As many of us begin to penetrate deep into the darkness (for most) or light (for a minority of others) that is exams, I thought it'd be helpful to start a discussion about ways to approach exams and the inevitable stress that ensues. For me, getting information from teachers, websites or organisations on how to prepare or alleviate panic was helpful, but the most valuable advice I gained was provided by people who knew methods that had worked for them.
So what is YOUR approach to exams, you may ask. Well, apart from stocking up on tissues and procrastinating by watching Parks and Recreation - over the past few years I have developed a solid method. Before we start climbing the mountain that is studying - we often have to overcome the hill that is procrastination. I usually do this by reminding myself why it is that im studying in the first place - for you it might be to get an A+ for others to pass VCE or make their parents proud. Whatever it is, I use my reasons as fuel to motivate me as my study.
Apart from the usual writing notes, doing practice questions, using flash cards - there is one study method that has prevailed over others for me. After reading/writing my notes, I close my book and pretend to explain what it is im learning to an imaginary friend. You'll be surprised by how much you thought you could articulate, but can't - and it'll help you find the gaps in your knowledge. Yes, if anyone happens to walk in on you, you will look crazy. But you're doing exams, by this stage you're probably crazy enough anyway.
Anyway, who wants to share some valuable tips they have?
Re: Exam Stress
Great idea for a thread.
Pretending to teach a topic to a friend, is definitely a technique that works for me too!
When you can take a complex topic and 'explain' it to someone, I definitely think it makes it easier to 'stick' in your brain!
Re: Exam Stress
Hey @missep, thanks for replying!
I'm glad the method works for you to. When someone shared it with me, it was like I had been let in on the secret to learning. Good luck if you're going through exams right now, I'm sure you'll do great.
Re: Exam Stress
@roseisnotaplant I think its odd that so many of us (including me at one stage) forget that our teachers are actually a resource that extends beyond our class times. This year especially, many of my teachers have been such an incredible support and not just in relation to the content they were teaching me. So definitely, having your teachers email address and actually using their expertise !
Re: Exam Stress
I learnt so much of my toughest subjects by explaining concepts to my mum and sometimes, just my bedroom wall. It got it clear in my head though and i felt so much more confident heading into my exams.
Re: Exam Stress
Great topic, @beesting!
I use the "explain the content to a friend" as well, although I usually explain it to my cat or dog, haha
I also find that I have to give myself regular breaks between periods of study, or I find it much harder to concentrate...
Re: Exam Stress
Hello @beesting, what an important and relatable topic to cover. I seem to be somewhat of an expert on exam stress, but at the other end of the spectrum if you understand what i mean.
Here are a few methods that have helped me:
At the end of each week for every subject i do, i write a summary of the main points i have learnt during the week.
I print out practice problems to trial what i do and do not know, and if i have spare time, i would re-do some of the exercises given as homework.
I would look at the unit outline and revise the topics covered over the session/semester, re-writing the notes, and reading aloud the main points that i would need to know. Getting someone to read it to you is good as well. Book an appointment with your teacher early (teachers are usually booked most close to exams) to clarify anything you are unsure of and ask them to re-explain anything you felt you may have missed during class. Share notes with a trusted friend, actually, ask the person smartest in your class. They may be able to explain something to you in a way that is easier to understand than your teacher.
I would make my own practice test and do timed practice (which means you have some questions you pick ramdomly, a few from each section, and you set yourself a time limit in which you attempt all the questions without distractions, to gauge your accuracy and speed) as well as asking my teachers if they can prepare for us some practice tests, or if there are any previous exams i can have a look through. I would ask them what would likely be on the test and what they think i should focus on.
A good idea would be to peruse through your old exams and find out your weakest area to improve on as most exams follow a similar pattern. Re-do the difficult questions you did wrong and find similar ones like it. If you can do the difficult questions, then you would be able to apply the same principles to the easier ones and get them right. If you have friends or know people who have done the subject before, asking them to have a vague idea would be useful.
In most exams there is a descriminating factor, usually time or difficulty. You may have heard similar advice, but do not be afraid to do the questions out of order. Do the ones you know and are most confident with first before attempting the ones you are less confident with and so on. This is to avoid receiving a zero which no one would want. This is also where timed practice is helpful as it can help you estimate how much time it would take to complete a question and divide your time accordingly. Usually the marks are an indication of difficulty, more marks alocated means more difficulty and more time required to complete it.
Honestly, i do not recommend revising with friends as it is quite easy for your attention to divert. That being said, do not be afraid to explain a problem to someone else as it also helps you to articulate, and formulate answers in a way that might be needed. Revise in small chunks of time consistently over a long period of time rather than the large 3 hours+ sessions crammed into the space of a few days. You are less likely to retain anything or be productive if you are tired or bored. Practice, practice, practice. Not only will it make you feel more confident and prepared, but it means that you will save yourself time for the unexpected challenging questions on the day.
To avoid procrastination, set up a schedule with a reward for each task you complete. This will motivate you to commence it and more likely to pursue it until the end.
While it is good to be at the exam rooms early, do not arrive too early. From experience most people will be overcome with trepidation and it might negatively affect you. So take a calming walk, listen to some music and do some breathing exercises before you go in. In the exam room, try to have a watch and look at the time periodically to make sure you use your time wisely. Spare at least 3 minutes on your watch, as your watch and the time the examiners use might be incongruent. Allow time to check your work. If for whatever reason you feel nervous or overwhelmed, take a look around you and focus on one thing at a time until you feel calm again. Clench and unclench various muscles to release tension.
If you make a habit of regular physical activity and performing relaxing excercises, not only will you be happier and healthier, but it will aid in the reduction of stress at points when stress becomes unmanageable. Eat healthy and drink lots of fluids. Healthy body, healthy mind.
Most important advice i have to give: READ THE QUESTION. Underlining key words is advisable to remind you to answer the question. In essays take some time to plan before jumping into it. Underline quotes and brainstorm ideas to connect it to. Remember structure, topic sentences, literary devices/author's choices etc. A well thought-out plan is necessary for a polished essay, and that is what you need. For things like multiple choice, use the process of elimination to increase your chance of selecting the right answer. For all the other questions, if there are no marks deducted for wrong answers, if in doubt, attempt anyway. If examiners see that you are on the right path, they might be able to reward you at least 1 mark as opposed to a 0 if you did not attempt.
The night before do not study, only have a brief look at your summary of notes before going to sleep. Sleep early and avoid caffeinated drinks, physically draining or heavy exercise, or exposing yourself to social media and other distractions. Half an hour before the exams, drink lots of fluid, stretch your wrists and go to the bathroom. Eat a small piece of fruit if necessary, do not skip meals. Double check that you have everything you need, rulers, calculators, erasers, pencils etc.
I hope this helps anyone who has been, or will be, in the same situation.
Re: Exam Stress
The 'explaining it to a friend' technique is really great! Sometimes I tell my parents at the dinner table some cool things I learnt that day and sometimes I just talk to myself in my head pretending that I'm teaching a class!!
And if you don't want to seem crazy by talking to yourself, a good thing I do is I write out questions that ask me about the main points of my lecture's content, e.g. "What are the three different types of _____? Elaborate." And even though you sorta know the answer in your head, when you actually write out a response, you realise that there may be a few gaps in your understanding of it.
Another thing is that I cannot, CANNOT, survive exams if it weren't for my diary! I try and plan out what I have to do each day for the next two weeks so that I have a structure and guide as to how much I need to study. That way I can break it up into blocks, and every day I know whether I'm keeping on track, or falling behind.
Hope this helps someone!
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” - Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
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