Exam prep tips

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With Chloe, second year student in a Bachelor of International Relations with Bachelor of Arts.

The countdown to exams has begun. Whether you’ve got multiple choice, short answer, essay or open book type of exams, your confidence will depend on how well you have prepared.

So, to make sure you’re ready to handle the road ahead, here are some of my top tips for, essentially, managing stress during exam time.

Step 1: Retaining memory.

You have a lot of knowledge that you will need to recall during an exam. So, let’s get this one pinned down first. Here are some ways to make remembering fun and interesting.

  • Applying knowledge. There is a distinct difference between memorising knowledge and applying knowledge. Therefore, if there is anything that is highly recommended to do before an exam, it is to practice applying the knowledge to any practice exam questions. By practicing your application of knowledge, not only does it narrow down how much you need to remember, but also highlights your strengths and weakness of understanding the lecture content that you need to revise upon.
  • Playing with knowledge. Creating elements of play in what you are learning makes you become a better recipient of the knowledge. Remembering is made easier when it’s fun and you can do this by finding examples about your subjects that you can relate to. Sometimes I’ll watch Japanese language videos on socials to help prompt my memory and learning.

Step 2: Finding your motivation.

Let’s get real. We all want to pass our exams — and achieving that is a process. From setting goals, to building momentum and looking after yourself along the way, here are my three top tips to sustain your motivation.

  • Planning. Use a calendar with a month-to-view and fill in all your due dates. Then, you can drilldown into the detail using the week-to-view and jot down what you think your days studying will look like. I use a paper diary and I’ve heard that Google calendar is good too.
  • Monitoring your motivation and energy.  Throughout the day your motivation will wax and wane depending on your energy levels. Figure out when you are the most energetic and use this to do the things you don’t want to do. When your energy levels dip, the payoff is that you can use your motivation to do the things you would rather do. For instance, because I’m more energetic in the morning, it’s the best time of day for me to tackle challenging tasks.
  • Sleep. As much as I know that you can fearlessly walk into the exam room with 4 cups of caffeine in your veins after pulling an all-nighter, it is recommended that you get some rest before your exam. For me, pulling all-nighters just begets more anxiety, thus causes me to miss certain elements of the question that I should have caught in the first place. Enough sleep is my ground zero. For me, winding down is making sure my bed is warm enough, having a glass of water next to my bed and popping on some socks to help me get comfortable and detach from my surroundings to prepare for falling asleep.
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As much as I know that you can fearlessly walk into the exam room with 4 cups of caffeine in your veins after pulling an all-nighter, it is recommended that you get some rest before your exam.

Step 3: Keeping calm on the day.

This step is all about taking care of the details in advance of an exam. And it has the most potential to make it easier for you to focus on the exam and avoid getting distracted.

  • Know how to get to your exam. Finding out where your exam is a few days before and planning how to get there is a key tactic. On exam day you’ll want to keep you mind focused on how you will tackle the exam and avoid the stress that comes with mishaps that could have been avoided. Looking at a map, estimating your travel time and figuring out parking or public transport is a quick-thinking activity to avoid the long-term repercussions of not making it to your exam on time.
  • Things to take to the exam: Knowing what types of calculators are allowed into the exam is going to save you a ton of embarrassment. The little things like checking if pens, pencils, erasers, and ID cards are allowed into the exam gets you organised and feeling prepared. Also, take snacks and water – lots! You can always store snacks in your bag and have a bite to eat just before going in.
  • Do some journalling: You can alleviate a lot of your worries about the exam just by writing them down. Knowing that you can’t talk to the person sitting next to you in an exam is nerve-racking and it can feel isolating when you can’t ask anyone for help. Sometimes, I write out everything that is bothering me on the day, and it helps to clear my mind. It doesn’t make the problems go away, but it does make it easier to shift my focus towards the exam.
  • Blanking out: In times of pressure, going blank during an exam will happen — it’s completely normal. By rigorously practicing the logical thinking of your subject before the exam, it will subtly allow you to develop your own framework for understanding and answering the questions. Thus, naturally, you will want to include the necessary elements to answer the questions and help you overcome those blank spots.

Step 4: Reflection — more than just looking in a mirror.

Analysing your performance after tests and exams is about understanding how you can do better next time around. Spending some time doing quiet thinking, having a discussion with friends, and journalling are all ways to work through your thoughts. After all, how will you know if you are headed in the right direction if you never stop to think?

May the odds be forever in your favour.


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