Right Revision & Perfect Preparation: 23 Pre-Exam Tips

Exams have never been that high on my list of things I love to do. But I know they need to happen from time to time.

A while back, I chose to do what I could to enjoy the exam experience as much as possible. Rather than panic, I figured, why not make the best of a bad thing? After all, the better the results, the happier the outcome.

photo by starlights_
photo by starlights_

You can do plenty to ease the way and make sure you don’t stress yourself out on the day:

  1. Get the boring admin out of the way as soon as you can – Work out the where, when, what, requirements, and so on. Don’t leave it to chance and don’t leave it for the last minute. You don’t want to stress yourself out five minutes before the exam’s meant to start because you don’t know where you’re meant to be.
  2. Get your gear in place the day before (or even sooner) – Organise your equipment, papers, reading, ID, etc. Again, you’ll hate last minute scrambles for stuff you can’t find.
  3. Remember spare pens/pencils – You don’t need an insane number of spares, but take more than your single ‘lucky’ pen. It won’t be that lucky if it runs out…
  4. Make your write right – In other words, choose good pens. In ‘The Smarter Student‘, I found a great tip that I’d never really considered before:
    “Might you be wasting time by trying to write too neatly or using a type of pen that slows you down? Ballpoint and liquid gel pens are probably the fastest.”
    They are right. Some pens are easier to use than others. Use one that flows smoothly and works well for you.
  5. Revise with good time – Pulling an all-nighter is bad enough for essay writing. Don’t do the same thing when it comes to exams!
  6. Get your technique sorted – Read more from me on effective technique on passing exams before, during and after the event.
  7. Speak the positive speak and give yourself personal lifts – Life is too short. Take a positive approach to your revision. Don’t beat yourself up as you go along. If you put yourself down, you’re not going in with an attitude to understand. Always remember, you’re not stupid… You’re learning!
  8. Have variation as you revise – Don’t rely on any single revision method. Read notes, attempt practice questions, use different locations to learn different concepts, and so on. Find what works for you. What works in one instance will be different in another. Don’t stop exploring.
  9. Sleep, eat, relax, enjoy yourself…LIVE YOUR LIFE! – It’s easy to forget to do the simple, everyday things while you’re in revision mode. This is a mistake. Do what you usually do otherwise you’ll be less motivated to revise.
  10. Don’t talk with others just before exams – Hanging around with a bunch of nervous people isn’t helpful. Neither is speaking to students who are pretending they haven’t done any revision and are going to wing the exam. It’s all nonsense. You’re taking that exam for YOU. Not anybody else. Just you. Ignore the voices around you. They will only serve to put you off the task at hand.
  11. Find out what’s going to be covered in an exam – You don’t need to learn everything verbatim. Higher education is an opportunity to explore in ways that should interest you. Use this to your benefit. You won’t be told the questions in advance, but you will be given pointers toward the type of content.
    Also, past exam papers are bound to be available unless you’re on a brand new course. These past papers are a great resource.
  12. Explain concepts to yourself until you understand them – As you revise, outline what you’re learning as if you’re explaining things to a young child or someone with no knowledge of the topic whatsoever.
    I suggest you check out Scott Young’s video on learning faster with the Feynman Technique.
  13. Use the library – It’s not just for essays. There’s plenty you can read up on while you revise. If one book doesn’t speak to you, find other books to explain the same concepts for you.
  14. Use the Internet – If the texts are confusing, don’t forget to search for simple explanations and Wikipedia articles. Better still, search other places such as YouTube for video tutorials and fun explanations.
  15. Create links between concepts and ideas – The bigger picture is just as important as the finer detail. Treat concepts as a map or a jigsaw puzzle and have all the pieces lock together so you have a visual representation in your mind that can move from one place to another. That way, you’ll be able to fit everything in context, rather than just another thing to remember.
  16. Use mnemonics to remember stuff you have to memoriseMnemonics provide a quick and easy way to pick up on hard to remember detail.
  17. Work alone – Interruptions are a time sink, they take your mind off your revision, and they stop you from doing exactly what you want.
  18. Work with others – Working alone is fine, but the occasional get together helps when you want to bat ideas back and forth. What you’re stuck with, a classmate may have a massive understanding of, which you can make use of. When the classmate is stuck on something you understand, you can help them too, and solidify your own knowledge as you’re going.
  19. Practice questions in your own time – Get a good idea of how best to answer questions by ignoring time constraints. Just get confident in the first instance.
  20. Practice questions to a time limit – Once you’re confident, then time yourself. Are you answering too quickly, or have you only finished half the answer when the time runs out?
  21. Read through the questions and instructions before you start answering anything – Your exam preparation continues even as you turn the paper over. Don’t get carried away when the clock starts ticking. You’ve waited this long. A few extra minutes of preparation is factored in, so stay calm and focus on understanding the questions.
  22. Breathe – Who’d think it’s easy to forget steady breathing, eh? It’s a whole lot easier to forget about your breathing when you’re under exam pressure. It only takes a couple of moments to focus on your breathing again, so it’s time well spent. Close your eyes and focus on taking a deep breath of air through your nose so it fills your lungs. Hold it for a moment and let the air go through your nose or mouth, whatever feels most relaxing for you.
    Do this a couple of times. If you’re still feeling the stress, try this quick fix from ‘Coping with Stress at University‘:
    “Place your elbows on your desk and put your face into your hands, cupping the palms over the eyes so the face is gently supported. Relax your shoulders and let go of any tension that you may be holding in your body. Even ten seconds like this is likely to make a difference.”
  23. Read. The. Questions. – Remember point 21 above? Seriously, this is important. I can’t emphasise this enough. Make sure you understand what’s required of you.
photo by fanz
photo by fanz

Less Stress, More Bliss

Exams may be long gone, the summer is here (when will the weather realise that!?), but there are still plenty things out there to pile on the stress.

