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  • Bolaji Cole

How to ace your final exams

The time of year which every student cannot wait to put behind them is finally here – exam season. This article will help you ace your tests, whether you are a fresher having your first taste of university examinations, or a final-year looking to secure that First Class Honours. The following tips are presented in no particular order, and I’d recommend a combination of all of these techniques to maximise your chances of performing highly.

1. Set Targets

It’s safe to assume that you’d like to do as well as you can in your exams. But how well do you really want to do? If you set target grades for individual modules, the goals you are working towards are distinct. This will be particularly important for less productive days, as your target can motivate you to keep going. I recommend setting high targets for yourself; aim high, achieve high as they say. Then again, if you are one to be disappointed by not attaining your individual targets, then use your discretion.

2. Create a Study Schedule

Major key alert! A comprehensive study schedule can make your exam season significantly less stressful. Rather than worrying about the dozens of topics you need to go over, twice, quench that anxiety by making a schedule. The schedule I recently made has every day planned out from April 1st, up until my first exam in May. I wrote down the topics I want to revise each day, allocated a day for past paper questions upon completion of a module, and even scheduled in time to chop life (have fun). Ensure you are realistic with the amounts of work you are allocating for each day. You don’t want to be playing catch-up within the first week, as this would only increase exam stress, which is the complete opposite of its function. One way to avoid this would be to allocate weekly catch-up periods, where no new content is being studied. This way you can regularly catch up with the schedule if you fall behind, or get ahead of schedule and feel like a boss.

3. Routine

Diligent scheduling coupled with a consistent routine is like Future and Drake’s 2016 mixtape: straight fire. Try and wake up and go to sleep at similar times throughout. A consistent circadian rhythm reduces tiredness during productivity hours and improves focus. For you nocturnals out there, think about correcting that sleeping pattern since it is all but confirmed that your exams will be released during the morning/afternoon. Correcting a sleeping pattern takes time, and you don’t want to be ‘that’ person who had to analyse Dworkin’s rights thesis whilst yawning.

4. Work out your best study environment

This tip is COVID dependent, so adjust this to fit your individual circumstance. Think about what work environment works best for you, and don’t deprive yourself of that space. COVID has negatively impacted work environments, but that does not mean you cannot get creative with it. For example, my preferable work environment was the local library, as working around others was a source of focus for me. The pandemic has forced me to adjust to a new way of working, so now, I work on FaceTime with a couple of friends every day. This works well for me and may or may not work for you. If the library works for you, then bother to get there at 10am every day. If it's your room at home, then make sure, to the extent possible, that you separate ‘work spaces’ from ‘chill spaces.’ My advice would be if you have a desk which you can work at undisturbed, work at it. Try not to work in bed.

5. Make effective notes

Exams are no longer what they used to be. The general university consensus has been to provide a significant advance (i.e. 24 hours) on the amount of time students can spend on an exam. These advances vary with the university (sorry Oxford students), but both extra time and an open book should prompt you to approach this differently to normal exams. Since you have your resources at your disposal, memorising volumes of material is less necessary. If exam time is still tight, create resources like cheat sheets which cite the necessary information all in one document. If you have significantly more time, make sure your notes are comprehensive so you can easily extract the salient information.

6. Take breaks and reward yourself

There are some students who are so hellbent on ‘banging out,’ that they remove all forms of distraction/entertainment during exam season. While I am all for curtailing distractions during busy periods, I think striking an equilibrium between work and play will actually get you better results. If you spend the majority of the day working, smaller intervals of escapism are necessary for you to not burn out and continue performing at a high level. Doing things you enjoy during the interim also put you in a good mood; going back to work in a good mood rather than a dismal one is always beneficial. That’s why I’m going to watch Black Widow in cinemas on May 7th despite having an exam four days later. (If you couldn’t tell from my Climate Change article, I’m quite the Marvel fan, so a reference here was…inevitable. Oh SNAP! I did it again…)

7. Eat and drink well

A balanced diet is essential during this time. This means more fruit and vegetables, and less sugar and refined carbs. Where possible, avoid temporary stimulants such as energy drinks or caffeine, and instead drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated and energised.

8. Exercise daily

A minimum of 20 minutes of exercise daily can do you a world of good, so don’t be afraid to get creative. Whether this be yoga, sports, or just a walk around your area, try and be active daily. The health benefits from daily exercise are well documented, and these become particularly important during exam season.

To avoid this article becoming an even longer Of Mice and Men essay, I have bullet pointed a few more tips below:

9. Get at least 7 hours of sleep daily

10. Limit social media time

11. Attend revision sessions

12. Topic select (avoid revising everything unless you have to)

13. Email your professors with any queries you have, no matter how ‘silly’

14. Revise frequently with a study buddy

Well there you go! Here’s the formula to maximising productivity during the exam period. Best of luck to everyone undertaking exams; let’s make ourselves proud!


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