The Exam Survival Guide

By now, you have no doubt either had your first midterm or you are busy studying for one. You might regret spending those hours catching up on guilty pleasure shows, reading Tumblr, or playing League of Legends. But don’t worry – this guide isn’t going to be a lecture on time management. It’s going to be a set of hopefully realistic tips to help you self-motivate, study, and survive hell month.

(Kate Sheridan and Wikimedia Commons User Nidoart / Wikimedia Commons)

Gandalf the Grey  is all that stands between you and success. (Kate Sheridan and Wikimedia Commons User Nidoart / Wikimedia Commons)

Before the Exam

#1 – Study Precisely

As MATH 140 TA Simon Chatelain reflects, “Math is built on a foundation. If you want to aim for the highest mark attainable over the course, don’t let a single detail slip.” This hits upon one of the key elements of review: precision. Knowing the main concepts is important, but spending time fine-tuning information is necessary to achieve higher levels of success. Rather than spending most of your time drilling in main concepts, try to gear part of your review to the application and evaluation of information. Realize that finals for, for example, courses like math are not going to consist of cookie cutter questions revamped from the textbook. Prepare accordingly.

#2 – Review Actively

A former guidance counselor and school director, Dr. Geoffrey Gabbott (Sir Winston Churchill Secondary) used to say, “There is a difference between reading and studying.” Reading your notes and textbook may seem like the most convenient way to prepare for the exams, but by passively studying, the information is not going to stick around for long. Instead, opt to actively rework the information from your courses. Make a mind map, draw out the human system, play charades with friends using anatomy terms, use a flashcard app and have your phone quiz you, or create mock exams and test yourself using an exam question data bank. Whatever technique makes the information stick, use it.

#3 – Prepare for Each Course Differently

Try to adapt your study method to each course. According to William Xu (U0 Science), “In chemistry, physics and math, understanding concepts and practicing questions is important, whereas for biology, just memorize”. Different subjects have unique expectations. In physics, application of basic theories to answer more complex questions is expected. In contrast, in biology the comparison and evaluation of information is more common. Studying in the same manner for both courses would surely be near impossible. Professors have contrasting styles as well. While one professor might follow the textbook verbatim, another might ask you to rely more on lecture material. Adaptation will benefit you in the long run.

#4 – Live a Little

The most brilliant people I’ve ever met lived by a motto “party hard, study harder.” It may seem counter-intuitive, but doing enjoyable activities will increase your productivity. Of course, partying all night right before a midterm would be a bad idea;  going ice skating with your best friend might be better. Instead of backing out of your plans because you feel bogged down with work, try working more efficiently and effectively during windows of designated study time so you can enjoy your life. If you spend countless hours of time studying hard, you may lose an hour here or there to blanking out, staring into space, or losing concentration. Allow yourself to be motivated by spending time with people you love; it might actually help work through the burnout.

During the Exam

#1 – Pick Your Tools

Use a pen that writes easily if you know you’ll be writing long essays or responses. Your hand will thank you later. In the case of multiple choice tests, have lots of sharpened HB 2 pencils ready.

#2 – Noms

Bring in hard candy or gum if you can. A light sugar boost two hours into the exam can help with concentration.

#3 – Materials

If you are permitted extra items, such as a model kit for chemistry, then prepare your materials for efficient use. For example, if allowed, build common chemical compounds – like benzene rings – before you get into the exam room.

#4 – Breathe In…

Take a few deep breathes, relax, and forget about the outside world. It’s you and a few sheets of paper for the next few hours. Being overly stressed can negatively affect your exam performance. In a study performed by Jerrell Cassady in 2002, students suffering from exam anxiety performed significantly worse than their counterparts in both the SAT and course examinations. 

Good luck to everyone who is taking an exam in the next few weeks! May the odds be ever in your favor. 

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