Many students begin to feel anxious at this time of the academic year, as they see the approach of final exams. Exams are challenging. They need to challenge you! A little panic is perfectly normal! If it gets a bit much, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask your faculty advisor for help – but don’t defer your exams unless you really have to. On average, students who write in November do better than those who defer. And, if you write now you can have the break you deserve!
Here are a few tips to help you to get ready for your exams:
Where you choose to study has a bigger effect on your success than you think. Make sure you choose a place that is comfortable, free of distractions and clear of clutter.
Research done at the School of Information and Library Sciences, University of North Carolina, suggests the most important things to consider in a study space are lighting, colours, noise and furniture. Find a place that has a calming effect on you, and that isn’t too busy. Oh, and put your phone in a locked drawer. Research published in the New Media in Society Journal shows that phones are the worst thing to happen to our attention, ever. Music or TV can easily be kept in the background by the brain, but social media and a constantly beeping phone can’t. Finally, researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute published a study showing that clutter distracts your brain and hinders its ability to process information.
If you’re going to get all the material in your head, you’re going to need a plan. You need to work out what to revise, how to revise it and how much time to give each part of it.
Check out past papers (if they are available) to find out what kinds of questions there’ll be in the exam, how long you’ll have to work on each question, whether there’ll be choices of questions. Then check course materials, lecture outlines and exam guidance for clues as to which material should be given most attention. Now calculate how much time you have to revise. Allow time for relaxation and working through old papers. Be realistic when planning your revision schedule and don’t panic if things don’t always go exactly as planned. When revising, try your best to understand the material and not just memorise it. Whether you summarise your notes, create lists, make mind maps or use mnemonic tricks (such as a song, rhyme, acronym, image, or a phrase to help remember material), do whatever works for you.
A great way to improve your chances in the exams is to form a study group. Research published in the international journal Linguistics and Education shows that study groups have a positive impact on students’ study efforts. When you’re taking notes during a lecture, you’re really too busy to fully understand what you are hearing, but when you sit down with friends later and actively discuss what you heard in the lecture,you all come to have a deeper grasp of the material. It is important to speak in turns, to pay attention, to review and amend notes while discussing topics, and to talk about the material until everyone has grasped the concepts. Leave no one behind.
Two things overlooked during exam time are exercise and diet. Fine tune these two parts of your life and you’ll find your stress levels plummeting, concentration soaring and your memory sharpening up.
Research published in the Elsevier Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition found that even short bursts of exercise helps your brain to manage information and sharpens your attention. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests exercise for when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate. Research published by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information shows that eating more fish, walnuts and kiwi fruit is a must and for light snacks: cocoa, green tea, red wine and dark chocolate are best for boosting brain functions.
Exams are stressful times and you will feel overwhelmed at some point. If you feel you need help coping with stress and anxiety, or just making sure you’re revising the right material, then simply ask a faculty advisor or your course convenor. Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals that people tend not to ask for help when they could easily get it, and tend not to encourage others to ask them for help when they’re willing to give it. Well, there is plenty of help for you at UCT. You can approach your student advisors for help with materials and study-related problems or challenges, and for stress management and emotional support you can drop in at UCT Counselling Services. Asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength and intelligence, not weakness.
With all your preparation done, it is important the actual exam day be as stress-free as possible. Make sure you know where to go for exams and what times they are. Plan to arrive at the venue at least 30 minutes early, so that if unexpected things happen there’s still plenty of time to make the exam. Don’t forget your student registration card. Be sure to read through UCT’s Handbook 3, General Rules and Policies, to familiarise yourself with examination rules before the time. These will clarify what you are allowed to take into exams with you.