Worse for wear (photo by melodi2)

photo by melodi2

Obviously, you don’t want that hassle…Bust that stress with these 15 tips:

  1. Give a big hug to the here and now – Don’t lose sleep over past events.  They’ve happened, so look to the present and making the most of now.  It’s not even worth worrying about the future too much, since we can’t predict how things will be.  Sure, we can prepare for particular situations, but you know you’re preparing too much when it becomes obsessive and/or time-consuming.
  2. Understand the causes of your stress – If you don’t have a reference point to combat your problems, there’s no way of knowing what’s making you feel this way.  Look to what’s really stressing you out and untangle it from the less pressing issues.
  3. Say ‘no’ to negativity – Problems easily get us down.  It’s simple to stress about something rather than directly deal with it.  But all the negativity makes you feel worse and worse and worse and worse and…you get the picture.  Focus on what’s going right for you and what can advance you further.
  4. Move away from the situation entirely – You may not have this luxury, but if you have the chance, get out of the fire and find a source of relaxation.  Even if it’s just an hour or so, the change of scene helps.  In an ever-connected world, it’s easy to forget that the brain needs a time to switch off and recharge.
  5. Be accountable to yourself and set your goals wisely – Do you answer ‘yes’ to every task you’re asked to do?  Are you forever catching up with work that didn’t emanate from you personally?  If so, it may help if you refocus on your own planning devices, rather than the clutter of voices that seemingly never stop telling you what to do.
  6. Commit to fewer goals to achieve more – You may have a million different interests, but what’s the point in having them if they all vie for your time in overwhelming fashion?  You’ll end up doing nothing at all!  Instead, deal with interests or jobs one at a time.  Multi-tasking many big projects doesn’t suit the brain particularly well.
  7. Ask yourself how important this really is – Maybe the stress will melt away if you genuinely pose the question of importance.  Is the amount of stress emitted truly equal to what’s expected in the end product?  Without noticing, we often overvalue our concern, which gets us worrying over trivial matters.
  8. Is the problem out of your hands? – If you’re stressing over something that you can’t make a difference over anyway, you’re wasting your time over it.  You may not be happy, but if you can’t make a change, it’s time to adapt and deal with it, or to move away from the situation entirely.  And in order to make sure that the stress is not deserved, consider one final time if there is any creative way to move that mountain and make a difference anyway.  If not, take a swipe to that stress.  You’re not giving up, you’re simply guiding your time toward matters in your control.
  9. Deep breath in through the nose, deep breath out through the mouth – When you need an urgent dose of relaxation, have a five minute breather…literally.  Slowly take a deep breath through the nose, let it zoom around your system, then calmly expel it through your mouth.  Do this a few times and your body will thank you.
  10. Sing a song – What’s your favourite song?  I hope it’s a belter, or at least an easy singalong.  Find a private place and have a good sing to yourself.  My favourite song is American Pie by Don McLean.  And all because my Dad played it in the car on long journeys when I was a kid.
  11. Go for a run – I don’t do this one very often, but once or twice I’ve felt a bit het up about certain situations, so I’d run around the block a few times.  Considering I live on a steep hill, it’s quite a tiring run, but it helps get rid of bad feeling and it also eliminates excessive adrenalin (which can also cause stressful thoughts).
  12. Break things down – Lots of little problems can feel huge if you lump them all together.  Take stock of these small problems and focus on how many of them you could easily knock on the head.  Alternatively, if you recognise an underlying issue at the heart of everything, make sure to concentrate on quashing that problem rather than any other annoyances (see Tip 2).  You may find the other issues disappear once you’ve handled the main problem.
  13. Get away from it all – Go back to your family home, or spend a few days somewhere relaxing.  While it doesn’t always work (and might just mask the problems), a break can sometimes clear the air and give you a new sense of purpose and direction.
  14. Smile and give thanks – When you’re stressed, it’s not easy to smile.  If you can’t force that smile out, try calling a good friend and catch up for a bit, or settle down to a DVD of your favourite comedy series.  And if that doesn’t help, be sure to be thankful for all the good things that are happening in your life right now.  There are positive aspects to your life, even when everything feels like it’s crumbling beneath your feet.  You may have to search around before you stop convincing yourself that the world is about to end, but once you begin to see the goodness coming through, it gets a whole lot easier!
  15. Check your own health – Stress doesn’t necessarily emanate from what’s happening externally.  You may be feeling the pressure from your own body.  It could be diet, excessive alcohol, popping too many pills, caffeine overdose, lack of exercise, disturbed sleep pattern, and all sorts of things.  If you feel perfectly happy, yet still find life stressful, give your body a little TLC and see where it takes you.  And if things get too bad, do consult a doctor.

I wish everyone a happy and stress-free summer…and beyond!

Free Executive (photo by sachyn)

photo by sachyn