It’s mid-exams over here, and whilst I am definitely not an expert I’m pretty exam-experienced by now! I’ve always found it difficult to focus and maintain concentration for the whole exam period, but this year I think I’ve finally nailed it!
It’s ridiculous, but the tips I’ve been given since first year are actually what has helped – I probably didn’t need a degree to work that out… Even though exam season is still super difficult, at least they make it a bit easier.
So here I am finally being the one offering advice to anyone else tearing their hair out! Here are my top tips for surviving your exams, and giving yourself the best chance.
1. Actually revise
No, really. Don’t look at your notes and pretend you’re taking things in. You need to practice actually answering questions, especially in maths, and thinking about how you apply your knowledge to a problem. Start doing this early, don’t only start practising questions the day before your exam!
2. Know your best environment
Everyone revises differently, and in different places. Some people need absolute silence, some need a bit of background noise. I prefer being in a small group environment, so usually revise with a group of 3-4 friends. They stop me from going stir-crazy, and help me find my stupid arithmetic errors when I think I will never solve a problem.
If you know that you are easily distracted then make sure to remove distractions! If I’m at home I’ll constantly go and ‘make tea’ (i.e. procrastinate), so I always get out of the house to revise and go to the Maths Building. While it’s tempting to stay in all day I know that staying in the house basically means I’ll do nothing. Revising with friends also motivates you to meet at a certain time and make sure you actually get up in the mornings!
Top Tip: During exam period there is usually little to no teaching going on, so if the group rooms in the library are all booked up why don’t you check some of your seminar rooms. Chances are they’ll be empty all day and you’ll have the perfect group study space :)
It seems counter intuitive to spend time not revising when you’re supposed to be spending all your time revising, at least that was always my excuse for not going to the gym during revision. I’ve actually found that going to the gym during revision gets me ready for my day and I get less headaches/don’t feel like I’ve spend my whole day behind four walls.
Getting out and doing something every day that isn’t revision does wonders for your concentration. It doesn’t have to be exercise – sometimes I practice piano for a bit to tune out too. Either way, doing some exercise and getting a few hours of quality revision done is worth a lot more than spending all day trying to revise whilst watching Making a Murderer on Netflix… Just saying.
4. Eat well
Bad habit number one in exams – eat too many ready meals to ‘save time’. As I’ve said, turns out that taking some time away from revision actually does you good (who knew). The worse you eat the more sluggish and lazy you’ll feel, which doesn’t really encourage you to approach revision with a positive attitude.
Eating normally, and regularly too, will help to keep you energy up and not feel like your life has been completely taken over by exams. If you usually revise alone then it’s a good chance to catch up with flatmates and have some human contact too – occasionally chatting to other people is good for you!
Lastly, not drinking all the caffeine! Usually I make tea every hour to procrastinate, and end up drinking about 6 cups a day instead of my usual 1/2. The extra caffeine, mixed with not getting out the house and doing exercise, meant I had way too much energy to sit still and focus and would end up constantly distracted. Now I’m limiting myself to a morning coffee and an afternoon tea if I need it – my concentration is way better and I actually sleep at night!
5. Make the most of exam time
When I’ve not done well in an exam I usually try and get out as quickly as possible. However, I read an article recently with lecturers tips for your exams. One of them said that after spending £000′s on our degrees, and hundreds of hours studying and revising it seems ridiculous not to make the most of those few hours you have to make it all count.
So make the most of your exam time! Read over your answers, look at them critically – make sure everything in that answer booklet is the best you can make it, because once the exam is over there is no going back!
So that is my final year wisdom for you – the first 4 are the only reason I don’t feel like screaming into a pillow every time I think about revision. Try them, maybe you’ll figure out sooner than I did that surviving exams doesn’t need to be as hard as we make it for ourselves!!
Good luck to anyone sitting exams at the moment and if you have some exam tips of your own please share them with me :)