- Don’t let fear take hold: For some students, exam time provokes anxiety and sometimes even panic attacks. If you suffer from anxiety, instead of fighting it, accept that the worst case scenario could actually take place (i.e. it is theoretically possible that you might not do as well as you would like to, you might even fail) but even if this unlikely event were to occur, it would not spell the end of your studies or hamper your ultimate professional success. Most schools and universities offer make-up tests and exams. There is rarely ever only one chance to prove your worth as a dedicated, motivated student. Once the fear subsides, focus on all the work you have done and the good results you have already achieved. There is no reason to doubt that, if you continue to work as you have been, your results will reflect your laudable work.
- Learn the skill of time management: The most successful students aren’t necessarily those who spend the most hours swotting away, hiding from the world and placing all their time and effort into academic life. Rather, the smartest students are those who know how to balance their academic, social and family lives, through time management. It all starts with working out exactly what you need to do – try to avoid getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. Once you know what you need to get done, make a schedule and stick to it. This way, you will achieve all your study goals throughout the year, and you will not have to cram when exam time comes along.
- Summarise and use mind maps: The most daunting thing about exams is having to learn, process and summarise reams of information. Intelligent study involves summarising information throughout the year, so that when exam time comes around, all you need to do is study your summaries and/or mind maps, which use visuals to help you retain information and connect ideas.
- Start a study group: Don’t necessarily join your best friend’s study group if you know that it will be impossible to resist the temptation to chat all day instead of study. Try to gather a group of dedicated students who agree to meet at set times to share resources and revise together. Brainstorming and discussion is fine, but you will need to limit these to set break times; otherwise, the study group could end up as just another social get-together.
- Exercise: Make sure that even on the busiest of weeks, you take the time to exercise for at least half and hour every day. Exercise is a proven stress buster and it also works wonders for a host of conditions – everything from depression to anxiety. Go for a run or brisk walk outdoors to get your circulation going. Pay due attention to your nutrition, as well – during exam time, when the body is already undergoing physical and mental stress, you need to boost your immunity with plenty of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Find past exams: One of the most useful aspects of studying using past exams is that you can glean the structure of the exam ahead. This will enable you to allocate a set amount of minutes to answer each part/question, so you do not run out of time. Past exams also provide valuable insight into the type of questions and the level of difficulty you will be encountering. You might even wish to do a past exam under exam style conditions and hand what you have completed to your teacher, to see how they would have graded you. This will enable you to identify weaknesses in your strategy.
- Take scheduled breaks: You cannot study all day, but during your allocated study time, keep breaks to a minimum. Do not allow your favourite TV programme or magazine to distract you – you can lose vital hours this way, and you will soon find your work piling up to such a level that you cannot get through it all.
- Sleep early the night before the exam: You have been studying throughout the year, so there is no point in cramming little details into your memory bank the night before the exam. Try to stop looking at your notes early in the evening and do some exercise or take a relaxing bath, which will help you get a good night’s sleep. In this way, your memory and ability to concentrate will not be affected negatively by fatigue.
- Read the exam questions well: Work out exactly what you are being asked to do, or you may lose crucial points. Make sure to divide the time you have between the questions posed, allocating more time for longer tasks such as essay writing, and just a couple of minutes for multiple choice questions.
- If you get stuck move on: Sometimes, one particular question will pose a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Don’t go beyond the time allocated for answering that question. Move on to the rest of the test and tackle the difficult question later. You will probably find that it is much easier to answer after you have distanced yourself a little from it.
- In the case of panic, breath: Panic attacks cannot be defeated by willing them to go away. If you tend to suffer form panic attacks, be aware of how you tend to manifest your fear, take deep ‘belly breaths’ and get back to it as soon as you feel a little better. Breathing is vital because it lowers the heart rate and stops a panic attack from escalating.
- If you are unhappy with your results, see your teacher: You would be surprised at how many times students ‘fail’ exams because points have not been added up correctly or another error has been committed at the correction stage. If you are disappointed with your results, ask your teacher if there is any way you can take a make-up exam or lift your grade in another manner (e.g. by handing in an essay or completing a project).
We hope that you have found this blog post helpful. Remember – stay calm and do your best.
With exam season looming, you may also be interested to read some of the following articles on revision:
Top tips: making the most of study leave
Cramming: is it ever a good idea ahead of exams?
Top revision tips: using Mind Maps
My top 5 favourite revision techniques
How to get the results without the stress
Exam tips: 10 ways to ensure that you don’t make silly mistakes
Exam tips: beating the blues
9 ways to mange exam stress
Exam motivation: 12 tips to get you started
Excellent apps and techy tools to aid exams and revision – Part 1
Excellent apps and techy tools to aid exams and revision – Part 2
University exams and revision – 5 secrets guaranteed to make your life so much easier