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Exam Season: A Beginner’s Guide

NU London | June 8, 2023

It is no secret that exam season can be a horribly stressful and overwhelming time, especially as a third-year student who has just sat her final university exams (a terrifying thought!). In my time as a student, I have gone through GCSEs, A-Levels, and three years of exams at University, so I’ve pulled together some advice to help you through your next set of exams!

One of the most important things during exam season is to alter your mindset. I always saw exams as something scary, and they felt like a way to catch me out if I didn’t know something. That was until someone advised me to look at exams a chance to show off. You’ve been working hard all year long, and now you get to prove to the examiner everything that you have learned. Mindset can be a tough thing to change though, so here are some more practical tips to help you remain calm, and do your best!

Number One: Getting Enough Sleep

It is undoubtedly the most overstated piece of advice in the world, but it’s true. Getting enough sleep is crucial to doing your best. I spent so many nights up until the early hours of the morning, only to drag myself awake at 8am to continue working, and all I can say is it is a fast track to burnout. 

You should be aiming for about 8 hours of sleep every night, and I know this may not always be possible, but getting as much sleep as you need is going to help you stay rested and focused during the day. There are so many fantastic tips online that can help you get enough sleep, but this ties in with my next tip, which is planning early. 

Number Two: Starting Your Revision Early

Again, everyone says it but it can be so hard to just start! I am a huge believer in preparing your revision as you go, so everytime you have a lecture or a seminar, make notes and then condense them into revision notes. Treat your revision as an ongoing process, rather than trying to tackle it all in the 4 weeks before the exam. 

Take stock of your notes at the end of each term and think about what you can be adding. Is there a topic you really don’t understand? Set aside some time well before exams start so you can speak to your teachers/lecturers, attempt some practice questions, and do some wider reading to ensure you understand the topic and the material fully. 

Number Three: Make Lists!

I love a list! I think they’re fantastic and I make a list for almost every aspect of my life, but especially revision. On a basic level, making a to-do list everyday will help you stay on track with your plan and your goals, but it needs to be realistic and actionable. SMART goals are a great tool here, but whatever system works best for you is perfect. 

Breaking your day down into actionable steps makes it feel much less daunting, and you get a sense of accomplishment when you complete them. So, instead of writing down ‘Revise Land Law Topic 1’, for example, break it down. Are your notes in revision format? Do you have enough wider reading and relevant case law? Have you done some practice questions? Not only is this going to help you stay on track, but it’s going to make you feel much more motivated. 

Number Four: Work with Friends

Personally, I work best when I am around other people, because their focus forces me to focus, and I would highly recommend giving this a try. Sitting in the library with your headphones in, surrounded by your friends, can actually be quite a nice feeling. You’re all working and studying together, but focusing on your own work. It can also be helpful to discuss ideas and concepts with each other, as this will help you both to understand them in greater depth. 

If none of your friends study the same subjects as you, that’s okay too! Simply being around other people who are also revising can be motivating, and knowing that you have support around you can make the whole process feel much less stressful. 

Number Five: Changing Your Environment

Personally, I hated studying at home. When I was sitting my GCSEs and A-Levels the house could be noisy, or other people would be home, and it would be hard to focus. In Student Accommodation, there are always lots of things happening which means lots of distractions. Living alone in my third year also meant that if I was working at home all day, I might not get any fresh air or speak to anyone new. 

Changing where you study can be so beneficial for motivation, improving your focus, and also resources. When I was writing my dissertation for example, working at the library made the most sense because I could use all of their resources to help me. However, when I was revising from my own notes, or even creating my own revision resources, studying on campus was really great as I could use the printing facilities, and speak to lecturers about any questions. 

Other great places to study include café’s (a shout out to Starbucks next to the Tower of London and White Mulberries on St. Katharine Docks for being two of my favourite places) or, in the summer, a park in the sunshine! I like to change my study location based on what I’m studying and who I’m with, but it’s an entirely personal choice – do what works best for you!

By Hannah Smith