It’s mid March and exams may feel a long way away – but if you don’t start preparing for your exams now, you may find that it’s the day of your first sitting before you know it and you’re not ready in the slightest! Planning and preparation is key if you want to give yourself the best chance of exam success – nothing can entirely make up for a lack of attention and effort throughout the year, but plenty of revision, the right mindset and a few subtle lifestyle changes could have a bigger impact than you realise.
Where some of the biggest boffins may start their exam preparation six months before they enter that terrifying ‘hall of fear’, if you’re only just starting to think about your exams now, don’t worry – you’re giving yourself two or three months to prepare and that can be plenty if you get it right.
So here are 5 tips for preparing for your exams…
- Create a timetable – whether you just have one exam to focus on or several, you can’t be truly prepared unless you know exactly when your exams are and how long you’ve got to revise for them. Unless you have one subject that is particularly weaker than the others, there’s no point focusing all of your revision time in one area, or revising for the subject that you have the latest exam in. Make sure you’ve got a comprehensive timetable of when your exams are and then think about how long you need to study for each one. Work backwards through the weeks and decide how much study time you want to put aside every day or every week. When you’ve done this, mark out blocks in your diary – then fill these blocks of time with a sensible revision plan, making sure that you cover every subject and give them equal priority. Make sure you intensify your revision as you get closer to the time of each exam.
- Take a break – yes, this may almost seem to contradict the previous exam advice, but it’s equally as important if you want to maintain your sanity during your study periods. The brain is like any muscle in your body; when you work hard you need to give it time to rest in order for it to replenish itself and regain its strength again. If you study endlessly, you’ll find that your brain gets too tired to take in any new information – and you may even lose some of the hard work you’ve already done. Take your exam preparation seriously, but don’t try to be a superhero. Take regular breaks and if you’re struggling to concentrate, go for a walk or have a relaxing bath – anything that will give the information you’ve taken in time to settle, before you fill your mind with even more data.
- Don’t leave it till the last minute – cramming last minute for exams is a big no. We retain more information better over long periods of time – which is why that study plan is so important. If you leave it till two days before your exam to start preparing, you’ll have taken in so much information that you’re going to overload and walk into your examination room hardly being able to tell someone your name, let alone being able to sit and answer questions coherently and effectively.
- Don’t just read – while you will retain and consolidate some of your knowledge by reading through your notes and course books, don’t rely on this method alone. One really valuable way to boost the effectiveness of your revision is to copy out important points and facts by hand – this helps the brain to absorb information much more readily, as it’s a more active process where you have to engage the brain on a deeper level. Reading your notes out loud will also help, and even better if you can actually get somebody to test you so that you can practice answering questions out loud and formulating articulate responses. One brilliant way of organising your revision and taking the information in is to write out flash cards for yourself. Breakdown each subject into modules or sections and have a different coloured set of cards in each of these. Write down bullet point notes or facts and go through these time after time, out loud or by being tested by somebody else.
- Reframe your social life – solitary exam preparation doesn’t work for everyone, and if you’re not one for spending hours in your own company, there’s nothing wrong with taking a slightly different approach. At this stage of your university education, you’re highly likely to be sharing a house with other students – all of which will be facing the same exam pressures as you. It’s fairly easy to organise study periods in your shared house, bringing together all of the tenants to give each other some support and work around the kitchen table. You can even take it in turns to cook a big pot of food to share, which will take some of the hassle away from living well while you’re studying – or you can always go for the trusty takeaway if the budget will stretch. You can also organise study groups with people who are on the same course – then you can bounce ideas off of each other and you’ll have somebody who understands the subject to test you.
Just remember that you don’t have to lock yourself away and become a hermit when you’re preparing for your university exams – just be sensible, forward plan and mix with people who are in the same situation. In a few months, this will be over and you’ll be able to really let your hair down and enjoy the lighter side of life again – but for now, it’s definitely worth focusing on the matter in hand!
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