Evaluations: Mastering the exam
If a quiz makes you quizzical then what does a test make you…?
Lame jokes to start an article. A classic oldy but goody. You know what else never gets old? The test, quiz, exam, or whatever name your teacher has come up with for your sat evaluation. Cramming as much as possible in one week to recall for a few hours only to forget 90% of the subject afterwards seems like an inefficient way to learn for most students and some subjects. Nevertheless, exams and tests are here to stay (for the near future at least).
Exam: a test of a student’s knowledge or skill in a particular subject
As defined by the Cambridge University Dictionary
Exam: two — three hours of hell
As defined by almost every university student
Whether your midterm test is approaching, you have been subject to weekly quizzes in tutorials, or you want to start prepping for your final exam, our third evaluations post is here to help you.
The Ultimate Essay Guide authors believe there are three parts to best exam practices. Conquer all three and you shall conquer the exam (maybe).
General preparation and advice. This includes diet, mood, and anything not specifically related to your revision.
Revision. You guessed it, how to best revise.
Exam. How to best write your exam.
Regardless of your subject, revision style, or preference, there are some general guidelines you should follow that will indeed help you no matter what.
Drink plenty of water. Not soda, not beer, not vodka, drink water. There are plenty of health articles out there on the health benefits of water for your brain, not to mention you need it to survive. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, squeeze a lemon into your glass or cut up some cucumber.
Limit your alcohol intake. Or better yet, stop drinking during your revision. Spending all of Sunday studying only to get smashed Monday night is not ideal or efficient for your prep. Save that for after your exams.
Eat healthy…ier. A healthy diet will result in your body generating more energy to put into revision! It’s difficult as a student to always eat fish and vegetables, but if there is a time to do so it is 3–4 weeks before your exam week. We recommend salmon, kale, seeds, nuts, spinach, and other veggies.
(Feel free to binge when you’re done)
Take your vitamins. Stop by Holland and Barret to get some brain pills. Omega 3’s are excellent for your brain and will help you retain focus during prep and your exam sitting. You won’t quite be Bradley Cooper in Limitless on NZT, but it should help with focus and clarity.
Meditate. Meditation and mindfulness can significantly improve your focus and memory retention. If you don’t believe us (we realise this blog is starting to sound more like a Yoga class than revision tips), Harvard researchers have proven it. Practicing mindfulness for just under 30 minutes a day increased grey matter in participants’ hippocampus which is responsible for learning and memory in 8 weeks.
— Get a free app for your smartphone and practice for just ten minutes a day to reap the benefits!
Regardless if your first exam is a month away or tomorrow, revision is necessary to get a decent grade. How often you revise, the amount of revision you do, and your style is up to you.
Earlier is usually better. We aren’t saying you must revise two months before your exam week (although there’s nothing wrong with this!), but if you want to show your lecturer who’s boss, then you should start planning your revision schedule at least 3–4 weeks in advance.
Stick to your revision schedule. If a friend asks you to go to the pub when you are supposed to be studying respectfully decline. If you plan to spend Sunday revising then Saturday night should not (‘cough’… alright, should not always) be spent ‘strawpedoing’ VK’s in the student union. There will be plenty of time for you to make lasting memories on a night out, but exam week is not one of them.
Minimize distractions. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, and Grindr are only there to shift your focus away from exam prep, and they are very good at it. We suggest turning your phone and computer to ‘do not disturb’ and close all social media tabs for the day.
Study with friends ONLY if you know they won’t be a distraction. Spending your time on Facebook together does not make for a useful study session. Although to be honest, whose primary method of procrastination is Facebook these days…?
If your subject’s relies heavily on memory recall, then using the method of Ioci (also known as a mind palace) may help you organise and recall memorised information. See the BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes for details (it doesn’t count as revision).
Test yourself. Of the ten most popular revision techniques two have scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness. Testing yourself happens to be one of them. Make flash cards after reading your material and test yourself multiple times. This will help you retain information.
Practice on previous papers. Lecturers can be lazy and use past exam questions again, so practising on those questions can be very useful. Even if they change the problem, you can be quite sure they will use similar material.
