Hey ASA fam!
Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) scared me like “exam time”…. I was always a last minute person and constantly felt overwhelmed by the amount of work required. I thought I would share some useful study tips that worked for me in my student days since it is nearly exam time for South African Universities. In my case, I also suspect that my praying and fasting parents helped a lot through divine intervention which made up for my lack organisation skills…lol!
I cannot emphasize this enough: although daunting as a task, it will help you in future. Have a dairy; enter all test dates, exams, project submissions, friends’ birthdays, holidays, extracurricular activities, etc. This will help you understand the value of your time, and how to prioritise esp. around exam time. It will also avoid any unwanted surprises (e.g. forgetting about that important project due 1 week before exams).
- Go to lectures
I can only speak for myself here but I am sure many will relate; making sure I attended lectures helped me keep track of progress and understand my areas of weaknesses. It also reduced my study time significantly while preparing for exams. I know many MANY people who were “constant skippers of class” and did brilliantly in exams. Those were either very disciplined and used their spare time to read their notes, and/or geniuses who just got it in seconds. If you do not belong to either of those categories and are a “scrapper” just like me, get yourself outta bed and attend lectures J
- Take (legible) notes
The notes you take should help you during revision understand the material better, prepare for a test or an exam. Also, (i) date your notes, it helps during revision. (ii) Don’t be shy: use colour, post-its, etc. if you must. (iii) Avoid those loose pages, as you tend to lose them- rather if you do use them, staple them onto your notebook.
- Past exams/papers: A must for exam prep
I can definitely say in both Congo and South Africa where I have studied; past exams are like the “holy grail” of exam preparation. Why? Most lecturers are not nearly as creative as we would like to think, 40-70% of the past questions are likely to be repeated with different information/data. This means you get to beat the “panic attack” most students get before an exam as you will be familiar with a few questions already. My suggestions:
- How many should you do? At least between 3-5 past exams
- How? Get a group of friends i.e. 5-6 maximum, agree on a day (2-3 days min before the exam) and if possible ask that everyone tries to do these exams on their own. Then meet as a group a compare your answers. Keep 2-3 hours to explain difficult questions to each other.
- Motivating group of friends
As mentioned in my previous post (link: https://africanstudentsabroad.com/2016/02/29/what-i-wish-knew-before-i-left-for-my-country-for-my-studies-part-1/), I had a group of friends who were my #squad in my uni days. We all knew failure was not an option and worked extremely hard to ensure we get that degree in 4 years. We stopped at nothing to study. Everyone had their individual study time but during crunch time close to exams we often slept in the same room sharing one bed among 4 people. Why? Everyone had 2-3 hours of sleep in a roster, and the rest was spent studying.
- Beware: Multiple choice questions!
This is probably THE worst nightmare for students whose first language is not English especially for non-quantitative courses as 80% of the time (and under pressure): it can be difficult to pick up the differences/nuances between the right, slightly right and slightly wrong answer. Practising with past exams, and someone who is performing well in class will help here.
- Sleep enough
Yes, there will be crunch time and a few sleepless nights here and there. But lack of sleep with stress and a difficult exam can be a disastrous combination. I know of friends who fainted, or simply had a mini break-down during an exam. Avoid this by organising your time such that most of the studying is done in advance, and you get at least a 4-5 hours’ sleep before each exam.
- Tackle what you can do first
My maths lecturer in my first year actually gave me this valuable advice, which turned out to be SO handy for the rest of my degree. Most students make the mistake of doing the exam in the order in which it is presented: WRONG! Take 5 min to scan the paper, start with the questions you feel most comfortable with. You will do these faster and are less likely to make mistakes (marks secured!). Then move on to the difficult ones which will take you longer. Even if you do run out of time, you would have done at least 40-70% of the paper well (depending on how difficult the exam is obviously…lol!).
- Go prepared
Have all the stationary required i.e. ruler, rubber, pencil, pens, calculator, formula sheet (for those courses that require it), a watch to time yourself, etc. Give yourself a bit of a prep talk before you write and for those Christians one: do pray!
- Onto the next one!
I am guilty of this too, do not let one exam out of 5 sets the tone for the rest of your exam period. Regardless of how good/bad the exam was, when you walk out of that exam room, there is nothing you can do about what you wrote but wait and see your marks. Depending on how tight your schedule is, do something to de-stress that’s not time consuming (e.g. a movie, jog, music, etc.) then come back to your grind and prepare for the next exam.
I hope you found this useful, would love to hear more about any other tips/techniques that’s worked for you. Show me some love and leave a comment below 😀 <3. Wishing ALL of you out there preparing for exams the very best and do hope you kick arses ;-)!