Posted by: Corina Paraschiv | October 20, 2008

Handling exams

I typically love exams.  In fact, even though they are meant to be the most stressful period of the year, I find it is almost the most relaxing one.  For once, you have a good excuse to focus only on one thing.  You take this whole week free where you get large chunks of time to study, you’re not disturbed by random activities, are not expected to go to class, you are completely free to organize your day in the way that best suits you… and follow your own rhythm.

Here’s the way I’ve been handling exams in the past few semesters – which has drastically improved my results.

  1. Make yourself -and your well-being – the single, most important thing for that one week of studying.
    This means your goal on that week is to reduce the number of outings you have, the time you spend on internet or phoning friends during the day, responsabilities in other groups like volunteering or choir, etc.
  2. Indulge in special pleasures.
    If there are things that are particularly comforting, go ahead and them even if normally you wouldn’t as much.  Have a hot chocolate while studying.  Sing a song at the end of every chapter.  Whatever works for you.  Do everything you can to make studying a fun, freedom-filled experience.
  3. Slow down.
    I know it is funny to say, because you are most likely in a rush to complete your studying, and memorize everything, but take the time to slow down.  Sit at a table and enjoy the food you’re having.  Take a warm bath and stay there for as long as you feel like it.  Take time off to exercize and don’t skip over it for lack of time.  Take your time in doing simple tasks like eating, exercizing and hygiene tasks – those are essential to getting you in shape and mentally ready for studying.
  4. Sleep in and take naps.
    Don’t feel bad about sleeping in and taking naps.  If you can study at home or in a student center where there are sofas, anytime you feel tired, stop studying and take a one to three hours break by sleeping a little.  Don’t however waste that time on Internet, watching TV, or doing something other than you are supposed to be doing.  But allow your body to work at its own pace – the more rested you are, the faster and more efficient your studying becomes.
  5. Study with friends.
    Studying next to someone serious can motivate you and provide you with a good example.  Choose an environment that is fairly neutral and where there are not many distractions, for instance a cafe or the school’s library.
  6. Ignore phone messages, emails, textos, — and learn to say no.
    People will most likely continue contacting you for all sorts of things – as a volunteer, as a team mate, etc.  Make it known ahead of time that you will be taking the week off from your responsibilities and repeat it as often as needed until the message gets through.  If however your partners do not respect your need do not hesitate to decline invitations to do something or requests to complete tasks.  Some people will just pressure you until you accept – be firm and learn to set your own limits to avoid any burnouts or unnecessary stress and exhaustion.
  7. Don’t become a complete hermit.
    If you have successfully gone through all your work for a day, you can talk on the phone a little with a friend or go for a coffee – but only once your work is done.  There is no better stress buster than friends.  If you do this during the day however, chances are you will lose your focus for the rest of the day.
  8. Tutor a classmate.
    Explaining the material to someone else will greatly help your comprehension and retention.  It has been my best move so far – benefiting everyone involved.
  9. Use your creativity.
    Study by drawing concepts and turning the learning process into a creative process.  You will better retain your notes if you were actively involved in creating them rather than just copying down bullet points from your teacher’s slides.
  10. Use technology to your advantage.
    Planning is probably the key to your success.  Nothing is more stressful than having no clue what there is left to study and how to go about it.  Using softwares like Anki, Microsoft Ink Flashcards, One Note or Outlook, you can schedule the things you need to know and feel the satisfaction of checking the list items as you go through them.   Even paper can work – the point is, have objectives, and keep track of your progress as this will make you both less stressed and it will encourage you more.  In addition such tools can also record your summaries so you can get into the habbit of reviewing the material without having to go through your entire book again.
  11. If you can, use tutorials.
    If your school offers them, or if you can afford a private one, tutorials help incredibly much.  They spare you a lot of time and guide your attention to only the things that matter.  In addition, seek out what other universities are teaching on the same subject; sometimes, seeing another perspective helps you understand the material better.
  12. Plan something fun right after exams.
    Plan a roadtrip with friends, plan an art night at your house with friends, consider going for a beer after the exam with classmates… have something to look forward to when the exam session is over!
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