re ready to go again.
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