It’s exam season, every student’s favourite part of the academic year. Be it your first or final year, we all have worries about our preparation for assessments, but a few simple steps can help many of those worries disappear. Here’s some of my advice on getting organised for exam season, and how to balance work with relaxation.
Dates are the tentpoles around which you can build revision schedules and find the time to relax
The first step of getting organised is knowing what you’ll have on the horizon. The exam timetables have now been released, so look through and make a list of all the dates and times you need. You’re unlikely to have any assignments in Term 3, but there may be a deadline or two coming up – write those down too. If there are any other important dates coming up, academic or otherwise, put those on your list. If you’re a diary fan, fill up the diary too. These dates are the tentpoles around which you can build revision schedules and find the time to relax.
At this stage, before you get too deep into revision, make sure you understand what each assessment wants of you. This can save you so much hassle in the long run – there’s no sense revising the entire module if the exam will only test two weeks’ worth of content, for example. If it wants an essay of a certain length, you’ll know to practice writing those. Is it an open-book exam? That should change how you remember the material. These are questions to ask in advance – check the module webpage, or ask your module tutors. I say this as someone who teaches – we really are here to help with any questions, big or small, and it’s better to get those worries out of the way early.
As a list fan, I suggest breaking down your revision into smaller jobs with definite outcomes
Then, onto revision. When you’re revising, remember that doing lots of revision doesn’t necessarily equate to revising well. Some people thrive sitting in silence in the library, some like practice papers, some do it in the kitchen with music and conversation, some just read a lot and let it sink in. I don’t know what set-up will work for you, but if you feel like your revision isn’t going well, try revising in a different way. There are tons of websites with lots of advice on revision strategies.
I can’t tell you how to revise, but I can give you some tips on organisation. You’ve got your list of dates, and you know what you need to do for all the assessments – now, see how much time you have available, and how it tallies with the revision you want to do (obviously, this is unique for everyone). As a list fan, I suggest breaking down your revision into smaller jobs with definite outcomes – instead of saying ‘today, I’ll revise topic X’, say ‘I’ll read this paper’, or ‘I’ll rewatch the lecture and take notes’, etc. You can block these tasks out for certain times, and you’re more likely to get them done, which helps you feel like you’re progressing and makes more revision easier.
You’ll be happier to get away from work every once in a while, and that will make revising so much easier
However – and I have to stress this – take lots of breaks. We aren’t built to sit still, taking in information for hours on end, so move around often – when you feel yourself getting fed up of the revision, go for a stroll or chat with some friends. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you’ll be happier to get away from work every once in a while, and that will make revising so much easier. If you’re the kind of person who uses breaks as a reward for doing work, even better – set your clock, and plug away knowing that you can step away soon. Figure out when you’re going to stop for the day, and actually stop then – you’ll feel better getting a break away from work, and it’ll motivate you more in your working hours. Couple that with eating and drinking well, and getting sleep – it can feel hard, but once you get into a routine, it’s surprisingly easy.
There will always be exam stress and worries, but a little organisation goes a long way in helping exam season go by a little easier. Get the work in, but make sure you’re not drowning in nothing but work. Preparing for assessments effectively and taking time away from that work really are two sides of the same coin here, so if you find a system that works for you, you’re going to smash it!