Preparing for exams
Organising your time
On the day of the exam
If you start to panic during an exam
For some really helpful revision techniques and materials visit the Effective Learning website
Most people experience some degree of anxiety about exams. Whilst a certain amount of pressure is good for us and helps us perform well, it is important to keep some balance and perspective. These practical guidelines and tips might seem simple or obvious, yet when we're under pressure we can easily forget these basics.
Preparing for Exams
Start a revision programme in good time before the exams. Leaving too little time is an excellent recipe for stress. Remember doing the work takes less effort than thinking about doing the work! Don't play the popular game of "look how stressed I am" as a means of impressing others with how hard you're working, or "look how cool I am" as if you're on top of your work.
Organising your time
People are different in how they react to revision plans, but the following suggestions are worth considering:
Plans need plenty of blank space to allow for the unexpected.
Plans need to be flexible, so draw up a weekly timetable for yourself putting in everything you need to do: meals, sleep, lectures, seminars, shopping, laundry, etc., then …
Allocate time for revision and …
Time for relaxing and …
Time for enjoying yourself.
Allowing time for relaxation, recreation, socialising and rest are not wasting time. These will help you feel less stressed so you'll work more effectively and probably stick better to your timetable.
Plan how you will use your time during your revision periods. You might like to list all the topics you want to revise, decide what order to learn them in, and how much time to spend on each.
Be realistic about what you can achieve and stick to your deadlines.
If there is too much work to do in the time available, use the following questions to help you prioritise:
Which are the most important topics?
Which subjects do you know best already, or are easiest to get 'up to scratch'?
Which topics are compulsory?
Which subjects have you already collected a lot of information/ research/material?
Set specific goals for each revision period. Make a list of your goals; keep them realistic; and tick them off as you achieve them so you can see what you have done. Allow more time for subjects you find difficult. Check out what you do not understand.
Some people find it helpful to work in groups - perhaps arranging to meet a few friends to discuss particular topics. You can use this to test each other's memory or talk through aspects you have not understood.
Some people struggle with a lack of motivation. These simple strategies may help:
Plan rewards for yourself when you have achieved goals.
Start with easier/more interesting subjects.
Establish a work routine - once started, a routine becomes easier to maintain.
Remind yourself why you have chosen to do these exams - if you didn't want the degree, you wouldn't be doing them!
People vary in how long they can concentrate, so experiment and find a work pattern that suits you. Take regular, short breaks when you are working - for example, 10 minutes out of every hour you work - is likely to help you concentrate for longer.
If you are finding it difficult to concentrate, start off by setting yourself a small, manageable goal. When you have achieved this, give yourself some reward. Keep repeating this goal setting and rewarding yourself. As you achieve your goals, gradually increase what you set out to do. In this way you can train yourself to concentrate more effectively. Here are some other ideas:
Make notes as you read - keep questions in your mind as you work - speak out loud - record yourself.
Mix topics frequently - mix easy and difficult topics, and interesting and dull topics.
Try to work in a comfortable environment (not too cold, hot, noisy) and remove distractions if possible. Find out where you work best, eg, in the library, with a friend, or alone in your room.
Try to revise in an active way:
Don't read notes through, but perhaps make a list of key points (writing reams of new notes is very time-consuming and is not an effective method of revising!).
Test your memory as you go along and try to devise questions/answers concerning the information you are learning.
Some people find it helpful to use memory aids:
Memorising a trigger word which is associated with a 'chunk' of information,
Make a trigger word out of the initial letters of key points or names.
Find a way of visualising information.
Spend some time going through past exam papers and practise answering questions within the allotted time. It doesn't matter if your attempts go wrong to start with - in fact, now is the time to make these mistakes! Such practice will give you a good idea of the format of the exam, the sorts of questions you could get, and will give you invaluable practice in planning and structuring answers under time pressure. It makes no sense to get your first 'practice' at this during the real examination!
Remember that you're not expected to produce an essay under examination conditions which looks as though it took a week to carefully polish. So be realistic: people tend not to be able to write 'perfect' essays during exams. Keep focusing your attention on the task in hand (ie, answering the question) rather than being distracted by 'what ifs'.
These few pointers may help during periods of revision and examinations:
Don't work in or on your bed - keep bed for relaxation and sleep.
'Switch off' before going to bed: stop working at least an hour before you intend to sleep and spend the time doing something more relaxing, eg, listening to music, talking to a friend, having a bath, doing relaxation exercises, taking a stroll.
Try to stick to a regular bedtime and getting up time as this makes it easier to maintain good sleeping patterns.
Too much alcohol will prevent you from sleeping properly and will tend to make you tired the next day.
Do not 'catastrophise' about not being able to sleep well, ie, stop telling yourself that you will not be able to do anything the next day if you cannot get to sleep.
Even when you are not sleeping much you will still be able to function well, think logically and do difficult mental tasks. It is mundane, vigilance-type tasks and mood (eg, irritability) which are mainly affected by lack of sleep. Most people manage to sustain sleep deficit over a few days (but not weeks!) before needing to 'catch up'.
On the day of the Exam
Look after yourself - for example, get enough rest and eat reasonably.
Don't get up too early.
Do something you find relaxing - have a bath, go for a stroll.
Keep away from those whose stress levels are contagious.
Arrive at the exam hall comfortably in time but not too early - tension hanging over this short period of waiting just before the exam is highly contagious so minimise your exposure to it!
It is natural to feel some anxiety when you go into the examination room. Use the few minutes before you are allowed to begin to do some simple relaxation and breathing exercises; sit back and separate yourself mentally from those who are getting stressed.
Read the exam paper through slowly, making sure you understand the instructions and have read all the questions - some of these might be on the reverse of the examination paper! When you have chosen your questions, read them through twice to make sure you have understood and not misread the question. If you are allowed to, underline key words or phrases in the questions.
Answer the correct number of questions and divide your time equally between them - or according to the marking scheme if questions have different weighting. With essay questions, you'll get more marks overall by doing three (say) average answers, than by doing two brilliant ones but leaving the third question undone!
If you start to panic during an exam
In an examination situation it is not uncommon for one's mind to go blank for a moment, or to be confused by a question put in an unfamiliar way. At these times it is easy to begin to panic. This is likely to take the form of doom-laden thoughts as well as physical symptoms such as feeling your heart racing, feeling faint, hot or sweaty. Although these symptoms are disturbing, perhaps even frightening, they are in fact very common and are not at all dangerous.
Tips to overcome panic attacks:
Pause for a few moments - put your pen down and sit back;
Slow your breathing down a little
Let your body relax - relaxation and breathing exercises will help to reduce these symptoms
Reassure yourself that you're not going to collapse or lose control - these things never happen because of anxiety.
Push upsetting thoughts to the back of your mind and re-focus your attention on relaxing, and then back on the exam itself.
No matter how bad the anxiety feels, do not leave the exam as the anxiety level will fall within a short space of time. Panic is always time limited and the symptoms will reduce in a short while.
When you are able, get back to work - remember that it is better to put something down rather than nothing.
Appointment with a Counsellor
Appointments can be made with a counsellor during office hours by contacting us.