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How to prepare for uni exams

By Nick 18 Jun 2019
Image of student preparing for exam


I love a good Google, and my favourite image search is usually “little yellow cars”.  I can’t explain why they make me laugh- they just do. My other favourite search (especially at this time of year) is “how to prepare for exams”. Not because I find these tips particularly helpful, I just find them funny too. Funny because so many of these so-called tips are heavy on what to do, but light on how to do it. 

Telling a first-time uni student not to panic, to stay positive, set a routine, get organised, and manage your time, is like you telling me to change the oil in a car (yellow, or otherwise). Yes, it’s helpful that you’ve pointed out to me that the oil needs changing, but that doesn’t mean that I have any idea how to do it. I probably wouldn’t get as far as popping the hood before giving up in frustration, and returning the olive oil to the pantry. 

To prevent you from giving up in frustration when it comes to preparing for exams, I’ve summarised the most helpful information I’ve found (and tested myself) into a three step process for exam success. Not only am I going to tell you what you can do to prep for exams, but I’ll even go that one step further and tell you how to do it. You’re welcome.

Step 1. Recognise your procrastination

There are many different forms of procrastination. Personally, I always preferred to procrastinate at the keyboard. I’d spend hours internally arguing with myself until I finally sat down to study and then a few more hours chastising myself for all the non-study related web browsing I was doing.

I tried many methods to get around digital procrastination but in the end I found that removing temptation altogether was the only way. StayFocusd is a free extension for the Chrome browser that lets you block access to certain websites at certain times, meaning you can physically limit your ability to procrastinate online.

Facebook too tempting? Block it. Also partial to a little yellow car image search? Not today! And without the deep tangents of the internet to follow, what else is there to do but study, watch mid-day TV, or go and exercise?! Needless to say, by comparison, study suddenly looks really appealing.

Step 2: Tame your short attention span

The fact you’ve read this far has impressed me, because, to be honest, even I’m drifting in and out, and I wrote it!  It’s one thing to master the fine art of blocking internet sites, but what do you do when you’ve been going at it hard for a good 11 minutes, and your mind starts to wander?

You, my friend, need to get your hands on a humble stopwatch. Or the stopwatch app if you’re that way inclined.  Using timed intervals, you can learn to curb your short attention span. For example, I used to commit to a 6 hour day of exam revision. As soon as I started studying I would start the stopwatch. At the first sign of waned interest, or in one instance a burning desire to do the laundry, I’d stop the stopwatch, get up, and do something else for a little bit.

Then when the inevitable happened, and the new activity bored me too, I’d go back to studying and resume the stopwatch. Rinse and repeat until that six-hour milestone was reached. I guarantee it will only take a few days of spending 14 hours trying to finish 6 hours of study to frustrate you into productivity.

Step 3: Acknowledge your nerves

A big part of exam preparation (that I think many students forget) is not only revising your course content, but preparing yourself for the actual exam experience. I’ve yet to find a single event that slows down time like waiting for the exam room doors to open. In that time, you can feel every single nugget of knowledge you have studied for the entire semester slowly evaporating. Then, in your traumatised state, you are given the impossible task of finding the correct desk to sit at, which even though they’re alphabetised, has in some courses been harder than the exam itself. Finally, you are left waiting for the perusal time to start. That was always the part that got me the most. The sitting. The clock. The anticipation. The nerves!

Many courses have practice exams you can work through, so if you’re going to practice, you may as well PRACTICE! Commit and run through the whole exam experience. Now this might sound ridiculous, but bear with me…

Set up your practice exam at your desk, pack your exam essentials into your clear pencil case and then go and stand outside for ten minutes (bring your stopwatch!) and stare at the door.  No matter how bored or silly you feel, it’ll only be amplified on the actual exam day, so you need to learn how to process these feelings! Then, go inside and sit at your desk for five minutes. Just sit there, and again, visualise how you will feel sitting in the exam room waiting to get started.

What will you do with that time? Unpack your study materials? People watch your fellow exam goers? Or, my personal favourite, stare hopelessly at the clock? After five minutes, give yourself some perusal time, and then start working through your practice exam. Time your attempt and measure your stress levels as you work through the material. Running through the whole exam experience means you’ll not only be prepared for the content of the exam, but the myriad of emotional ups and downs that come with it!

So that’s it. My three step process for exam prep has officially come to an end. Hopefully I’ve left you armed with practical solutions to take on your exam revision and approach those doors with confidence.

If you’re still feeling as informed about exams as Nick does about oil changes, you can find plenty more exam and study resources on Social Hub.
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