4 honest perspectives on exams

4 perspectives on examsOur contributors are Katie, Jarred, Raeleen, and Liam. Katie is studying a Bachelor of Nursing and hopes to travel the globe during her career, while Jarred completed a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) degree in 2016. Raeleen Cahill works as the Examinations Coordinator at USQ Dr Liam Hendry has been a lecturer in the School of Psychology and Counselling for over 15 years.


With exams just around the corner, we caught up with two current USQ students, Katie and Jarred, a member of the exams team, Raeleen, and a USQ lecturer, Liam, and asked them the same 5 questions about exams. We asked them each their opinion on the best thing about exams, the worst thing about exams, what they wish people knew about exams, their top tips to get through exams, and how they celebrate once exams are finished for another semester. You might be surprised by some of the responses!

What is the best thing about exams?

Katie (student): That the semester is nearly over and you will finally get to enjoy a hard-earned break.

Jarred (student): That once they are completed I can have a break from study… until the next semester begins.

Raeleen (Exams team): Exams signal the end of semester and maybe time off is not far away!

Liam (lecturer): That they provide a specific measure of how much of the content of each course has been absorbed into the student’s permanent knowledge structures, which indicates some sort of proficiency that has value to employers. There are other ways to establish transfer of knowledge but exams are by far the most efficient.

What is the worst thing about exams?

Katie (student): The fear of the unknown. When walking into an exam the only thoughts that seem to go through my head are negative ones, like ‘I bet I’ve studied the wrong chapter’. Even worse than that is when you see your exam paper and have that ‘this wasn’t on the revision sheet’ moment!

Jarred (student): The time constraint associated with them. Most of my exams make up 60 or 70% of my overall grade and completing this work in two hours is often a challenge for me.

Raeleen (Exams team): The lack of sleep, stress, long hours and bad food choices on the run!

Liam (lecturer): Over the years, I have seen a few potentially good students finish with a poor result at the end of a particular course because of exam anxiety and avoidable ‘on-the-day’ things. Timetabling can be an unavoidable issue sometimes, and I remember a few semesters from my own student days when I had three exams scheduled over two consecutive days. Ideally, it shouldn’t matter if you’re well-prepared, but not everyone has the time to adequately prepare ahead of time for all courses.

What is 1 thing you wish people knew about exams?

Katie (student): Exams are only a snapshot of a moment in time. They are not the end of the world. Obviously, it’s important to do your best, but it’s not the end of the world if you have an off day and receive a bad mark as a result.

Jarred (student): That exams require lots of preparation over a long period of time before the exam. It isn’t possible to get great marks if all you do is study the night before an exam.

Raeleen (Exams team): That the exam periods (not timetables) are available online up to 4 years in advance. This may help students arrange holidays outside of the exam periods and not cause distress for them when they realise their holiday and their exams are at the same time. Unfortunately, holidays are not grounds for a deferred exam. \

Liam (lecturer): It’s important for students to adapt their preparation strategy for each specific exam. Look at previous exams, where available—if you can get 3 or 4 previous exams, you will have virtually all the possible questions covered. Try to get an idea of your examiner’s approach and strategies, and spend time practising getting information out of your mind, not just putting it in.

What is your top tip for students sitting exams?

Katie (student): Exams are great for testing your knowledge under pressure. They provide insight into what standard of work you can complete in a short period of time. While they’re important, they don’t assess you on everything you’ve ever learned, and are just one moment in time.

Jarred (student): Keep calm and write down as much information as possible. Even if you don’t know how to do a particular problem, by staying calm and working through the problem logically, you may still be able to gain some marks.

Raeleen (Exams team): Be sure you know exactly where your exam centre is, how long it takes to get there and where the closest parking is. Take a practise run to the exam centre if you can. It’s also important to try and get a good night’s sleep before your exam!

Liam (lecturer): The night before your exam, choose sleep over cramming, remember to eat well and go easy on the drinks. Go through the whole paper in perusal time, flagging anything that’s going to be problematic. Once your exam starts, do what you can quickly, then go back to the less-well-known stuff. Never leave questions unanswered; make up answers for what you can’t remember – a guess at least gives you some chance.

What do you like to do after exams are finished?

Katie (student): Party! Revel in the fact that exams are over and enjoy that I can once again engage in social outings without feeling guilty.

Jarred (student): I generally take the time to relax. Sometimes I will plan to catch up with mates and go out for dinner and drinks to celebrate the end to another semester.

Raeleen (Exams team): I’m sure the way I celebrate is the same as our students… Firstly, give a big sigh of relief because we made it, and then celebrate and relax!

Liam (lecturer): Everyone’s different here. For me personally, I go to the pub, have a few drinks, then get a good sleep. Do some post-mortem with your peers, but don’t overdo it or you’ll cause yourself unnecessary stress later!

While preparing for and sitting exams can be stressful, they are an important part of uni student life. For more tips on how to prepare for exams while staying healthy, check out these tips.


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Kathy: 10 strategies to cope with exam stress