With my final ever exam over and done with, I thought now would be a good time to share with you the strategies I’ve accrued over the years for adequately preparing yourself for them. I actually prefer exams over coursework because the effort is more concentrated, whereas a sustained workload can easily reduce motivation and productivity, lowering the quality of the coursework. That said, with so much riding on a one-off two-hour sitting, the stakes are high, and pressure ensues. Here’s how I negate those concerns:
Work smarter, not harder
Time is your scarcest resource, and some tasks are frankly more important than others. Prioritisation is key to an efficient workflow. Don’t waste time reading an entire textbook the night before an exam, when the summary section of each chapter outlines everything you need to know in fewer words.
Lectures reduce your workload
For modules with exams, attending as many of the lectures as possible is paramount. Engage fully with all the content in order to thoroughly understand the topic at hand each week. This dramatically reduces your workload in the lead up to the exam; you’ll just need to jog your memory of what you’ve already learned.
The law of diminishing returns
The more time you put into your revision, the less value additional revision time will add. The value of additional revision may eventually saturate at the point where spending an hour revising is helping you a lot less than it would have earlier in the process. Make sure you’ve learned all you need, but don’t burn yourself out to no real advantage.
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail
At the very least, a base knowledge of all possible topics is essential, as it cannot be accurately predicted which topics will arise in an exam. Most exams cannot be effectively completed by ‘winging it’ and prioritising learning only a few topics in comprehensive detail at the expense of other topics is rarely wise. Instead, learn the basic concepts of each topic until you are comfortable with your arguments.
Revise with a view
Picking out a great environment for work is paramount to your productivity. This doesn’t necessarily mean the library. I found that I revised best on Plymouth Hoe, out in the sun with a cool breeze. Find somewhere that works for you and remember that calm efficiency is far more productive than a long slog in artificial lighting. Spend your time wisely and you’ll free yourself up more.
It goes without saying really, but double and triple check your exam date, time, and location, as early as you can. Put it in calendars, reminders, everything. Make sure you have all you need, including a pen, a spare pen, a spare spare pen, your student card, 8 hours of sleep under your belt, and that a decent breakfast is consumed.
I do hope this advice is able to help you approach a seemingly arduous workload from a different perspective. If you have differing views on how to best prepare for an exam, or advice for subject-specific exams that my points wouldn’t apply to, share your thoughts down below!
Talk soon people,