The Iglu Guide | Blog

University exam survival guide

When the exam season inevitably comes around, every student starts to feel the pressure building. Up until this point, university has been all about the fun bits – meeting other students, exploring a new city and making lifelong memories. But when deadlines loom and it’s suddenly difficult to find a spare desk in the library, that’s all about to change. Whether this is your first exam session or you’re a seasoned professional, it’s always good to remember that you can’t control the exams or what’s in them. All you have control over is yourself and how you prepare. Plan for that and nothing more, and you’ll ace your exams and come out smiling the other side. Here’s what you need to know.

Know yourself

Every student is different, and what works for one individual won’t necessarily work for another. It’s easy to feel pressured by your environment – particularly if you think other students are working much harder, or longer, or more effectively than you are. It helps to remember that nobody knows you as well as you know yourself – you might be that person who thrives on just five hours sleep a night, or someone who benefits from three power naps a day in between study sessions. Only you will know how you best learn. Ask yourself honestly: When is the most productive time for you to study? What’s the most effective study method for you? The answers will be different for everyone, but what’s most important is that you don’t get stressed out by what may or may not be happening around you. Focus on yourself, run your own race and stay in your lane – and you’ll reap all the rewards when it comes to sitting your exams.

Get organised

Learning those all-important organisational skills during your student years is one of the key take-aways from university. Most students tune into the importance of this pretty soon after arriving, whether that’s from managing your social schedule, timetabling your academic workload or simply finding time to get the washing done and head to the supermarket. When it comes to organising your study for exams, these skills become even more important. Before you do anything, familiarise yourself with the format of each exam you will take. Find out whether it’s open book, essay-based or short-answer questions. What percentage does each exam count for? All these factors will influence how you work towards them, and the time you allocate to each topic. Once you have determined which subjects you need to study, create a revision timetable that works around your individual needs. Break the material down into palatable chunks and then divide them out across your available timeslots so you can see exactly what’s going on and when. Set specific and measurable goals for each study session – and don’t be afraid to be flexible and adjust the schedule where necessary. Procrastination, amongst other bad study habits, is a common enemy of the organised student – and should be avoided at all costs!

Find the right revision techniques

Revision techniques come in all shapes, sizes and formats. Many students find the active techniques such as online quizzes and interactive flashcards to be more effective. Simply reading and re-reading materials as a passive activity is considered a more difficult way to remember information. Again, this will all depend on the individual student, and the way to really find out is to experiment with different methods and see what makes it stick for you:

  • Active recall – Retrieving information from memory using quizzes or flashcards to reinforce memory and enhance long term retention
  • Spaced repetition – Reviewing information over a period of time, gradually increasing the interval in between
  • Summarisation – Creating digestible summaries of large amounts of information to improve your understanding and reinforce ideas
  • Visualisation – Using images or mind maps to organise or represent complex information to enhance understanding
  • Teaching others – Explaining concepts to others helps articulate thoughts and identify any learning gaps

Feed your brain

When revision time hits, it can be super tempting to take the easy route and reach for those sugary snacks and ready meals, especially when energy is low, and time is short. But as we all know, you’ll only end up feeling lethargic and demotivated as a result. It turns out that late night pot noodles and biscuits don’t really provide everything you need for a balanced diet! In fact, foods that are high in sugar and unhealthy fats are associated with poorer attention levels and negative mood swings. To avoid any additional stress, plan your meals ahead of time and make sure you have a selection of healthy food snack options to hand that will give you the nutrition you need to feed your brain and get you through the study weeks ahead. Choose foods that provide sustained energy as well as enhance your focus and memory. Think oily fish and leafy greens for brain health, berries galore for improved memory function and whole grains for that all-important study power. And as for junk food – avoid it if you can!

Protect your wellbeing

Prioritising your personal wellbeing is of primary importance in the run up to exams, as any type of prolonged stress and anxiety can lead to burnout. This condition can easily be avoided by taking regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and getting good sleep. Maintaining a good sleeping schedule will not only help you face each new day with a positive attitude, it also plays an important part in the process. When you sleep, your body has an opportunity to process and synthesise all the new information you have been studying – and make room for more. That’s why it is so important for students to get an adequate amount of rest. For some students, studying until 2am or working through the night is how they function best. For others, that strategy doesn’t go down so well and their bodies and brain won’t respond as positively. Try and get at least 6 hours a night, especially prior to an exam and find a strategy that helps you relax away from the books. Simple mindfulness activities such as breath work are a great way to encourage calm, while your worries evaporate away. Some students enjoy cooking as a way to escape studying, but get a practical chore done at the same time. Whatever you choose, it’s about taking care of your emotional health, staying positive and maintaining perspective.

Get social

Exam season doesn’t mean you have to drop every single social activity. Sure, you might need to exercise some discretion along the way, but interacting with other students brings several benefits that can contribute to your learning and wellbeing.

  • Seeing friends in between study sessions is a great way to revive your energy, and relieve any feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Study groups are an ideal opportunity to consolidate your learnings and potentially switch up the study environment
  • Sharing ideas means you can benefit from peer support and motivation
  • Explaining concepts can aid learnings and provide a sense of accountability
  • Exam season is an ideal time to embrace the student community around you – everyone is going through the same experience and can share in your feelings

Be kind to yourself

Exams are a tough period for any student. Remember to take regular breaks while you study, and find ways to make revision time more pleasant such as lighting a scented candle, or creating a study playlist. Celebrate each exam as it passes and use the opportunity to call home and hear a friendly voice. If you do find yourself getting overwhelmed, tap into your uni wellbeing resources or check in with your Iglu Resident Leader who is always on hand to help.

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