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6 tips for preparing for your exams

May 18, 2020

End-of-semester exams are fast approaching, and although the school year has been a bit different this year, it's still very important to make sure you’re prepared for your exams. Many of your exams may have moved to an online format so be sure to check your university’s website or with your teachers. Being prepared for your exams is key to eliminating undue stress or anxiety, so below, we’ve outlined 6 tips on how you can best be prepared. 

1. Find out what to study 

Establish what topics will be covered in your exam and the conditions of your exam as early as possible. For example, is the exam open book, is it multiple-choice, short answer or essay, how long do you have to complete the exam? All of this information should be available online or provided by your lecturer or tutor. Remember to ask if you’re unsure. You can also look at exam questions from previous years if available via the library.

2. Create a study plan

Once you have found out what you need to study, block out sections of your time to dedicate solely to studying.  Work out how much time you have left until the exam and how much time you can dedicate to each topic. Don’t forget to factor in study breaks as well as taking time out to eat, sleep and see family and friends. You don’t want to over-do it and burn out before the exam. Make sure you keep your plan updated and make a list at the end of each study session of your progress and what you’ll need to study next time.

3. Prioritise 

Once you’ve reviewed all the major topics, go back to those you find most difficult and cover them first. Once you’ve got the hard part out of the way you will feel a lot less stressed and ready to tackle the other topics. If you’re unsure about how much detail you need to go into, start by looking at the general outline of each topic, the main concepts. Then go into further detail if required. This could include the major theories, key models, rules or facts. If you’ve got enough time, you can then look into any extra details or further studies on the topic. 

4. Study effectively 

Leaving all your study until the last minute and cramming the night before the exam is not the most effective way, and there are studies to prove it! Research has shown that losing sleep to study will make you perform worse academically. Try and have regular study sessions that don’t interfere with your sleep for best results. 

Once you’re starting to feel confident with the course material you can try discussing what you’ve learned with someone else. This will help to cement your understanding. 

To help retain what you have learned, try to relate the facts to other ideas you’ve read or watched. 

5. Manage your time 

Choose to study at a time that works best for you. If you’re more of a morning person, don’t try and study at night when you might feel less focused. Before you settle into each task, ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve, do you need to read the whole chapter or can you narrow down a paragraph on a key point.

If you lose concentration while reading try and re-focus by asking yourself how this fits into the big picture. Try to minimise distractions by turning off the TV, your phone notifications and logging out of social media (eek, we know! But it helps). 

6. Manage stress and nerves

The main thing that will eliminate stress or nervousness about an upcoming exam is being prepared. Aside from that, there are a few other things you can do to increase your confidence and stay calm. 

  • Discuss the main points that are worrying you with your fellow classmates. Something you may have overlooked, other students may have a good grasp on. 
  • Don’t forget to keep up activities that help to lower stress hormones including physical exercise, meditation or creative projects like painting or drawing.
  • Keep caffeine intake to a reasonable level. Increased caffeine consumption during exam time is common but often leads to increased anxiety.
  • Stay positive. Remind yourself of other exams or high-stress situations you have encountered before and how you have overcome them and survived. You’ve got this!
  • On the day of the exam allow yourself plenty of time beforehand to set up. Now that you may not have to attend your exam in person, you will save some time on the commute but make sure you have a stable internet connection and can log in to the online portal before the exam.
  • Wear something you like and have items with you that make you comfortable like a water bottle or favourite pen. 

There you have it - if you keep these 6 tips in mind when you’re preparing for your exams you’re sure to go into your exams with confidence, no matter what is going on in the world.