Unconventional exam tips

As a well-seasoned fourth year, I’ve been through my fair share of exams. From in-person to online, I’m no stranger to hard work, revision and the pressure when it finally gets down to crunch time. Whilst I’m far from being an expert on the matter, there are a few things I have learnt over the years that really help me to do well in exams – even though some of them might be slightly unconventional. 


Ignore the advice of waking up early and starting work ASAP

I hate to admit that I am one of the few who works best when I wake at 7am, go for a run, then get down to it. But I’m well aware that this doesn’t work for everyone. If I tried to work at 3am, very little would be accomplished, and if some of my friends followed my routine, they’d end up tired and sluggish, also completing very little revision. My advice is to find out what works best for you, and stick to it, even if it is not deemed ‘productive’ by the rest of society. Midnight library sessions might be exactly what sparks your motivation. 


Calculate your concentration span

Several years ago, I learnt that each person has a different attention span, and the best way to optimise working time is to calculate yours. To do so, find a task that you enjoy but that is passive – for example, reading a good book, listening to a podcast or watching an episode of TV. Put a timer on, and press stop at the point where you are no longer fully paying attention, where you start to drift. This should tell you how long you can go for without a break. For me, it’s roughly 37 minutes – so I know that I need to take a pause, walk around or grab a coffee after every 40 minutes of work I complete. Revolutionary. 


Work hard, play hard

It sounds counterintuitive, but I find that if my breaks are actual breaks, my work is better. If I take pauses to scroll through Facebook or do something else on my own, I haven’t really taken time off work, and going back to the books feels like a chore. Instead, I like to invite friends over after work, have a few drinks, even sometimes go out. I know that people often struggle to make the effort during exam season due to stress, but sometimes one good night (in!) with your nearest and dearest, talking rubbish and eating pizza, is what can get you through exam season in one piece. It will also give you something to look forward to all day. 


Find a space that inspires you

My best friend can’t work in anything other than complete and total silence. As for me, I can’t think of anything worse. Just as with optimum schedules and timings, we’re all different, and harnessing what works for you in terms of space will really help to get the best work out of you. For example, for some people working in their rooms gives them the most independence, whereas for others, myself included, a little background noise and the feeling of others working around me drives me – coffee shops and libraries are ideal. Of course, this isn’t always possible, financially, or due to Covid-19 for instance, but where possible I like to work around others, sometimes even at the kitchen table. Do what works for you. 


There you have it – my list of advice to have your best exam season yet. Not exactly what teachers always say (cough cough party hard), but it works for me.


Featured image – Krystal Tubbs on Flickr, public domain.

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