You are as prepared as you can be, with a healthy stomach and razor-sharp focus. It is the night before your first exam, and you are not sure what to do. Do you revise your notes one last time? Watch some tv to clear your mind? Lie in your bed trying to clear your mind?
Exam week can be difficult for many students, especially those with many exams appearing one after the other. The week can seem like chaos — you finish one exam only to rush over to the next sitting one hour later. To help you best navigate your exam week you should follow some of the guidelines we have set out below, hoping to ease the pain:
Get a good night sleep. Revising can drain energy, and nothing can replenish your energy levels better than eight hours of rest. If your test is at 9 AM go to bed by (at latest) 11 PM and wake up at 7 AM, so you have ample time to prepare. If you have an afternoon evaluation, this gives you the morning to physically and mentally prepare.
The night before your exam you can relax, read over your notes again, prepare your breakfast for the morning, meditate, and set an alarm.
Make sure you bring the right tools to your exam. If you show up with a pencil to a blue pen exam you will not only be embarrased but frantically trying to find the right writing tool with only minutes to spare.
Bring your mobile phone if you must, but be prepared to leave it at the back of the hall.
Bring your student card or any other means of identifying yourself. This is usually required for each exam sitting.
Bring some tissues and keep them on your desk or in your pocket. The last thing you want is to have to get up and go to the bathroom just to blow your nose.
Don’t listen to what your course mates have been revising. This will only be confusing if you haven’t happened to study the same material as they did.
Take three deep breaths before walking in.
Use the first five minutes of your time to look over the entire exam. Choose which questions you will be answering and how much time you will allocate to each section.
Don’t speak, make noises, or look at other people writing. This should be obvious but we have heard stories of people getting accused of academic dishonesty because of slight, accidental mistakes.
If there is a question you cannot answer then move on for the time being. You may remember the answer or feel confident attempting to solve it later, and pondering it for ten minutes will waste the time you can spend answering the questions you are confident with. Leaving it at the back of your mind might spur inspiration later.
Weight your time with questions to how many marks you can achieve. Do not make the mistake of spending 30 minutes stuck trying to answer a 4 mark question!
When your exams are crammed over few days
This is common for many subjects - you have an exam at 10 AM and then 2 PM on the Monday, so what do you do?
When this is the case for you, starting revision early is even more important. The best way to tackle multiple exams in a tight schedule is to study each course in small blocks, known as distributed practice. For example, if you had your history, economics, and politics exam over the course of two days your revision schedule should go as follows: 40% history, 40% economics, and 40% politics on the first revision day. This is your day of cramming, which is entirely acceptable if done early. Your next day would then be 20% history, 20%, economics, and 20% politics. You then repeat this practice while focusing more on your troublesome areas until you are comfortable with each subject. The problem with cramming 100% history over three days, then 100% economics over the next three days is that you will likely completely forget all of your history material because you were focusing solely on economics.
What if it’s not an exam but a midterm test?
There are usually two types of in-class tests. The first is the five to ten-minute multiple choice based quizzes designed to test your knowledge of last week’s lecture but also confirm your attendance. They are usually not worth more than 5% of your overall grade, and almost never represent 10%. They are not specific nor do they require any critical thought, so spending half an hour going over last lecture’s summary notes should be enough. If it is an hour-long test designed to cover half the term, then at least one week should be spent revising using the same tips and techniques for your exam prep.
Exams can be stressful, there’s no argument there, but not impossible. The biggest mistake students make is putting revision off until it is too late, thinking they can cram all information in just one night. The best approach is to take it slow, one step at a time. Just by starting early you can end up spending the same absolute amount of time revising and get a better grade, so why not? Successful exam prep is a full commitment, from your general health to revision styles, you need to take it seriously if a 1st class degree is your goal.
Best of luck to all students who have evaluations coming up! Hang in there.
Other articles you might enjoy
Evaluations: Mastering coursework
The first part in a 3 part series looking at the different types of evaluation students undergo during their time at univeristy. This one focuses on coursework.
Evaluations: Mastering the group coursework
The second part in a 3 part series looking at the different types of evaluation students undergo during their time at univeristy. This one focuses on group coursework.