Part 2! This was originally published April 25, 2010. If you’re in the middle of exams right now, this is my lifeline to you. Hang in there + good luck!
Time for part two everyone! I figure since I’m halfway through my exams at this point (and racing to the finish line) I can share three more strategies I employ frequently to remain alive and well during examinations. Last time I spoke mostly about physical health, this time it’s about mental health and stress management. As always, enjoy!
Lesson 4: Make a Detailed Study Plan
Yeah, it’s boring. Yeah, it’s tedious. Yeah, it helps.
I don’t ever want to suggest that a certain place to study, or a certain way to study is best (although I don’t really believe when people say they study best at night), but I do suggest that having a study calendar or plan will make your season much less stressful.
At the start of the ‘exam month’, I sit down and create two things:
1. An Exam Calendar. I like to map out in detail when my exams are, when final assignments are due, when I’m done exams!! I like to be able to see clearly how much time I have to complete my studying, and figure out when I should start studying for each. Not only is this a good way to plan your time, it can also serve as a terrific motivator, once you realize that there are only three days before your Spanish paper is due! I usually make mine on the computer in Word, then print it off and fill in all the dates myself. Feel free to download my template if you don’t want to make your own. :)
2. An Exam Plan. So crucial to the way I study! I write down everything I need to know about the exam on one piece of paper, and I create one sheet per class. On the sheet I include:
- Sections Covered on the Exam
- Exam Weight
- Grade Aim
- Strategy: as an example, for calculus my strategy was to read the sections, do all the practice problems, and do one or two practice exams
- Notes: anything the teacher mentioned by way of ‘hint’, like # of questions, or any focus it will have
I dislike the popular ‘fly-by-night’ approach taken by many students. They have no idea what’s going to be on the final, they aimlessly read the textbook and stay up all night wasting their brain power. Not good! Although some of them can probably pull off a decent grade, you have to know yourself. Can you get a good mark on the Physics final without doing any problems? If you can’t, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else does (more on that later), so make your plan and get it done!
Lesson 5: Find Your Study Sanctuary
Oh I would love to get myself into the above library, but alas I don’t go to Harvard. Luckily for me, and for all of you, there are beautiful and inspiring ‘study sanctuaries’ in your city too. You just have to look around. Here are some ideas for where to find your ideal study location:
- Libraries. Of course, this is the most obvious. But whether your school has one library or thirteen, all libraries have something to offer. Some have high ceilings, multiple floors, seemingly randomly-placed tables, study nooks, varying noise levels, couches and cafeterias or snack machines. The key is just to get the most out of your libraries. By way of example: most of them have rooms that you can reserve for group study (or personal study, if you want) for free online. Search the libraries! Find the one that works best for you in terms of noise, type of people (some are studious, some are distracting), study spaces (do you need a table?), and proximity to food. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a few different libraries on campus to explore. If not, read on!
- Cafés. Maybe you don’t like your libraries, or maybe you don’t like having to be quiet! Either way, a café or coffee shop might be your perfect study location. Try looking around off campus at local places with big tables and moderately priced beverages/snacks. Also, you might luck out and not have to buy anything! Some local University coffee shops (like our Second Cup) don’t require purchase, you can just use their seats and tables 24 hours a day! The key here is to explore. Walk around and stop in anywhere that looks good. You might have to do a little work to find your ideal study location, but once you’ve found it you’re golden.
- Your Room. I know it might not seem plausible at all hours of the day, but in the afternoons it could be perfect for you! No lugging of books or bags, food and drink nearby, a comfy bed if you feel like a nap. You won’t have to worry about other people distracting you, or forgetting something at home. I wouldn’t recommend studying in your room at night though..it tends to get pretty rowdy and noisy because of people who don’t have exams the next day.
- Empty Classrooms. Think of it: big desks, no noise, no other people. Just you and your studying! Sound too good to be true? Well, it could be. But most schools leave some classrooms open during the exam season and you’re allowed to go in and make yourself at home.
- Outdoors. Not good for classes that require loose papers and doing problems. But for classes that require mostly just reading of notes and memorization, sitting outside in the sun could be a great option. Lots of distractions, yes, but if you have a group study session with a couple of friends, you can be as loud as you want and not worry about bothering anyone!
Like I said before, finding your perfect place(s) to study can be a bit of an adventure. It’s fun! This exam season, I systematically visited every library that we have, just for amusement and discovery of new, great study places. And I happened across my favourite study sanctuary: a big open room in the religious studies building with lots of tables, old-fashioned desk lamps, a funny old librarian, free Werther’s caramels, and complete and total silence (monitored fiercely by the librarian). It’s also set in a gorgeous building, and I found a private little bathroom on the third floor with one window and pretty light. You can also sit in the chapel for a while as a break if you’re tired. All in all, it’s perfect for me. Go find what’s perfect for you!
And once you’ve found it, make it absolutely more perfect by being prepared. Bring along everything you’ll need. I’ll give you my list as an example:
- Reusable water bottle
- Snack (cashews, fruit, energy bars, etc)
- Brainstorming notebook
- Moleskine personal notebook
- Regular notebooks for working in
- All the books I need
- Pencil case
And I’m set. Make sure that whatever you like to have with you for studying, you bring from home!
Lesson 6: Employ Coping Strategies
No, you are not to big to use coping mechanisms. I promise. They are so helpful and wonderful! Just don’t get caught up reassuring yourself too much and not studying enough, that’s a big no-no. Here are a few that work best for me:
- “It will all be over in _____ days.”
- “I’m trying my best, that’s all I can ask of myself.”
- “As long as I do ________, I should do well on the exam.”
- “Worrying about the exam won’t help me succeed.”
- “It’s not that big of a deal, it’s just one exam!” (If it really does matter, skip this one)
- Determine whether this class is likely to receive a bell curve (high fail rates in the past, hard exams). Always reassuring.
- Call your mom. Do not be afraid to call your parents and whine and cry and get it all out. It’s sometimes hard to study with all your anxiety about the exam pent up inside.
Don’t worry, be happy. Study hard, and you will succeed.
Exams are an extremely strange time, and lots of things will happen to your mind and body that you don’t like. For example, for the past four days my butt has twitched sporadically on and off. This is uncomfortable. No, I have no idea why. Stress, lack of exercise, too long sitting in one position? Either way, it’s hard to write your biology final when your butt is telling you to get up and dance! My point is that there is so much you can’t control during this hectic time, so try and control your health and stress levels as your first priority. You can make it! I believe in you!
What are your strategies for surviving this crazy time? Share your tips!